Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Warren James has a big warm voice, which makes sense since he's got a big warm heart! In this guest interview Warren talks about his roots on the gulf coast, how his search for a life of integrity lead him to Canada and what inspires him to make every performance a "Big Show"!!!!

Micah: You come from the Gulf Coast which has a rich history musically and culturally. What influenced your artist identity coming from there?
Warren: My parents and my grandparents all seemed to be musicians.  My MiMi and PaPa used to play the piano together in clubs on the Gulf Coast - one on each end of the piano and they never needed sheet music.  My father played the piano by ear and was a master of the trumpet and almost all of the horned instruments.  For a while he headed up a Dixieland Jazz band and he and my Grandfather played the big clubs from New Orleans to Mobile, AL.  Living in and around New Orleans in my earlier years I had opportunities to see some amazing artists like Harry Connick Jr. and I remember seeing him make a video in the French Quarter.  He was a brilliant influence on me then and still is today.  Other strong influences included a rich vein of powerful gospel music since that style is very strong in the South. 

How did growing up with your family  influence you musically?
Both my parents and grandparents were natural musicians and my mother was trained as an alto singer and played the piano as well.  My sister played the flute in high school, and was a classically trained pianist and competed in several competitions during my younger years. My younger cousin today is a professional jazz pianist in New Orleans so clearly music was a huge part of our lives growing up.  Every time we had a family get together or holiday gathering just about everyone had an instrument in their hand.  The neighbors knew our family had a gathering because you could here the noise for blocks around.  It was an interesting upbringing.  

What attracted you to music when you were young and what music did you hear?
In the beginning I was exposed more to contemporary Christian music than anything else.  Growing up in the heart of the Mississippi Delta and "Bible Belt Country", going to church was a weekly ritual.  We were very much involved in the church orchestra which was a huge deal.  I was quickly influenced by voices of Steve Green, Larnelle Harris and Sandi Patty who were all big voices back in the 80's and 90's.  I learned how to develop the same sound and tone that both Sandi Patty and Steve Green carries in their voices.  I recall my first song to sing by Sandi Patty was "Upon This Rock".  My father later introduced me to artists like Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.  At University, I studied vocal performance and was part of several musicals.  I played the part of "Frederick" in the Pirates of Penzance and "Curly" in Oklahoma……those were great roles.  Later in life I discovered (or rediscovered) big voice powerful singers like Tina Turner and Shirley Bassey and seeing them both live here in Toronto rekindled my interest and love of the power of singing.

When did you know you had a talent for singing and entertaining?
I think this was instilled in me at a very young age.  When I was about 9 years old, I sang "My Tribute" (To God Be The Glory), a song written by Andrae Crouch to a large gospel church congregation.  It was an overwhelming and exciting experience.  
That was the first time I remember performing but I soon became very interested in performing for others. In  high school a friend and I started performing at weddings and other venues. Shortly after high school and in my early years at University, I formed two gospel singing groups of my own and we performed in many churches across the South. 

You have a lot of experience performing. What situations gave you the opportunity to grow the most in your younger years.
Being in theater throughout my university days was a huge learning experience for me.   You had to not only sing but also act in a role of person you had to get to know.  I found it challenging at the time to do both but quickly learned over time that I needed to just let my voice carry me through the part.  I also toured with a national gospel singing group just after graduating from high school - a three month tour through Western Canada, Alaska, and California.  We did a show everyday and that really taught me how to endure grueling schedules and keep going even when you are completely exhausted.  It was also living out of a suitcase and traveling on a bus for three months… was about 50 performers so you really got to know them very well - it was a super experience.  

You've said that you came to Canada on the rainbow railroad. 
What influenced your decision to emigrate to Canada?
Finding the love of my life was the real driver in deciding to come to Canada. We spent several years in a long-distance relationship and the strength of that experience and the times I spent in Toronto and other parts of the country led me to believe that Canada was part of the greater plan for me.  Every step and experience along the way has played a significant role in assuring me that I'm in the right place now and everything I value is here now.   My family and my life have been here for the past 15 years and I have never been happier.

What has being in Canada meant for your blossoming as a person, and as an artist? Are you more able to be comfortable being "out" here?
I have never felt more free or more at home than I do now living here as a proud citizen in Canada.  I always felt a bit out of place growing up and living in the various places I did before coming to Canada. The Gulf Coast, New Orleans, Dallas, and Memphis - all places I’ve lived before, have their charms but Canada has allowed me to become the person I was meant to be and to live the life I was intended to live.  I have found warmth and acceptance and happiness here.  

Can you talk a bit about working with Micah and Singers Playground and what  (if any) help that has been to your understanding of yourself as an artist?
For me, the experience has been around keeping it ‘real’ when it comes to understanding the this industry, music and performing.  If you want things to happen in this business, you have to do the work, be authentic, and transfer your real passion into your work.  No one is there to do it for you and you have to pour yourself into the role.  It takes commitment, you have to believe in yourself, and you need others around you that believe in you too.    

You have some very powerful ladies as your musical influences and you're not afraid to "cover" their songs. What makes you so courageous?
Shirley Bassey, Barbara Streisand and Reberta Flack have been the most influential female voices in my life.  They all deliver intense emotion in their songs and you can’t help but experience the message behind each song they perform.  I’m drawn in by the power in their voices and the presence they hold on the stage and enjoy feeling that I can, to a degree, deliver some of that powerful influence to my own audiences.   
Courageous? Maybe but for me, it’s more about just wanting to deliver the same level of intense emotion and power that they project in their voices.  

You give powerful performances that feel built for the concert stage.
Where would your ultimate concert be and who would be sharing the bill?
I've dreamed of sharing the stage with Shirley Bassey ever since I saw her perform at Carnegie Hall in New York. She has been the biggest inspiration to my current singing career and if I could only meet her for a moment I would express my sincere appreciation for her talent and influence she has had on myself and many many others.  

Performing with John Barrowman  would be very close to performing with Shirley Bassey since I believe he has been strongly influenced by many of the same inspirations I have had. His style is compatible with my own and he also has a wonderful performing ability to engage the audience. I think the British entertainment scene has some amazing talents that we can really learn from here in North America. 

How did you choose the songs on your CD? 
Tough question to answer!  There were so many songs I wanted to share with others but ultimately it came down to which songs were important to me for my own personal experiences, songs that tell the story I want to tell. 

For example the title track “This Time,” while written for Shirley Bassey in 2009 speaks volumes to me about introspection, renewed love, and regained self confidence. These are not just personal themes that I have identified with, but universal themes that we can all personally identify with. 

What can audiences expect at Hugh's Room?
I think the audience can expect to be overwhelmingly surprised by powerful voices!  Where else on June 5th in the city of Toronto, can someone go and hear such a unique group of performing artists with such rich backgrounds and cultures? There's going to be a little bit of everything in this show.  Everyone who comes out is going to get a taste of what they enjoy as well as be exposed to something new.  I am so excited to be sharing the stage with such unique amazing talent all in one night.  

Sunday, May 26, 2013


Singer Songwriter Christine Tier crafts unusual songs from such a unique perspective, sometimes sad, sometimes sardonic, but always deeply intelligent, that she reminds one of a songwriting version of Margaret Atwood. In this interview supporting her second appearance at Hugh's Room as part of the June 2nd Singers Playground concert she talks about her roots, her approach to songwriting and how her other life as a criminal lawyer influences her work as a musician.

 Micah: How did growing up in a smaller place influence your persecutive or point of view? Christine: I grew up in a small Northern town so I'm not a natural "city person". I like plants and animals and very early mornings. And warm, open people. 
When did you discover that you had the gift of making such unusual songs? When I started getting strong emotional reactions from people - tears or goosebumps (or shock).  But nothing thrills me more than noticing that someone in the audience seems to know the words. I really dig that. 
How do you know when a song is being born?  It always starts with a chord progression from noodling around on the guitar, then a melody line and a phrase or two. Usually they dissipate like foggy dreams before they are fully formed. I sense they are probably crap so I dont try to retrieve them. When one gets stuck in my head for days, looping over and over and I can't focus and I bump into walls, and I don't want to go to bed I just want to work on the song - then I know I'm onto a good one. 
What are the elements that are important to you when you are crafting a song  Two things come to mind. First, there has to be some substance to it. Don't rhyme 'your eyes' with 'blue skies' unless you have a point about eyes and skies.  I guess that's why I'm more often rhyming 'blood' and 'mud' than eyes' and 'skies'. Second, there has to be emotional impact of some kind. Maybe that's the same point I'm not sure.. 
Tell us about the way in which your work as a lawyer informs your songwriting and vis versa.    You might think that because I'm a criminal lawyer, and I write a lot of songs about violence and death, that my job influences my musical content. I don't actually think that's true. I think my fascination with the darker sides of human nature inspires my interest in both arenas. And in my spare time (when I have any) I read murder mysteries and watch crime dramas.  I think practicing criminal law has deepened my insight into human nature though (at least the dark side of it) and has given me a focus and discipline about writing. 
You are at the beginning stages of a new recording. What kinds of things will be different than your last recording?  My first CD was all studio musicians.  My musicianship has improved since then so I will play a lot more of the music myself on this one.  I am much more comfortable with my voice now too.  I  want to do a more organic and acoustic recording. More sparse. Less production. Cheaper :)). 
How has the work with Singers Playground impacted your development?   Enormously - it has helped me not only with the skill set but also with the confidence. Micah's vocal coaching, master classes and therapy!!  Singing is a head trip and you need someone who understands that. 
You've been playing a residency at Latinada. How has that helped you as an artist?  Latinada has been great. I love Latin music and I play a bit of Latin music but mostly I play my own. It's perplexing how they welcoming they are of me. It is a magical and rare place.  There is no pretence there - just cool people who love music. 
What are you planning for the  audience at Hugh's Room June 5th?I have a swingy sambaesque song "Lock the Doors" about sex in a car (can I say that in a blog?) and a tear jerker and a crush song - oh and Willie's Farm - written from the perspective of a murdered prostitute!
Christine Tier's Web Site

Reservations and Info for June 5th Singers Playground Concert

Singers Playground Official Website

Saturday, May 25, 2013


I was lucky enough to meet Ashley at Queer Idol where she was learning to get comfortable on stage and fell in love with both her beautiful voice and her magical spirit. To think that in a few short years she has become both a writer and found herself a band to record and perform with. I am truly delighted to be able to present Ashley in performance at our June 5th Singers Playground concert.  This is a young artist to keep your eyes on people!

Micah: How did your family connection to music help you believe you could do this for a career? 
 Ashley: When I was little I used to go to the studio with my dad and his band. Sitting there, playing with the keyboard sounds was more fun to me than any toy.  My little sisters and I would copy the singers and make "plays" about our experiences. My dad always told me I would be a singer and I believed him the first time he said it. Eventually, I was big enough to sing with him in his country band. Since my dad was a singer, you could say it's in my blood, but my family also really encouraged me to persue music as a career.

It seems that it took a lot of personal growth for you to become ready to function as an artist. What has that journey felt like?:
It certainly took me a long while to get to this point. In order to become a high functioning shy girl, I had to overcome some physical and emotional issues years in the making. I lost 60lbs, learned how to manage my severe anxiety disorder and discovered who I really am as a person. All this happened in three years.

You overcame a huge issue of anxiety in order to become a performer what methods did you/do you use?
Since I was three I've had a pretty bad problem with panic attacks and anxiety. As all performers know, nervousness is a part of the deal which I accept to a degree. I made the decision to seek psychotherapy and learn ways to control the insane levels of fear that I got to. Deep breathing,yoga, meditation and regular exercise help me stay calm. I avoid caffeine and fatty foods because I know they upset me. Writing songs about this issue is also very helpful, not only for myself but hopefully for other sufferers too.

You were involved with Queer Idol (Now Spectra) in what ways did that experience support your growth?
Queer Idol (now called Spectra)  was an amazing opportunity for me to overcome stage fright. We performed very often and were always singing together. It's really true that the more you perform, the easier it gets. Idol introduced me to the Singers playground as well as a whole family of musicians of whom I will love forever! Queer Idol planted a tiny seed that has now become a flower.

In what way has Singers Playground played a part in supporting your becoming the artist you have become?
Singers Playground....what can I say without sounding cheesy?? It's actually changed my life! When I started with Singers Playground, I was singing classical music and just about every genre there is. I couldn't really settle on a style that expressed all the colours that I am. We explored different elements of most styles and were able to blend them all into neo soul. Micah worked with me on learning to breathe properly. Breath support was my biggest issue. Unlocking the power of my diaphragm has made me a completely different singer that I was two years ago.
You became a singer who can write. Why was this important to you and how did you accomplish that goal? 

I believe we were all born to help one another through love and wisdom. This is why I feel its so important for me to share my music and light with everyone. Last year I wanted to begin to share my inner world with an audience. On Micah's advice, I started to listen to songs that I really related to, paying attention to structure and lyrics. Then, I played instrumentals on Youtube and recorded myself freestyling on them. Next thing I knew I was starting to get ideas in the shower, at work...anywhere and recorded them. Lastly, I hibernated all winter and continued to write piece by piece, song by song. Now, I have twenty-seven songs.....and counting.
 You now perform regularly with your own band! How did you find your musicians?

Oh! My band! I love these people! I was doing a lot of back up work last year and ended up singing with this awesome band called Jackson Live,a Michael Jackson tribute band. That's where I met Julian Clarke, our drummer. We sort of simultaneously realized we would work well together. I brought the idea to him to start a neo soul band. He pulled together some members of his band Theflow. One of our back up singers went to school with my little sister, and I knew she'd be a good fit .These guys somehow understand the craziness inside my head. I love them to death!
 What are your goals in this industry and who career inspires you?

My goals  in the many! I would love to have a career exactly like Erykah Badu, the queen of neo soul. I wish to release multiple albums all of which do really well and reach a world wide audience. I also want to receive Out Music, grammy and NAACP awards. This would make me feel like I have represented and contributed to  the queer, black and music community the best I possibly can. I'd love to perform in countries that don't speak my language, but still feel the music. One of my ultimate goals in life is to affect change by starting or being part of a foundation for girls that elevates their self esteem. MUSIC+LOVE+CHANGE=LIFE

Friday, May 24, 2013

Meet Jazz Cabaret Artist Rose Stella!

Meet Jazz Cabaret Artist Rose Stella. After having performed only one public show as a singer Rose was asked to perform at this year's Toronto Jazz Festival and we are blessed to have her performing June 5th at the Singers Playground Concert!

Micah: You have a mixed background which seems to give you a broad perspective how would you say your parent's worlds influenced your growth musically?
Rose: I grew up in Arizona so there was a lot of country and Mexican music around me.  But both my parents love music – so my world was filled with all kinds – It was the late 50’s and early 60’s so the wonderful pop music of that era...Hank Williams, Edie Gorme (especially with Trio Los Panchos.  My Father loved to dance and loved swing music.  Big Band music and the great singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Johnny Mercer and Frank Sinatra and were popular in our home.

You seem to have a very profound ear for music and a great love of storytelling. Who are your biggest influences musically?
Singers who were my biggest influence were Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. I also loved Peggy Lee and Betty Carter – and Liza Minnelli.  And on a whole different level – Julie Andrews – because when I was a child, I saw her in Mary Poppins and Sound of Music.  Ever since then, I wanted to sing!

You have a long and varied career in the theatre. How does your experience as an actor and writer help you as a musical performer? Actors need to know what they are saying and who they are saying it to.  I believe the same is true for singers.  Frank Sinatra was a musician/singer and an actor...and I believe his acting abilities influenced his “phrasing” – which he is so admired for by singers. I choose my material based on what moves me emotionally – songs with something emotional that I want to share with the listeners.

You waited a very long time to make your musical performance debut. What are the challenges you've faced on that journey?
Singing has always made me feel vulnerable...My Challenges have been that I am basically shy about expressing myself as ME.  Being an actor allows me to express myself through other characters – but singing has always been something that reveals me – and I was frightened about how vulnerable I felt when singing in front of people.  Singers’ Playground helped me immensely to address the reasons for my fear so I could break through it – and sing with confidence. 

What are the important elements that you focus on while in performance?
In performance, I concentrate on the story telling – not the singing. I do all the warm-up and prep work before the show...But it is the same when I am acting.  I am interested only in communicating...
With only one show under your belt you've been asked to perform at The Toronto Jazz festival and Hugh's Room. That must feel very exciting? Yes! I feel like the Universe is blessing me with the kindest acknowledgement of its love for me! 
In what ways has Singers’ Playground been a part of your journey along the way?
Singers’ Playground helped me pin-point the things that were holding me back.  I never understood why I was able to be an Actor, but terrified to SING.  Micah and Singers Playground addressed my technical singing problems...made me get my songs in the right key and find someone to write good charts for me.   It also taught me what I needed to do to be comfortable to sing with an accompanist – because karaoke does not prepare you for that (lol!).

Friday, May 17, 2013



Successful artists aren't the ones with no problems.

Successful artists are the ones that get creative about how to work through their challenges.

Most of us artist have an essentially childish approach to problem solving. We throw our hands up in the air and say "I can't face this" or " could someone else take care of this". (Neither approach being very useful in terms of forward motion wouldn't you agree?)

Basically we are always dealing with our expectations (why isn't everything working out?) and our impatience (when will everything work out?)

Of course any roadblock feels like a mountain in front of us when we are struggling to reach our goals.

Your job is NOT to try and solve the whole problem all at once.

I generally suggest clients separate the challenge into bite size pieces that they can chew one by one until the problem is taken care of.

Self support is crucial to us as artists, it's a good thing to acknowledge that we feel stumped or anxious and to observe our thinking and our behavior around that.
How are we avoiding the issue at hand?

Usually by creating other tasks that are less daunting or by checking out completely with all the various ways humans have developed to distract ourselves.
 How about instead we create a simple little step by step approach to problem solving that will allow us not to feel too overwhelmed?

What is it that has you feeling stuck?

Big show coming up and you have to get bums in seats?

Need to put together a band and don't know where to start?

Got a manager that doesn't seem to be active on your behalf?

Weekly tasks that slowly move us towards the solution can be a workable approach.
Say you want your band to be booked for summer shows.  This is a process that takes time so of course you will be anxious throughout if you expect it to be over and done with in the click of a mouse.
The first week I would assign yourself the goal of researching all the potential venues in your market and collecting the contact info of the booker of each venue. Don't worry about contacting them yet, that can be your second weeks assignment. Then by week three you will follow up your initial e mails with a phone call, knowing as much as possible about how your act fits into their booking policy based on your research.
By week four it's a sure bet your calendar will have at least a few anchor dates in place and your desperation levels will have decreased significantly, allowing you to focus a more relaxed energy on the task of filling in the rest of the dates.

The key to artist progress is slowly building your confidence in your ability to meet your challenges in a step by step approach. It builds self esteem in even the most chaotic and insecure creative artist.

Artists may be like children but, like children we can be fast learners  and if we have our own goals firmly in sight, we can be highly motivated to learn new skill sets!

E Mail Coach Micah Barnes about Career Work Groups at Singers Playground