In a country that furnishes enough female singer/songwriters to choke a horse (assuming, obviously, that cette equine has an appetite for human flesh), it's easy to overlook new Canadian females trying to sharecrop their way into the nation's psyche.
Melissa McClelland is one such upstart and while this Burlington, Ontario native boasts a winning combination of talent, beauty and the backing of a major label, she's learning first hand about the challenges the industry can pose to the estrogen set. 2004's Stranded in Suburbia is her sophomore album.
"It's frustrating," she says by phone prior to a gig at Toronto's legendary boozecan, the El Mocambo. "When Stranded in Suburbia first came out and we released the first single 'White Lies', it was pretty tough to get anyone to listen to it. With radio, they only play the exact amount of Canadian content they're required too. So stations were telling me that they couldn't add my single because Sarah McLachlan or Sarah Harmer had just released their new singles, and the quotas for Canadian female songwriters were filled. Frankly, I think there's room for anybody on radio, regardless of whether they're Canadian or American or female or male."
Radio eventually caved and McClelland's follow-up single "Jaded" scored some pretty decent airtime domestically, eventually charting on video channel MuchMoreMusic. Yet while she's grateful for the attention, McClelland says that media exposure is only a one aspect of her overall focus.
"I've always felt with my music, I can aim for a lot of different areas because I have written a lot of pop songs suited for radio. But I consider myself a songwriter first so there are plenty of other avenues I can take as well. Besides, the main types of audiences who listen to radio aren't your hardcore music fans. They might become familiar with one of my songs or my name but they're not going to be showing up to the El Mocambo at 11:00 pm on a Wednesday to see me perform."
Those who have made the effort have no doubt been dazzled by the breadth of McClelland's talent. In the past three years alone, she has woven a trail of songs back and forth across North America, and steadily picked up supporters in each stop along the way.
"Last year, I did a seven-week solo tour of North AmericaůI drove all through out the United States and spent some time in California," says McClelland. "I eventually hooked up with this guy in San Diego who's a huge music lover and would organize these house concerts that I'd play. It was just phenomenal. He has this beautiful home that he'd pack with other music lovers. The audiences were really quiet and attentive, and I'd really get an opportunity to sing and tell stories about my songs."
When not performing solo, McClelland can often be found trading verses from within the friendly confines of The Ladybird Sideshow, a side project McClelland shares with fellow Toronto-area musicians Erin Smith, Janine Stoll and Lisa Winn. What began as a mere opportunity to hit the stage with friends in tow eventually came to fruition during a trip of discovery in the Maritimes provinces.
"The four of us decided to take a trip out east two years ago," says McClelland. "We did an in-the-round concept, and right from the start, there was a really good connection between the four of us, personally and musically. Our styles are so different but they really compliment each other. It's a nice release because when you're fronting your own band and carrying your own show, it can be really draining. With Ladybird Sideshow, we can rely more on each other and really share the stage."
Wherever she may roam, McClelland is a Golden Horseshoe girl at heart and a product of her surroundings. While Stranded in Suburbia may be wrack with references to factories and basements and other symbols of suburban ennui, McClelland is grateful to have at least been able to source these items for inspiration.
"I don't really have any real intentions when I first start writing a song, in terms of subject matter. I grew up in the suburbs and spent pretty much my whole life there, so that's typically the landscape for my stories."
For more information about Melissa McClelland, please visit her official web site at: www.melissamcclelland.com
Writer: Cameron Gordon