The Adventure of Life: Update

I feel like the last few posts of mine have been very much produced by the self-reflective realm of my brain. I guess the past year and a bit has made me contemplate a lot.

But it’s been a while since I last wrote and, honestly, I don’t want to think too hard about anything right now. So, I figured a good ol’ fashioned update-on-life post was in order ;)

Well, after the fiasco with getting sick and having to bow out of the show I was supposed to sing in back in March, I decided to reach out to another venue. Luckily they said they’d be glad to have me perform there!

In the meantime though, I had great adventures to tackle — a solo trip to Peru …!

I tried out hostel living for the first time and met some seriously awesome travellers. I went on a walking tour and ended up making friends with our guides Arturo and Mario. It was great to hang out in Lima both with my hostel roomies as well as some locals.

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Arturo and I taste-tasting desserts at the Plaza de Armas in Lima’s historic center

Of course I needed my getaway in nature, so I took off from the busy streets of Lima to the remote Andes mountains. Tucked away at 3,200 metres in those grand ranges is a tiny village called San Pedro de Casta. From there, you can do a hike up to Marcahuasi which is known for its strange and sacred monolithic stone sculptures.

After trekking up to 4,000 metres elevation, I felt like I had run a marathon. Once reaching the top, my young guide Oswaldo and our faithful canine companion Chance had our lunch at this panoramic vista and all passed out for a nap.

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On the Marcahuasi plateau, trying to stay vertical for this photo

I was only in Peru for eight days, but felt like I had been gone forever thanks to the full experience I had while I was there.

When I got back to Toronto, it was time to buckle down and prepare for the show! I actually had a 2-hour slot, so lots of new songs had to be learned. Then, one day I received word that the venue I was going to perform at was closing down its doors. I couldn’t believe my luck (or complete lack thereof)!!

I debated giving up … or giving this performing thing one more shot. After a hopeful phone call to the most awesome Michael Burton at the Free Times Cafe, I had a date and time booked there for July!

In the meantime though, summer was in full swing. I was finally coming out of hibernation mode and June saw my birthday, which basically amounted to an eating spree over four days and change. I was honestly kind of dreading turning 34, but by the time the day came around, I had accepted my fate. Really, I have lived such a full 34 years and am so grateful for everything all of my life experiences have taught me thus far!

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Starting the birthday eating marathon (not pictured here: my lunchtime scotch)

After all the food and wine consumption, I needed to summon some restraint so I could get my voice into gear for the show. This was such a long time in the making, but all of the practicing and prepping was worth it. We had a full house and some of the most dearest people to me came out to support <3

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Special thanks to Roarshack Photography for capturing the memories :)

A cover of one of my fave love songs, “Ready For Love” by India Arie <3

After the show, my brain had to switch to camping mode fast. I had three weeks(!) in Killarney Provincial Park planned for August, but was way behind in being prepared for it!

In the meantime, I kick-started the camping season with a short trip to Bruce Peninsula, hiking the Lion’s Head trail. It was also my first time volunteering for Parkbus, the awesome service I took last year to do my solo camping trips.

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Enjoying solitude and dreamy clouds at McKay’s Harbour on the Lion’s Head hiking trail

Then, my epic three-week backcountry adventure in Killarney Provincial Park arrived. It was so unreal to be out there for so long — but at the same time, it felt completely right.

I went canoeing with my friends Dave and Steve, who had taken me on my very first backcountry trip ~15 years ago. We enjoyed the hot weather, lots of swimming, and the super addictive game Hanabi.

After they left, I was joined by my cousin Lilli, friend Lucy, and their dogs Smokey and Noodles for the first ~5 km of the La Cloche Silhouette hiking loop. We got the rainy part of the trip, but some sunshine for a day hike to The Crack and lots of food and laughs.

Then we parted ways and I took off for a ~12-day solo trek around the rest of the loop. Words just can’t do justice to the experience … at this time, it feels like a complete dream that I was standing on those beautiful ridges, looking out onto those awe-inspiring views.

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Proof it wasn’t all a dream …

After sadly rejoining civilization, reality hit big time. It was September (still is September), a really big month for me. It’s the ending of a couple of journeys, including my current job and the career path I’ve been walking down the last ~8 years.

I’ll also be saying good-bye to not only my apartment but to the city I’ve grown up and lived in all my life. It’s a sort of temporary farewell, but it marks a huge life change … I’m nervous, excited and ready to take the leap into The Great Unknown.

Over the past couple of years, I have come to realize without a doubt that living more of my life in nature is the right thing to do for myself. I love being in the outdoors, perhaps need to be out there. Every time I get back onto the trail, amongst the trees, that sense of comfort and happiness comes over me. And so, I’ve made the decision to do just that.

To start this new journey, I’ll be taking a vacation of sorts to Tuscany, Italy to volunteer on an organic vineyard (hey, someone’s gotta help make the vino). When I get back, I’ll be living the farm life and exploring a new career path that lets me live more in the outdoors and travel abroad. I’ll keep writing about my adventures, whether it’s here in my humble abode in the blogosophere or on a new website currently brewing in my mind :)

In the meantime, I hope you’ve all had a full and exciting past few months and that you never stop dreaming for the future.

Yours truly,
Janice (a.k.a. Cafe) <3

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Taking Down Stage Fright: My First Show

I played my first show a couple of weekends ago. It feels pretty surreal now that it ever happened.

Even the next morning I wasn’t sure that it had. Probably because I went from singing on a stage to a crowd of people in a bar to sitting alone in my cubicle staring at some graphs.

But happen it did. It all started out with me attending my first ever open mic at a place called Free Times Cafe. I don’t want to sing professionally and I don’t care much about performing. BUT I hated the idea of having stage fright.

I’ve had stage fright all my life, since I was a little kid when I would cry if I was being forced to sing in front of people.

When I was a teenager I was taking classical voice lessons and actually dreamed of becoming an opera singer. But I would enter into these singing competitions and when I’d perform, I would get so nervous that I’d forget all the words and something that was NOT my voice would come out of my mouth. It was pretty brutal.

I got back into singing many years later, but this time just for fun. I was taking lessons at my friend’s music school and every year they put on a recital. I still got the uncontrollable shakes the couple of times I sang on stage. And that bothered me.

People who aren’t sure if they’re going to get killed stepping outside of their house on any given day in a war-torn country have something real to fear.

Stage fright? Well, I believe stage fright is an irrational fear stemming from the insecurity you have that people may think you suck after hearing you perform.

I actually think many of the things we’re afraid of doing in life come from caring too much about what other people think. And so we hold back. We don’t pursue the things that would bring us great enjoyment or a more fulfilling life.

And so, when I was asked by the Free Times’ open mic host to come back for their Best of the Open Stage show, I said yes because I knew it was time to really kick stage fright in its big butt.

I practiced really hard for the next couple of months to prepare. I went to a couple more open mics to get practice singing in front of people. I almost planned to go sing out on the street — I figured if I could do that, I was golden!

But I got sick a couple weeks before the show (of course). I tried not to panic and focused on getting better. The night of the show, I was still battling something and was barely keeping myself together. But the audience was so incredibly amazing and all I wanted to do was lay out everything on that stage so I could walk away knowing I did my absolute best.

It turned out to be a great night and I was mostly just ecstatic to have so many of my favourite people in the same room, showing so much love and support.

Would I do it again? Yes, I would. I truly believe that conquering fear in one area of your life will just make you less fearful in other areas of your life.

And as with most things, practice makes perfect — so, the more you practice pushing fear away and just going for it, the easier it becomes to ALWAYS push fear away when it’s trying to steal the spotlight.

What’s been one of your life-long fears that you’ve either conquered or would like to conquer?

~ Cafe <3

Janice on Song Talk Radio! And Twitter!

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Hey cafe goers!

So I’ve been fluttering around the big ‘ol Twitterverse lately, doing some live tweeting for a local university radio show called Song Talk Radio.

I’m so in love with the show because it’s all about exploring one of my favourite things in the entire world — ah, no, not fine, single malt scotch, but close(!) — songwriting!

I was actually a guest on Song Talk Radio last month and played a few of my originals (including a new song, “Dance Without Judgement”, live in studio)!  The best part about Song Talk is actually being able to discuss the songwriting process in an intelligent and interesting way — as you know I love to do ;)

And that’s because the hosts — Phil, Bruce and Neel — are so knowledgable about the vast world of music that I often feel like I’ve been living under a very heavy rock.  Plus, they’ve got the kind of laid-back, witty banter going on that has hooked me into hanging out with them every week to tweet for the show!

So here’s the podcast with my Song Talk Radio interview if you want to actually hear the voice behind this blog :)

If you’re also chirping away on Twitter, come join me for the live chat: @SongTalkRadio!  I’ll actually be tweeting in about an hour from now (Monday at 7 pm EST)! [Note: Song Talk is now on Tuesdays at 7!]

And here’s my personal Twitter nest that has a fully-functional coffee machine so we can continue our caffeine-induced chats no matter where we are!: @JaniceHoTweets

See you in Twitter Land! :)

– Cafe <3

“Ghost Town”

Your heart’s a ghost town
Drive by baby, ain’t a soul to be found
Think there’s a hole in your chest
‘Cause the beating’s at rest
Let me give you a temporary fix
To start it up again

– Cafe <3

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This was my second collaboration with The Butcher (check out the first one here).

I insisted that we make this a duet — he has one of my favourite voices ever.  Thanks to today’s digitally-connected world, a guy from Germany and a girl from Canada can do just that :)

— The Songwriting Process —

Lyrics: I sent The Butcher my first attempt at the lyrics back in January 2014 — Verse 1 (which hasn’t changed) and a Chorus.

The original Chorus was the lyric you see above, which included lines from another song I had been writing called “Temporary Fix”. However, once putting it to music, I realized that there were too many syllables and it didn’t sing well.

The Butcher loved it overall though and wanted me to “explain the pictures” so he could better understand what the lyric was about to help finish writing it (English isn’t his first language).

So, I went through some of the images, like: “Got a thing or two that you could say ’bout that empty feeling standing in your grave” is about him being physically alive but his soul feeling “dead” — and knowing this feeling all too well in his life.

Drive by baby, ain’t a soul to be found“, for me, evoked this image of the singer driving around inside his heart, which looked like a barren, dusty ghost town — the kind you see in those Western movies.

From there, The Butcher added a Verse 2; but later on, he expressed that the lyrics would feel “more like one” if I wrote all of it. I did keep most of his revision of the Chorus though and Verse 2 ended up being a mix of both of our ideas.

Overall, I tried not to obsess too much with the lyrics. This song is mostly about creating a particular feeling and mood: mystery, sadness, and a hint of sensuality.

Music: Soon after sending The Butcher my initial Verse + Chorus, he got inspired to record some guitar + melody ideas.

I loved the vibe, but it wasn’t until May that we picked back up with the song. At that point, The Butcher sent another recording that was much closer to the final melody.

His vision was to use synths, strings and beats to create an “eerie” sound for the song. In June, he had an instrumental to work off of that sounds close to the final version.

I finally started recording some vox and we went back and forth discussing where the melody needed to be tweaked. The Butcher threw the best snippets from both of our multiple vocal tracks to come up with an idea of how “Ghost Town” could sound. It was an exciting moment to hear the potential!

The Butcher also “had a guy” who wanted to try some electronic beats, and the talented Unklang ended up with the percussion, plus some strings and mixing creds on the track.

Finally, although The Butcher wasn’t sure that singing together was the best thing for the song, I was determined to see my vision of a “duet” through. So I asked him to piece together our tracks in the arrangement I imagined and in September 2014 …

“Ghost Town” was laid to rest!

Okay, it was really done in November with the final mix :)

Lessons Learned: Open communication is always number one in a collaboration. For example, the Butcher didn’t hesitate to tell me that my initial Chorus melody needed more movement. That led to the soaring notes of “Your heart’s a gho—st to—wn” and less spacing between the Chorus lines, which I think worked much better.

We also came to an agreement that we would each focus more on our strengths — me on the lyrics and him on the music. But we also constantly gave each other feedback on our ideas — this allowed the song to progress, plus we were able to push each other past any mental blocks we were experiencing with our parts.

The Art of Collaboration

The first time I collaborated with someone on writing a song together was about a month and a half into my songwriting journey, just over a year ago.

It was such a nerve-wrecking idea that I would be adding my own creation to someone’s else’s creation in the hopes of making it bigger and better!

Well, I have to say that partnering up with Adam Boddy was just about the best introduction I could have asked for to the art of collaborating.

What makes an awesome collaboration partner?  Someone who is a good communicator and responsive (in terms of timeliness and giving constructive feedback), as well as encouraging and honest. It also helped that we both just happened to be on the same page about a lot of things!

It doesn’t always come that easy though.

Some of you have heard our song “For Simone” before but I’m putting it up now as I’m currently into a new collaboration and needing to find some inspiration somewhere! Anywhere!

I guess it’s this way with anything in life — sometimes you have to work with people who maybe don’t do things the way you normally do.  And you’re given a challenging task and could use all the encouragement and feedback that you can get … but, instead, there is silence on the other end.  [Cue the cricket chirp].

Well, we can always learn something from the experience though and use it to better our half of being a collaborative partner.  Always a silver lining to everything!

Have you ever had a challenging collaboration that you worked your way through?

– Cafe <3