Tamara Lindeman perches on some chairs in the Tranzac Main Hall. Photo by Nancy Paiva/Torontoist.
The Tranzac Club is in trouble, and while the Annex staple is raising money to stay alive, Torontoist is conducting a series of interviews with musicians who have close ties to it. First up: Tamara Lindeman, whose band, The Weather Station, played with Rock Plaza Central at last Friday’s Tranzac fundraiser. She’s also a member of Bruce Peninsula, and is a founding (and current) member of Entire Cities; she co-produced their upcoming new album I Hope You Never Come Home.
TAMARA LINDEMAN: I first found out about the Tranzac when I was at University of Toronto, and didn’t know anything about the music scene here. I met this fella, who was like, “There’s this band, Sunparlour Players, they’re really crazy!” So he took me to the Tranzac to see them play—they used to play every week, they had a residency then—and I was blown away; I’d never heard music like this; I was from a small town, this was amazing! Here was this packed house to see these two men screaming and hitting things.
So that was a good introduction to the Tranzac. It was the tail end of their residency, before I was in any bands, so 2004? I’ve always loved going to see shows there, and I’ve done many shows there—my CD release was there in April 2009, and I did a year of shows there in 2008.
TORONTOIST: So you first started developing and trying out material for your album East at the Tranzac?
TL: For sure. As a person who plays quieter music, it’s ideal…everything else is too big, or too noisy, or too small, or too far away. Everyone knows where the Tranzac is, and how to get there. The Southern Cross room there is just such a good size for [acoustic] shows.
TORONTOIST: It’s pretty unique in Toronto, isn’t it?
TL: It’s funny; I think people have realized that we need more spaces like the Tranzac. Like the Holy Oak Cafe—as a venue, it’s a big shift. I think they’re doing great stuff. The Dakota Tavern, too. But yeah, that could be part of the problem; maybe there was a point when the Tranzac was the only place for certain kinds of music, and now, the Dakota’s taking the country scene, for example.
But the Tranzac is just so much bigger than any of those places. I guess a problem is that the bands that play at and love the Tranzac have trouble filling the Main Hall regularly.
TORONTOIST: Well, it’s difficult to do shows in the Main Hall because they have to be over by 11 p.m. [a noise curfew, due to their residential zoning].
TL: Yeah. It’s an issue.
To me, the Tranzac is also all about the Constellation Records guys, and the improvisational, jazz, and experimental music scenes. You’d have to ask them, of course, but It seems to me that those scenes came from the Tranzac, or were nurtured there, and I’ve never heard anything like it anywhere else in the world. Guys like Ryan Driver and Eric Chenaux; it’s not necessarily everyone’s kind of music, but there are people in Germany and Australia who are like, “What is this music, and where is it coming from?” And the answer is the Tranzac.
There’s also all sorts of singer-songwriter types, like me, who call it home. Those times when I’ve been going to the Tranzac regularly, I always felt, “Oh, wow, this person did this, I’ve never even seen that before!” You’d see things you’d have never thought to do, and you’re driven to be so much more creative.
TORONTOIST: It does seem, though, that the last few times I’ve been to the Tranzac, that there’s been great talent playing there, but there are like, a dozen people there.
TL: Yeah. What the Tranzac is facing is a problem with Toronto; we’re all so spoiled, with so much amazing music and art going on every night, and many of us don’t leave the house often enough! [Laughs.] And I include myself in that number. There are so many great things going on, and people don’t always appreciate what’s out there before it’s gone.
I also wonder if the centre of gravity [for music in Toronto] has shifted away from the Annex to the west end, with the Garrison, the Dakota Tavern, the Painted Lady, the whole Ossington strip.
TORONTOIST: There are bands playing regularly all along Ossington now, places where there was never live music before, who’re competing for attention.
So if I was to play devil’s advocate, and say, “Okay, if there are places like the Dakota and the Holy Oak that welcome acts that used to play almost exclusively at the Tranzac, why do we still need the Tranzac?”
TL: Well, the Dakota is a great space, but it’s really rock n’ roll and country; if you play quietly there some nights, you’ll get ignored. I like that place so much, and the people who work there are great, but I saw Daniel, Fred, & Julie there, and there were so many people that were talking so loudly! I mean, I’ve seen those guys shut crowds up at the Horseshoe Tavern. The Dakota has a partying clientele.
The Garrison is too big for most folk acts, who can’t pull in a large enough crowd. It’s a great rock venue, though, that compares to the Tranzac’s Main Hall. The Holy Oak is the only venue in town comparable, I think, to the Tranzac’s Southern Cross Lounge.
But what’s most important about the Tranzac is the clientele. When people go there, they’re really respectful towards artists playing quiet music. You go in there, and you can hear a pin drop. And the sound is so good in the Southern Cross, with the vaulted ceiling; it’s really special. The sound is great in the Main Hall, too, and a lot of bands forget about it as a venue.
Another thing that’s special about the Tranzac is how, often, there are three different things going on (in the Main Hall, Southern Cross Lounge, and Tiki Room), and you can wander from room to room. I can remember times when I’ve left the Southern Cross to look for a chair in the Tiki Room, and there’s like twenty people playing Irish flutes, and then I’ll open the door to the Main Hall, and there’s a funk band playing, and meanwhile, there’s a jazz trio in the Southern Cross…it’s just such an eclectic and bizarre mix of people and scenes.
TORONTOIST: And if the Tranzac goes under, a lot of those people and scenes will be disenfranchised.
One of my favourite memories of the Tranzac, one of my first times playing there, was at the Main Hall, playing someone’s CD release [with Entire Cities], and we came off stage, and walked by the Southern Cross room, and there was this sound. It was like a chorus of people singing, and someone was unrolling tin foil, and my bandmates and I watched with our hands and faces up to the glass, like bugs to a light, and finally opened the door and squeezed inside. And it was Bruce Peninsula playing one of their first shows. And I had this emotional—ungh!—I was full-on crying, I was blown away.
That was a Tranzac first, and really special, but there’s been so many moments like that there. In the process of booking [residency shows] for the Tranzac, I found myself going out and finding people, then hearing them and playing with them, a lot of people I didn’t know, like Isla Craig, and $100, and Snowblink, and Sandro Perri, and Lisa Bozikovic, and Owle Birde…y’know what? I’ve met everyone I know at the Tranzac! [Laughs.]
Next up in the Tranzac Transcripts: singer-songwriter Lisa Bozikovic.