Randall Spear just going with the flow

Randall Spear just going with the flow

LiQ_Mag_Cover_July2014This article first appeared in the July 2014 issue of Life in Québec Magazine.
Life in Quebec Magazine is a lifestyle publication covering the Quebec region and is currently published at least 3 times per year.
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Voir aussi la version française de cet article.

By Andrew Greenfield

Randall Spear outwardly appears relaxed, affable even. He’ll tell you that he’s just going with the flow, working away, and seeing where it takes him.

But behind that calm exterior I sense that there’s more to this gifted singer-songwriter than what you see on the surface.

One of seven children, I imagine that in his younger days he was constantly vying for attention from his parents and family. How could you not be in a family of that size?

Despite being raised near the Ontario border in Hudson, Quebec, in a completely Anglophone family, Randall is at ease in French, having gone to French schools in his youth. He says this was something his parents insisted on. He appears grateful for this as he lives and works in both languages today – even writing songs in French, some of which have won him awards.

Randall_Spear_web2His love of music was cemented early – almost his whole family played instruments and sang. His father, hailing from the Maritimes, his father before him from Ireland, wrote folk songs and tunes reminiscent of home.

It all started to take shape in high school. He recalls “There was this great show called the Jubilee where they had a theatre and you could do your thing. The day I got a guitar, had a few lessons and learned a couple of chords was the day I wrote my first song. It seemed so natural to me.”

As an early teenager he was influenced by Supertramp and Peter Gabriel. He saw the latter perform in Montreal and thinks that was one of the best shows he’s ever seen. Quite a statement considering he’s been to see and has performed in countless gigs over the years.

From enthusiastic youth to accomplished recording artist – how did it all come about? And Hudson to Quebec City – how did that happen?

Randall tells me that he met a Quebec City girl at a music camp in Charlevoix. They went out for a while, he visited Quebec City, then fell in love with her and the city. He went on to study at the Quebec Conservatory and Laval University.

Today he combines his career as a teacher of English as a Second Language at a local CÉGEP (twenty years and counting) with that of a recording artist.

Spear loves the music scene here in the region as it’s all so concentrated and close. He is equally enamoured with his day job and he states “I’m a happy teacher because I’m a musician and I’m a happy musician because I’m a teacher. It balances out. One is a release from the other and I love and need both.”

He continues: “Teaching brings stability, and there’s something about going into the classroom and seeing happy faces, people wanting to learn what you can teach them. Whereas music, oh man, that’s a rollercoaster. It’s extremely competitive. Even if you’re lucky it’s not easy. The definition of success in music is constantly changing so you’re almost setting yourself up for a fall. I have a real hard time with pressure. Too much and I don’t feel good.”

Randall_Spear_webRandall has released three albums so far: Slow Parade in 2010, Someone to Help Me a couple of years ago, and These Songs are Made of Wood which was released recently. He has a Canada-wide recording and distribution deal. He works with André Laverne, a well-known music industry figure (who in turn has produced albums for Kevin Parent, Michel Rivard, Patrice Michaud, and Pat the White). As Randall puts it, “Some amazingly gifted people.”

But that hasn’t always been the case. He was an independent musician before the term was invented. And as for winning a recording deal twenty five or so years ago “Forget about it – that was dreamland for someone like me.”

So with a recording deal in place, and a decent-sized fan base across Canada, how is his music purchased today? Randall explains “It’s much easier to enter the industry today than when I started out because of the internet, but the most effective is still the CD. I’m amazed. Why do they still exist? They’re annoying aren’t they? They’re all over my car, my house, they get in the way. I totally get streaming and what it can do for our industry. I’m not interested in downloading for free and people paying what they want though, well guess what they’re going to pay, they’ll pay nothing!”

“But you know, when we put on shows, people want to buy our CDs from the merchandise booth.
I thought that side was finished, but when we sell them, it gives fans the chance to hold on to something, take ownership of it, and make a connection. You can’t do that on the internet.”

LiQ_Mag_Abonnez-vousHe continues, “Diversification is crucial and artists today have to be open-minded. We’re still going to sell CDs but fewer of them. You’ll get people buying on the internet more and more. Sites like iTunes are good, I use them, but they’re not the be all and end all.”

Although he already has three solo albums out there, he does collaborate with other artists on projects. According to Spear, the key to making a worthwhile project bear fruit is to surround yourself with people with a similar vision and who want to achieve similar things. Sensible business advice if you ask me.

Randall usually plays gigs across Canada in venues to crowds of around three hundred people, and intriguingly “House Concerts”. As he explains: “We don’t really have them here, they’re mainly out West and in the States. It’s a show put on in a private house. They’ll clear the living room and thirty or so people show up. It’s really intimate. You get to meet the musicians, there’s usually one or two you get to hang out with. You’ll be chatting in the kitchen. It’s a great concept and you can get close to some really good musicians.”

So, having been around the Quebec music scene for nigh on thirty years, what advice would Randall give anyone considering entering the business today?

He says: “Listen to good music. Find somebody who inspires you. Find out why they inspire you. For me it’s Neil Young. He has a philosophy of ‘Don’t be denied.’ Who cares? Do it anyway. Do what’s wrong. When you do it, you do what you believe in, and then when it works people say ‘Wow, how did you do that?’ You must try and hold on to someone who inspires you.”

Randall Spear is clearly not someone who likes to stand still for too long. Despite a busy CÉGEP career, writing and recording music, and putting on shows, Randall is also working on another project.

For the first time ever, he’s managing to collaborate with good friend and fellow Quebec musician Jack Lavoie (and others from across Canada) on a classroom study aid that combines his English teaching and music skills. They are working on a music-based activity book that students can engage with – whether they are musically inclined or not. Says Randall “It’s quite the challenge, but I do think the generation we have right now is open to it.”

Randall Spear going with the flow – you’ve got to be joking, he’s one of the most hard-working people I’ve met!

About Author

Andrew Greenfield

Andrew Greenfield moved to Quebec in 2009. He is part of the team responsible for the publishing company behind LifeinQuebec.com and Life in Québec Magazine. He has been involved with online and print media since 2001. He is passionate about cricket, is a qualified coach, and his real ambition is to start a cricket team in Quebec City – something he freely admits is probably beyond him. Follow him on Twitter @GreenfieldAndy

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