There are a lot of odd and brow-furrowing ways to make it as an artist in the music business, from American Idol and its imitators to battles of the bands like the Bodog Battle of the Bands that the gambling Web site www.bodog.com's founder Calvin Ayre is sponsoring. (It's online at www.bodogmusic.com.) Ayre's offering the winner a million-dollar recording contract.
Bodog's battle is being waged in its early stages largely on the Internet; I heard about it when I got a MySpace message from Joey Arroyo, a singer-songwriter kid I wrote about in this column a few weeks back, asking his friends to visit the site and vote for him. Internet democracy doesn't insure quality talent, though, which is why I'm not very impressed by Ayre's contest.
I had the same derisive attitude when I heard about the One Red Paperclip trading-up scheme -- the goal being to eventually swap a paper clip for a house. (Check it out at www.oneredpaperclip.blogspot.com) Along the way, a couple of months ago, a local singer/songwriter named Jody Gnant traded one year's free rent in a unit of a Phoenix duplex she owns for a recording contract at a studio in Toronto and the promise that her record would be shopped to record execs at Sony and BMG.
Media outlets were all over the Pay It Forward -style story, but none of them had much to say about Gnant's music. I promptly ignored it. Gnant wasn't getting the deal based on her talent; it was based on what she had to offer to perpetuate Montreal-based blogger Kyle MacDonald's cute lil' project.
Not long ago, though, I was talking to my homie Sean Shepherd, who works with bands like the Liar's Handshake via his Harmonic Scalpel company, and he convinced me to check Jody Gnant's music out. I did, and he was right: The girl's got talent.
Gnant isn't playing out while she works on the record she's due to begin recording next week in Toronto, but Shepherd's seen her plenty in the rehearsal studio, and he was convinced. "She's never more in her own skin than when she's performing," he tells me. "There's a different side of her that comes out when she's performing. Some people transform; she's one of them.
"I think it's fresh," he continues. "It's eclectic enough to have a broad base, there's a positive twist on the attitude of her songs, and her observations. It's more upbeat, and she has a fantastic voice."
Shepherd knows his shit when it comes to music, and he isn't, by the way, managing Gnant -- she's self-managed. So I got my hands on some of Gnant's music -- her 1995 disc Treasure Quest, and some demos including a few songs off her upcoming album, tentatively named Pivot. I was impressed. Her music's not the sort that I'd jam for my rocker friends, but she's got a cabaret sort of sultriness going on, in an adult contemporary kind of way.
She ought to be polished by now -- the twentysomething young lady (she politely murmurs "twenty-blurrghh" when I ask her age) has been writing songs since the age of 11 and joined the Arizona Songwriters' Association when she was 13.
Gnant usually does play around town, though she's taking a break while she prepares and records the Pivot album. Her favorite venues are art-related First Friday-style events, which fit well with her genre, and are appropriate since she used to run an art gallery called FHH Gallery in the Phoenix space she now calls her studio.
Now, she's about to head off and record the bulk of Pivot (three songs -- "Me Who Changed," "Lavandaria Sucia," and "Black and Tan" -- are already recorded). I've got the demo versions of those songs, and assuming they're indicative of the record that will result, they're polished, earnest, and soulful compositions that establish Gnant as a chanteuse who belongs on the smoke-filled lounge circuit.
"Me Who Changed" is a Latin-flavored pop number in which she croons about "screaming anger, crying shames, pointing fingers and placing blame," while "Lavandaria Sucia" is a playful, almost lusty track driven by a film-noir bass line until the song implodes into a calliope-esque montage. "Black and Tan" is a funny little ode to Phoenix's infamous after-hours party where Gnant shows she can handle country-flavored tunes as well.
Trading a year's free rent for the time in the recording studio made perfect fiscal sense to Gnant. "It was a way of spreading my recording time costs over twelve months in the form of a monthly rent payment," she tells me. "That's how I justified being able to hit the enter button and submit the trade. It was actually going to be cheaper than to put it on a credit card."
This is one case where the gimmick overshadowed the talent. It's kind of a shame that many people, I'm sure, will have the same reaction as I did to the method used to get the recording time rather than Gnant's music itself.
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There's no promise of a record deal included in her contract, just the guarantee that it'll be shopped to certain execs. But Gnant has been living an artist's lifestyle for years, and she's confident that once again fortune and providence will be on her side.
"If somebody said, 'We want you to be Jody Star, we want you to change your name and sign this record deal,' I'd be content doing exactly what I'm doing now; I could say 'No, thank you,'" she says.
"People are waiting to see if I can actually make music, if I can actually sing. I know the answer to that."
Soon, I hope, everyone will.