Sulfur City is a band that hasn’t been on the Canadian scene very long, but already they have found a niche for their rough-hewn blues-rock, as tough as their hometown of Sudbury, Ontario. The band recently became the first female-fronted act to sign with L.A.-based Alive Naturalsound Records—the label that was also the first home for The Black Keys—which is releasing Sulfur City’s new album Talking Loud on May 27.
Fronted by singer and electric washboard player Lori Paradis, the band also features guitarist Jesse Lagace, bassist Steve Smith, drummer Sam King and keyboardist Keith Breit. But it’s Paradis who is front and centre, with an on-stage persona often compared to Grace Slick, Patti Smith and Janis Joplin. Her gritty musical approach reflects Paradis’ upbringing in a small northeastern Ontario mining village, with the album’s lyrics reflecting her experience as a truck driver on a construction crew, a bartender and a house painter, among other odd jobs.
Talking Loud was recorded in Toronto with Dale Morningstar at his Gas Station studio and his well-known no-nonsense approach perfectly captures the raw of Sulfur City’s sound. While perhaps not the kind of record that normally attains indie rock glory in Canada, it’s the ideal antidote for anyone clamoring for pure, hi-test rock and roll.
Lori Paradis brought us to speed with the band’s progress so far, and Sulfur City’s place within the Canadian scene.
What was your musical vision for Talking Loud, and how did you achieve it?
We wanted an album that reflected the edginess and discord of the times we live in. Part of that was exploring social, political and emotional journeys that we all take. We also wanted to share personal stories as well as the experiences of those around us—what they see, and how they perceive today’s climate. We live in interesting times and walk through our lives with a veil of secrets shrouding us.
What helped to achieve our vision was incorporating the individual musical influences and diversity of the band. Recording at the Gas Station on Toronto Island with Dale Morningstar also played a vital role. It had so much character in its walls. When I emailed Dale with music samples and enquiring about his space, his answer was, “Lori, diggin’ the bluesy, soulful, nasty dirty tuna. Let’s make this happen.” He was the right guy. We recorded live off the floor to tape in three-and-a-half days, which added to the edginess and rawness of the sound because you have to lay everything on the line at that moment, no holding back. That’s life.
How did a band from Sudbury end up signing to a label in L.A.?
It was suggested to me about five years ago that Alive Naturalsound would dig our music and that I should send them something. At the time we had nothing recorded. In 2014 we recorded an EP. I packaged up the CD, wrote a small note, tucked it in and mailed it away. It was four months later that I got a call. I was told they get a ton of demos, and out of hundreds, maybe one will be of some interest, and the last band signed from a demo in the mail was five years ago. And demos from women, forget it. But the disc I sent made it to their regular lunchtime listening session and when they put it in, it read “Can’t Read Disc.” It was about to get tossed when the Alive’s president Patrick Boissel said, “I think there’s something wrong with that computer, try it in the other one.” On came the first song and I was told everyone just froze, they couldn’t believe their ears, and Patrick said, “Play another one, finally, a girl with balls!” He called ten minutes later.
What do you recall about your first time performing in public?
The time that most sticks in my head was the first time I sang in public. I had been playing drums but I felt hidden behind the kit singing in public was different. I was to sing back-up on an old gospel song, "Lay My Burden Down," repeat the last line in each verse. I was so nervous, shaking, I spent a few hours memorizing the words. Funny now that I think about it. As I sang I was frozen in one spot, didn’t move. After it was done I wanted to do it again. It gave me the courage to continue. When I’m feeling blue or disheartened I sing that song.
What have been some of your most memorable experiences while touring in Canada?
The landscapes and her people are the most memorable. As I’m driving down highways I am in awe of what I see. It reminds me off how insignificant I am and how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful world. The song “Kings Highway” is about one of those highways that put me awe, mouth open beauty. And the opportunity I get to meet so many different people and finding out how much alike we are and how different we are. It will always blow me away.
If there is anything you'd like to change about the music industry, what would it be?
Radio DJ’s. I love radio and I would like to see more hands-on live DJ’s that get to spin their own new discoveries and don’t have to follow pre-programmed shows. I think it would be cool to hear a DJ say, “Hey, this was dropped off today and I think it’s worth a listen.”