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  • Annette Dawm

Prioritizing Time with Jeremy Fisher

For Jeremy Fisher, the phrase, “long time, no see” feels like something he’s been saying to everyone. Like many other musicians, Jeremy has been unable to tour throughout most of the pandemic. However, that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t been busy. While raising his family, Jeremy discovered he had a knack for writing children’s music.

“The reason I started writing music for kids is because I have two young kids.” He explained. “I started doing it as a side project just because I thought, ‘Well, I’m spending all my time learning how to be a parent and living this very different life.’

…When I had kids, it felt like a different act in life. I thought, ‘I need to write about this.’ This is what I do, right? So I can’t pretend. I can’t just shut that off and write about other stuff. I’ve always written about my life. I started out bicycle travelling and I wrote about that. I wrote about moving all over the country…. "

"I want people to know that writing music still feels new for me. I feel like I’m always learning new stuff. My music education trajectory is kind of like a Benjamin Button situation. The older I get, the more I seem to progress, the more I realize I don’t know. I feel like a baby and that’s exciting!”

In 2018, under the name Jeremy Fisher Junior, he released Highway to Spell. Fisher described the album “as a love letter to being a first-time parent. It sort of plays like a day-in-the-life of a family with a toddler.” Some of the tracks have now carried over to his latest project, Jeremy and Jazzy, an animated series, which can be found on CBC Kids, CBC Gem and YouTube. The show took four years to develop via a partnership with Vérité Films and his long-time manager, “Parkside” Mike Renaud.

Originally, Jazzy was not a main character. In the beginning, the show was meant to focus on an animated version of Jeremy and his bus, Tunebug. According to Fisher, “Jeremy was the 60’s-inspired folk revival/acoustic guitar slinging folk singer. Jeremy was going to be the ‘old’ and Tunebug was going to be the ‘new’. Tunebug is this A.I. equipped tour bus robot that sings and speaks in Auto-Tune…. As we started building stories, we realized in order to make it funny we needed more characters. So we created Jazzy, who’s like the musical encyclopedia. She kind of pushes Jeremy into other genres and pulls him out of his comfort zone. That opened us up to be able to explore all different kinds of music rather than just the straight-up folk—which is cool because it’s a little bit more like my ‘adult’ career where I’ve explored a lot of different genres…. I like to speak about Jeremy in the third-person like he’s different from me, but he is different! He’s a cartoon!” Fisher added that he would love to make a plush version of Tunebug one day.

“Then we’ve got Stu who is the little studio rat. He’s silent, but he’s got a hip-pack full of surprises! They’re sort of this little band of characters that explore friendship, music, creation and collaboration. It was just through ‘playing with the clay’. We brainstormed and we would write drafts and we’d throw them away. It was a lot of work. I would say the first six months of it was all just that. Then we got some funding to make our first pilot. So we became more focused and sharpened the idea into what it is now. There were a lot of tweaks along the way. We made two 11 minute episodes, one based on ‘Turtle and Guy’ and another one based on a song called ‘Hot Dog’. Then we had all of these beautiful characters and backgrounds illustrated and animated. From there, we were able to make two-minute shorts, of which we have made 55! Those have been really fun because we’ve been able to explore the characters a lot more.”

“Turtle and Guy” (a song about a guy named Turtle and a turtle named Guy) came to be while Jeremy told his daughter about the days he spent at Camp Wanakita in Haliburton, ON:

“I really did have a friend named Turtle when I was a kid. That was his nickname. His real name was John. He was my camp counsellor as a matter of fact. I had taken some time off to look after my first daughter before she went to daycare. I was just hanging out with her every day and making up little, silly songs and stuff. I would just talk to her even though her language was very, very basic at 12 or 14 months old.... I had to carry a lot of the conversation. So I would tell her these stories about my childhood."

"I said, ‘Hey, you know, I used to have a friend named Turtle!’ and she laughed! Then I said, ‘Imagine if Turtle had a pet turtle!’ and she laughed even harder. ‘Okay, imagine if the pet turtle’s name was Guy! Then there’d be a guy named Turtle and a turtle named Guy!’ She started howling and then I picked up my little guitar and just sang that back to her! It was just one of those things. I had my phone right next to me and I just opened up my little Notes app and I started making up the story and telling it to her. I was writing it down at the same time and twenty minutes later, I just had that song. You know, there’s probably only five or ten songs in my life of writing that have happened that way. It’s almost like it just falls out and you’ve got to catch it before it hits the floor! They are songs that tend to be my favourite ones to play, too. Because they come out so fast, they have a simplicity to them that makes them enjoyable.”

Eventually, someone tagged Turtle on Facebook when the song came out and they reconnected through a camp alumni group.

Jeremy noted that the main difference between writing for kids and writing for adults is usually the subject matter. While he enjoys being more abstract when it comes to adults, he does not use metaphors with kids: “It’s very literal. It’s super fun as a writer to just be totally direct and totally clear and not have to be abstract.”

An example of his literal approach to song writing would be, “No Better Fly Than a Butterfly” which explains the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. However, the song went through several changes of its own before it appeared on the Say Hello album:

“‘No Better Fly Than a Butterfly’ is the second draft of that song. The original draft of it was about other flies. It’s kind of a funnier version. It had exact same chorus, then it just dissed other flies and bugs. It was like,

‘I knew a moskita

Her name was Rita

Buzzin’ around my head like onomatopoeia’

It was something like that. It was fun and funny and who knows? Maybe I’ll release that version too but then I performed it a few times on my live stream. I was like, ‘Oh, you know what? I’m missing an opportunity to teach something here.’ This is one of the most amazing things in nature and that’s what I should talk about in this song about butterflies.”

Speaking of his live stream, Jeremy often features guests like the voice of Jazzy, Aiza Ntibarikure, and the one and only Fred Penner. Growing up, Jeremy loved watching classic TVO and CBC shows like Polka Dot Door, Mr. Dressup, Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings, Sesame Street, Fables of the Green Forest, The Friendly Giant and more. By the time Fred first crawled through his log in the opening sequence of Fred Penner’s Place, Fisher was no longer part of the target audience, but he was “certainly aware” of the beloved children’s entertainer.

“I met Fred probably 15 or more years ago for the first time. We were playing a gig at Whistler, BC together. We were sharing a green room and I don’t know if I knew he was on the bill. I just remember being really surprised. I was just sitting down there and eating a handful of almonds and there’s Fred Penner! I don’t know if he was pretending, but he seemed just as excited to meet me and he’s the nicest person! Everybody has this experience with him and he’s such a role model to everybody! At that time I wasn’t even making kids’ music that many years ago…. He’s been a joy! He’s just so kind and open. We’ve done a few gigs together over the years and he did come on my live stream. He’s awesome. I don’t have enough good things to say about Fred. Fred coming out of the log was so cool. He was a reference when we were making the show—the transition of going through the woods and into the log and out onto the set. We knew we needed some type of magical transition there to bring people into this world. He did that so well.”

Before becoming a children’s entertainer himself, Jeremy used puppets in the music video for his song, “The Bride is Dead”. When asked if he would work with puppets again for a younger audience, he replied, “Absolutely! Yes!” He also admitted that this was something the team “toyed with” while working on Jeremy and Jazzy:

“....We got a little bit scared off because with puppets, most of the stuff you end up referencing was made by Jim Henson, like The Muppet Show and Sesame Street…. It’s so hard to do it really well. I think because we didn’t have a puppet designer on the team we got scared away from it, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility.”

“Making ‘The Bride is Dead’ video was my favourite experience with making a music video.... For that one, we rented out a studio. I got together with a bunch of friends. I bought them food and drinks and we just played with these puppets that were made by my friend, Ian Langohr. Ian lives in Montreal. He’s an artist. His company is called Hand Sewn Heads and you can find him on Instagram and TikTok! He makes awesome TikToks! He’s gone on to do a Peewee’s Playhouse type show in Quebec and he makes different masks and stuff.” (Previously, Jeremy created most of his music videos by himself. This required a lot of time alone while he worked on stop motion or regular animation. He also spent several hours on a computer editing each video.)

Outside of the Jeremy and Jazzy universe, Fisher said he’s been trying to release more of his own music but it has been a struggle:

“….I’ve kind of run out of time in my day. I’m so busy with this right now but it is something I want to get back to. I mean, that was something I had a bit of a chance to do over the pandemic. It was a surprise to me and I just kind of went with it. I made a Christmas album called Quiet Christmas. I just wrote the one song and I wondered, ‘Could I make a whole Christmas album and just do a bunch of Christmas classics that are in the public domain?’” He completed the project in about a week. “It felt really good and I got a really good reaction to it. It was fun to make something that was mellow and acoustic with vocal harmonies—kind of like a lot of my earlier stuff."

As of right now though, he is not ready to make a new album just yet. "I’ve got to figure out how to do that, what that’s going to be and where the time’s going to come from. I guess I’m also a little lost as to what to do. The landscape has changed a lot since I put out my last record and over the pandemic. I do see a lot of my peers who are struggling with where to direct their energy. It just seems like we’re in a world now where everything is so visual. You’ve got to make visuals for everything. It’s hard to keep up with content creation. It takes time. So I don’t think I’m discouraged by it, but I know it’s something I have to put a lot of thought into. My last big studio album I made was The Lemon Squeeze in 2014, which was a long time ago.… Anyway, to make a 10-12 song album like that and putting it out is tough. Making an album for streaming just feels a little anti-climactic…. I just don’t know what it would look like. I might just start making stuff. I’ve got my own studio here so I don’t have to worry about studio time. I’m very fortunate in that way. Maybe much like Jeremy and Jazzy, it’ll take me a couple of years and I’ll just start playing with the clay and figure out what it’s going to be.”

With the world opening up again, Jeremy said he is looking forward to playing his last few shows of 2022 while looking ahead to next year. He hopes to continue playing his music in schools. “I really miss playing live and in person. We’ve got a young family and someone is particularly vulnerable in our family, so we’ve had to be really careful and cautious…. I hope I can get out a little more and be more adventurous. So I’m looking forward to having a bit of a social life again and a touring life in some capacity. I’m also looking forward to my kids growing and going through the different phases with them and making music with them, making art with them and whatever they’re into, you know? I definitely feel like I could get out of these four walls a little bit more.”

Finally, when reflecting on his career as whole, Jeremy Fisher offered the following advice that he wished he had received 20 years ago:

“….I would say, get a good bicycle and good rain gear for your bike tour across the country. To be making art, music, videos and all that stuff—putting on shows—I think the most important thing to recognize is that you’re going to get good at the thing you spend most of your time doing. So whatever it is, there are lots of different things that you can do within the world of entertainment or art or music….”

“It’s really important to make sure that you prioritize the time for doing that thing that you like and be open to that shifting. Like for me, for example, when I started out… I was into electric guitar and AC/DC and stuff. I wanted to be the lead guitar player in a rock and roll band. That just became evident to me at some point that that’s not going to be for me. That’s not really who I was, as much as I love that kind of music…. So I allowed myself to evolve and to try a lot of different things. Then I made sure I liked playing acoustic guitar and harmonica, and singing all by myself on stage and telling stories. I would find these artists I really liked that were great at telling stories while they were playing a show. So I worked on that a lot and I made sure I had time to devote to playing.”

“I had a low cost of living. I lived cheaply with a bunch of roommates and I toured on my bike so that I didn’t have to buy a car or stay in hotels. I had a tent. I did all of these things so that I could focus much of my energy, or as much as possible, on doing the thing that I wanted to get really good at. I think that can be overlooked sometimes. I’ve also known people who are very methodical and they’ve planned out their career and they’ve had a good job or part-time job. They’ve sort of weaned off of that in a very organized way—not that that’s not possible—but for me, it’s been really important to focus on doing the craft.”

“I’ve learned that I just need a lot of time to do stuff. I do have some natural ability but I also just work really hard because I enjoy doing work. That’s the other part of it. Make sure the practice of the thing you want to do is joyful. At the end of it, you might feel good when you finish a song or a particularly good show, but that’s fleeting. You have to keep going! After a great show, you might feel great for an hour if you’re lucky, or terrible if it’s a bad show! Or you might feel terrible for days! For me, the real reward is coming in my studio every day and thinking, ‘Okay, I’ve got this many hours to make stuff!’ At the end of it, hopefully I’ll have something I didn’t know could exist or that I didn’t even have the idea for. That’s exciting!”

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Photo courtesy of Jeremy Fisher.

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