Borcherdt builds his mystery

Brian Borcherdt in one of his Tuesday night solo gigs at Elixir.
Brian Borcherdt in one of his Tuesday night solo gigs at Elixir.
Matt Naporowski
The happy Mr. Borcherdt.
The happy Mr. Borcherdt.
Matt Naporowski

As his music may suggest, Brian Borcherdt craves mystery.

“I’m really inspired by things that are mysterious,” he said while sitting down with the Journal before his solo show last week at Elixir.

“Music is meant to be mysterious,” he said.

“I’ve always been inspired by people that do things that are, at least to my knowledge, very unique and very daring, because then there is a mystery to solve. It makes me question what these people were thinking, like ‘How did they get so brave?’” he said.

Brian Borcherdt has been touring southern Ontario throughout September playing weekly residency gigs across the province—certainly a unique way of touring.

Every Tuesday this month, Borcherdt played a solo set as part of Rock Crew Production’s New Music Night at Elixir. Tonight is the culmination of his Kingston residency, as he will be celebrating his time at Elixir with his first performance with a full band.

With this tour, Borcherdt has played a handful of towns repeatedly, attempting to build a fan base the old-fashioned way—consistently playing live and slowly creating an audience.

“One of the things I was looking forward to about this tour was approaching it like a job,” he said. “As a musician, you sometimes have a longing for stability, because most of the time you go to a town, meet a bunch of people, have lots of conversations and then you’re gone. You’re off to the next town,” he said. “It’s just very fleeting. You only get these glimpses of connections. So, the idea of coming back to a town was fascinating to me.”

Residencies are nothing new, but they are increasingly becoming a thing of the past. The legendary Stompin’ Tom Connors holds the Canadian residency record by playing Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern for 29 consecutive nights in the ’70s.

Whether Borcherdt’s modern take on the rock residency is his attempt to solve the mystery of touring or not, it’s certainly refreshing to see an artist attempting to establish an audience through sheer hard work and determination.

Another one of Borcherdt’s mysteries is the moniker by which he records—The Remains of Brian Borcherdt.

“Simply going under your own name as a solo artist can be limiting in an imaginative scope, which is a big part of what music is,” he said. “You can never really enjoy music unless you lend a part of your imagination to it.

“The Remains is also about how all we can ever give to anybody is little clues as to who we really are,” he said. “Even in the most intimate relationships, we can only know fragments of people.”

This love of mystery drives Borcherdt’s work, affecting everything from his music to his album art. His songs are not plain to see—they are dense and layered, with hidden intricacies that reveal themselves only after repeated listens.

Although he may be just beginning to build a solo career, Borcherdt is no stranger to the Canadian music scene. For the last three years he played guitar for the popular party rock band, By Divine Right.

Borcherdt maintains that while he is officially on hiatus from the band, he has not quit definitively.

“I never quit anything,” he said. “It’s like skateboarding or break dancing, I don’t do it as much anymore, but I still like to consider it a part of my life.

“Every time I played a show with By Divine Right, I always had a really great time. It’s just that after a while, sometimes you have to focus on something less motivated by it simply being a great time,” he said. “Sometimes you have to do some thinking, you have to do some hard work, you have to build something for the future.

“By Divine Right brought me into a different headspace where I was able to celebrate music again,” he said.

It should be well-noted that The Remains of Brian Borcherdt bears very little resemblance to its namesake’s occasional band. By Divine Right proudly wears its heart on its sleeve, expressing almost impossible, endless joy. The Remains, on the other hand, is more subtle, more conflicted—certainly no less emotional—but perhaps more passionate, more real.

The Remains of Brian Borcherdt is an intensely personal and moving record. The songs are somehow both fragile and explosive, but always painstakingly honest.

“[The songs] are very naked and very vulnerable,” he said.

When Borcherdt performs solo, he can’t count on the steady, familiar audience that By Divine Right can. For the most part, Borcherdt is playing his vulnerable songs to fresh crowds every night.

“It’s hard not to have a sense of regret about it,” he said. “It’s sort of like waking up after being drunk in high school and realizing that you spilled your guts to everyone at the party, and you cried on someone’s shoulder, and their mom had to drive you home, and you puked in the backseat of the car. It’s kind of like that feeling sometimes when I get off stage,” Borcherdt said.

Ironically, the emotive qualities of the record are driven far more by the music, than the lyrics. Without deriding Borcherdt’s lyrical abilities, it is his music that makes your hair stand on end. Just as a single line in a great poem can catch you off-guard and send you somewhere you never expected to go, there are times in Remains when a single note can send you flying unexpectedly.

“I always thought that the best thing a singer could ever do was further communicate the emotional narrative that is already established by the music.

“When you try to fit too many words in, and you try to tell too much of a story, or try to make something too clever, it’s kind of like that stuff is already written before the song and that’s not fair,” he said. “It’s like trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole. It’s not the right way to do it.”

While some may construe Borcherdt’s latest record as mere bedroom listening, it is much more than that. Many of the songs begin somberly with little more than acoustic guitar, but they often grow and expand to become really dense and layered.

“I wanted to start the songs off very upfront and personal, then I want to take them somewhere,” he said. “I want people to feel like the music is taking them somewhere. I just want it to be really personal to people before it explodes.” You can see Borcherdt’s explosive conclusion to his Kingston residency tonight at Elixir for only $3.

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