Ken Tizzard’s been there and back in Canadian rock ‘n’ roll. After leaving St. John’s at 18, making his way in Toronto’s music scene and logging years on the road with bands like The Watchmen and Thornley, he’s finally settling down.
Now 43, the bassist-turned-songwriting steel guitar player is cozy with his new trio Ken Tizzard with Bad Intent (KTBI), who are in St. John’s for a few gigs.
Three years ago Tizzard, who lives in the small Ontario town of Campbellford with his wife and two daughters, stumbled upon the pedal steel by chance. He was writing a musical for a local theatre company based on Oscar Wilde’s short story “Selfish Giant”, which was “based around choral presentation for the most part, so we had a 40-person adult choir and a 25-person youth choir,” he told The Independent in a recent interview.
“I was hearing a lot of these long, sustained melodies and I couldn’t quite get them out on guitar, and I tried different instruments and inevitably ended up borrowing a pedal steel from somebody,” he recalls. “And in the course of writing the musical and learning how to play the instrument enough to get it to do what I needed it to do, I fell in love. It became an all-consuming thing and I’d wake up every day and there was a period of time when I’d play for five, six hours a day, everyday, just learning.”
He then started bringing the twang into his shows, sitting at the pedal steel out for a song or two during occasional shows with The Watchmen, then introducing it to his Bad Intent bandmates Ken Grant and Dave Fisher.
The Goodness of Bad Intent
A couple years ago Tizzard started jamming with Grant and Fisher, both Campbellford locals, and started thinking about his fourth solo record.
“I invited (Grant) over for a jam, and we went over to this drummer’s house who I’d just met, Dave Fisher, and we just kind of plugged in and made noise for a couple hours,” he recalls. “It was a lot of fun and I thought, ‘This would be a good thing to be able to do in town – have some guys that I could just kind of jam with’. And within a few months it became apparent that we had started a band.
“Even more than that we became really close friends,” he continues. “I spend as much time with those guys now as I do anybody. And that’s what I’ve always loved about being in bands. Back in high school when I used to play it was the camaraderie, you know, the bunch of friends working towards that common goal, which was usually based around the music.”
When the songs started coming together for the new record, it was apparent the pedal steel would be featured prominently. In fact, unlike his previous three albums, which resided more in the experimental-folk realm than anywhere else, Tizzard wouldn’t lay a hand on the acoustic guitar for the fourth, “The Goodness of Bad Intent”.
“This album for me, it is a really reflective album. It might even be a bit of a mid-life crisis album,” he laughs. “It was more reality. You know, I grew up in St. John’s and had a great time, had a lot of friends and was socially very active guy. And then I moved to Toronto and sort of lost my ties with everybody I knew, and before I knew it I was on the road with a band — and we did that for 20 years.
“I was in two bands that toured all over the world and I spent time with the same eight people, and then when that ended that’s when I started thinking, where’s my life? Where’s all my friends? And I realized I hadn’t cultivated any relationships. I hadn’t had time to spend getting to know people other than acquaintances, and I’ve been doing that for an awful long time. So I think that sparked a lot of the material on the record. I think I see my time in Newfoundland, especially my teenage years, as a really sweet time. I had a lot of friends, there was a lot going on, it was very exciting, it was a time of firsts. And looking back on it now sort of makes me long for those days a little bit.”
A new creative phase
Tizzard’s new musical exploration as a solo artist began in 2006 with Quiet Story House … and introduction, “a very strange record,” he concedes. “It was something that appealed to a very small, niche crowd, but it was something that I had to do. I didn’t get on the radio, I didn’t get into any big festivals, but it did land me an evening with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, with them backing me up for three of my songs that were fully scored for orchestra. That was about as far as I wanted to go with that. I didn’t want to be the bass guy (anymore) — there’s enough of them out there and doing it way better than I could ever do. But I just wanted to do something a little different and creative.”
He continued with Lost in Awe in 2008 and Between the Lines in 2010, two records that delved more “into the singer-songwriter thing,” Tizzard explains. “The folk record I did (Lost in Awe) was based on my history and love of Bob Dylan … and that sort of turned into the band, the Variety Show Players, who I brought back to Newfoundland a couple years ago. And that was a trio that was a lot of fun, based on blues and old school religious tunes and folk tunes.
“That slowly morphed into me getting back to my rock ‘n’ roll roots with Bad Intent. It was a bit of a journey with no purpose to it … and I think being successful really left my list of things to do and was replaced by just satisfying some creative urge that I needed to go through,” he continues. “And that was the only thing that guided me, and in doing that it just opened me up to being able to explore what I wanted to do. When there’s no limits it’s amazing what sort of artistic stuff you can do.
“I guess I’ve been in the business long enough that I know that, you know, success is great. But it’s also — it doesn’t translate into physical money in anybody’s pocket, or band members’ pockets, so I might as well be happy musically and artistically.”
Ken Tizzard with Bad Intent play The Fat Cat Blues Bar Friday evening and two shows (8 and 10 p.m.) at The Ship Pub Saturday. They will be joined by friends Dust Radio and Sean Panting on Friday and for the later show on Saturday. For more info visit KTBI’s web site.