PUBLISHED IN THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR Thursday, April 04, 1995

 

BY NICK KREWEN

 

You've heard of extreme sports, right? Skysurfing? Bungee-Jumping?

Now you can add fiddling to the list...at least when the fiddler is ASHLEY MacISAAC.

"I hurt myself more through playing than I do anything else," says the 20-year-old native of Creignish, Cape Breton Monday from his Rome hotel room, yawning after a reporter awakens him in mid-slumber.

"I damage my feet. I damage my legs. I've basically demolished my heels, and I have very screwed up shins, because I get a real opposite reaction from my foot and the stomp and the down sort of effort. When I play, I play really hard."

Although he suffers for his art, MacIsaac, who wears out his Doc Martens and swirls his kilt when he combines vigorous step-dancing with frenetic playing, says he wouldn't have it any other way.

"I will get harder at it, if I'm playing a show where I think that's what's necessary. I'll just hurt myself," he says. "You've got to play it good. You've got to play it better. You've got to get it done and be connected."

Although it's only been just over six months since he released his debut A&M album, hi how are you today? -- and a scant three years since he turned professional and mingled with such pop icons as PAUL SIMON, DAVID BYRNE, THE CHIEFTAINS and PHILIP GLASS, taking him from Cape Breton to New York to a music festival in Italy -- MacIsaac is already pondering an early retirement due to burnout.

He agrees with NEIL YOUNG's assertion in "My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)" -- that it's better to burn out than fade away.

"I far prefer to have myself go out in three years and have the 1990's version of Ashley MacIsaac's life on a made-for-TV movie called Ashley's Heel -- something similar to Achille's Heel -- and have the whole story than just be someone who didn't have an interesting career that just went on forever," says MacIsaac.

"But I hope I have a long one," he adds a heartbeat later with a laugh.

"I'm looking at both sides of it. I'm sort of like a politician. I guess I'm covering my arse from both ends. But I've always like politics, too."

MacIsaac certainly has enjoyed one of the most promising starts to a long career in the history of Canadian pop. Considered a renegade for his liberal and innovative view of stretching Cape Breton fiddle traditions, MacIsaac's hi how are you today? has soared above the platinum sales mark (100,000 copies in Canada) and recently he completed a coast-to-coast Canadian tour opening for MELISSA ETHERIDGE.

He captured two Juno Awards here for Best New Act and Best Traditional & Roots Recording, and has been on the tip of everyone's tongues in the music industry as the hippest thing to come out of this country in years.

But if it all ended tomorrow?

"I'd say, great, I guess this is a sign. Now I'll go and build my house," says MacIsaac.

"I completely love every element of what I do, but I'm also someone who doesn't mind just sitting down and doing nothing. Basically, I've come to the assumption that wherever I'm at, I can usually find happiness and equilibrium.

"Essentially, it's (my life) amazing. Today I'm in Rome at Vatican City. This is wonderful. Tomorrow, I'm in Craignesh, so that'll be wonderful, too. So I take the situation as it comes."

MacIsaac makes no bones about enjoying the good and bad trappings of pop stardom.

"As much as I like my rootsy, folksy way, I don't dislike extravagance," he admits. "I like being in Italy and having people serve us food endlessly and who wanna put on the dog for you. It's wonderful. I look at it from the moment, and I go with the flow a lot more than maybe somebody else might.

"I've been granted quite an extreme artistic license. I don't know how much more liberal I could be. Can I start writing songs now and maybe people will listen to what I want to say? Or should I just ride it and have a wonderful time -- make hay while the sun shines, and then go get my Ph.D and then go to Ottawa? I'm trying to weigh the balances.

"So I don't mind the system at all. I wouldn't mind getting as much out of it as I can, and learning. I'll be able to grow with it."

Hamiltonians will get to witness MacIsaac and his KITCHEN DEVILS firsthand tomorrow night, although the fiddler jokingly apologizes for scheduling his show on a holiday.

"Good Friday? I feel so awful. There'll be no meat-eaters, that's for sure, on that day."

Also absent will be "Sleepy Maggie" singer MARY JANE LAMOND, who has just begun recording her debut album. There will be a special substitute vocalist for the occasion: Ashley MacIsaac himself.

"I started singing in Italy," says MacIsaac, who will release an album of traditional fiddle tunes called fine® thank you very much on June 5.

"I've taken Mary Jane's place in my songs. I've written new words for `Sleepy Maggie' What I did for `Sleepy Maggie,' and I'll probably do for Hamilton, is I'm actually making up my own version of Gaelic for part of it, a cross between Gaelic and Hebrew, because my name is MacIsaac and I'm the son of Isaac -- so it's a little bit of spits and more spits."

On the early fall, a different type of record is on the agenda: a disco record.

"I've been calling it a disco record," says MacIsaac. "I want it to be something that's almost straight out pop, that's should be played in any disco or any bar. It shouldn't be a fiddle record. it should be a record that has a fiddle on it -- the opposite of what I just did. I've got to be the slut and take a dance tune and put a fiddle to it so a mass audience can listen to it."

-30-

DISCOGRAPHY

1995 -- hi, how are you today? -- A&M

1996 -- fine, thank you very much®

1999 -- Helter's Celtic -- Loggerhead

COLLABORATIONS

1996 -- Various Artists, Pine Ridge - Songs For Leonard Peltier

1997 -- Various Artists, The Hanging Garden

1998 -- Various Artists, Fire In The Kitchen

 

AWARDS

1996 -- Juno, Best New Solo Artist

1996 -- Juno, Best Roots And Traditional Album, Solo, hi, how are you today?

1997 -- Juno, Instrumental Artist Of The Year

 

THANKS: Shawn Marino, Wade Hemsworth, Glen Nott

©1996, 1999 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink

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