Glenn Nuotio’s returning home to Ottawa after a week in Newfoundland. He just finished arranging a TV interview when I get through to him, and he’s still recovering from his sold-out St John’s show, which he wryly describes as a “James Brown tribute” — it wasn’t — in December.
“I crowned myself the new Godfather of Soul because no else has the balls to do it yet. Not really. Well, yes. But no.” He laughs.
His unnervingly complex pop songs have won him a huge fan base in his native Newfoundland (well, huge for Newfoundland, anyway). Crowds at his show danced and sang along as Nuotio was reunited with his former band mates. Now he’s courting producers to turn his five-track demo into a full-length album.
He moved to Ottawa last year with his boyfriend of eight years, an Oxford PhD who was offered a juicy government job. Nuotio had to “say goodbye to small-pond fame” when he left, he says.
“And now it’s like, can I go home without sending a press release first? I try to do it without supposing that it’s the second coming.” He laughs again.
Listening to him speak from the rock, it’s impossible to ignore that the Newfoundland accent — is that twang? — has somehow crept back into his voice.
Nuotio enjoys his accent. People in Ontario often congratulate him for losing his East Coast inflections. “As if the training has been successful,” he says ruefully.
If he sounds a bit catty, that’s because he is. And you can chalk it up to a queer aesthetic that makes him, in some ways, Ottawa’s newest diva. But that’s only part of the story, he admits.
“I’d rather not sing a song than candy coat it,” he says. “Either my heart’s on my sleeve or I’m singing bratty songs about getting away with things.”
Nuotio’s shows are sexy and sad and angry in turns. He throws little musical tantrums, walking the tightrope between studied and spontaneous. He has all the lust of a typical gay man but he channels it through an indie musician’s paper heart. The results are invariably stirring. But — and this might be the strangest part — overall he’s cheerful and his songs are tinged with — could it be? — humour.
“Every time I play these songs, I’m still trying to figure them out,” he says.
The transition from St John’s to Ottawa last year was uneasy, he says, and no wonder — they moved in February, and there’s nothing less inviting than Ottawa in the winter.
“On the one hand, it’s great. I’m in love. But it’s like, ‘Oh shit, I don’t know anyone,'” he says.
Warming up to the city came with the spring thaw. Unable to count on the gigs he’d become accustomed to in St John’s — as a TV extra and a choir accompanist, for instance — he spent the first couple of months just stewing. But then he took some part-time work as a waiter on Sparks St.
“I’m kind of not a great waiter, but they like me.” Again, the devilish laugh.
He began performing at the odd event: a show at Ottawa Pride (through the big boomy PA system), then opening for Kelly and the Kellygirls at Dekcuf in September.
Now, as he prepares for his show with Glasgow’s Camera Obscura at Barrymore’s, it seems he’s finally arrived in Ottawa.
“Yeah, it’s growing on me,” he says.
Like the restless musician, Nuotio’s music is also in two places at once. His St John’s gig was a big sweaty rock’n’roll endeavor, typical of his shows before he left. But in Ottawa, he’s given up on performing with a guitarist, and, at his last show, the band consisted of him on piano and vocals, Marie-Josee Houle on accordion and Patrick Dedauw on the cello. The show’s taken on a bit of French flavour, he admits (as opposed to previous work, which he describes as the Muppets meets 1930s German cabaret).
At the end of our conversation, just as we’re wrapping up, without any provocation, he says, “The other thing is that I’m half Finnish.”
And then he’s back into storytelling mode, having done a conversational left turn.
Since moving to Ottawa, Nuotio’s hooked up with the Embassy of Finland. He’s in the preliminary stages of arranging some contact between Canadian and Finnish indie musicians. He also took in a concert by a Finnish men and boys choir that his grandfather in Finland had founded in the 1950s. The choir was, by some strange turn of luck, touring through Ottawa.
“A lot of my musical roots, if they’re genetic, are Finnish,” he says.
If his musical roots are genetic?
“I think they are. Yeah, why not?”