I was born Christian Anderson Smith but I've been called CA since I was six months old.
My first musical memory was at my family home in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. My mother was taking care of my brother and I as my dad was at work as a Top 40 disc jockey. I was three. When my favourite song, ‘Too Bad’ by Doug And The Slugs would come on Dad would call Mum and tell her it would be on next. I’d sit right next to the stereo and dance, listening intently. One day he brought the record home.
Life carried on and by the time my second brother was born we were in a new house. We had a babysitter named Michelle. When she came to our house the thing she loved most were the thousands of records we had. Her favourite was The Beatles. She would come over and we would listen to them all night. I quickly discovered that the Beatles were the best band in the world. I still believe this.
I played sports when I was growing up. Hockey and lacrosse for the city and swam recreationally. What I really looked forward to was the summer. This is when I got to go to Theatre School. This is where I learned to sing, dance and act. I always felt far more at home there than at regular school. This is also where I got the performance bug.
My dad was a singing drummer when my folks met. He learned from Levon Helm when Ronnie Hawkins And The Hawks used to play his hometown. He used to go in early to help set up and Levon would give him pointers week by week. He’d given it up when my three brothers and I were born. I always asked him to set them up so I could learn but he always said no. That is until I turned thirteen and started taking music in school. I told the music teacher I owned drums so when everyone else was given trombones and clarinets to play I got to bang away on the skins. I was then aloud to set up the drums at home. I failed music class though because I never learned to read.
By the time I was in high school I started up a band with some friends for the school talent show. Like my old man, I was a singing drummer and we called ourselves, ‘The Tuna Melts’. We were a covers band doing some of the hits of the day but mostly oldies. The band didn’t like the idea of me sitting behind a kit so I became the singer. No instruments. It was around this time I started picking at the guitar. We played quite a bit and three of the guys still play together.
In December, 1992 I met a couple of fellow students who were looking for a singer for a band they were starting. What was really appealing was the fact that these guys wrote their own songs. They were weird songs but we were our songs and writing was something I wanted to learn. We found a drummer and called ourselves, ‘Gorp’. I left the Tuna Melts.
This was right around the time when grunge was happening and I was very lucky to start a band at that time because you could send a tape to a record company and they would actually take it seriously. The Barenaked Ladies released a tape in Canada that year that outsold Michael Jackson! So we made a demo, started playing shows and eventually got signed to Sonic Unyon Records. It became the biggest indie label in Canada thanks to bands like, Treble Charger, Shallow, North Dakota and our heroes, Sianspheric.
We played a little over three years together, released two albums and got to open up for acts like Sloan and Vic Chesnutt. My favourite story about the bands we played with was at our tape release, which was sold out. We had Rainbow Butt Monkeys (Finger Eleven) and Placebo 4 (featuring Feist) open up for us. That would be a big-ticket show nowadays.
Eventually the boys in Gorp wanted to sing but the problem was I didn’t play any instruments as well as them. They started writing songs without me so as an insurance policy I started a one-man band. Since I was a drummer, new a little guitar and could sing I figured why not just do all those things at once? It would be an entertaining show at the least. Two days after I was kicked out of Gorp, I went on tour with my pals Smoother as the One-Man Band Singing Sensation, ‘Mayor McCa’.
It was on this first tour that I met Weeping Tile from Kingston: Sarah Harmer, Sticky Henderson, Camille Giroux and Luther Wright. This awesome band would become the first major supporters of Mayor McCa. They would give me opening slots for them whenever possible and introduced me to legendary acts like, The Dinner Is Ruined and Son which featured Chilly Gonzales and Mocky.
I played and recorded for around 8 years as Mayor McCa and became a bit of a wizard at it. I added bass organ to play with my left foot, keyboards and clarinet. I even went as far as putting tap dancing into the show. I am confident saying I was one of the best one-man bands in the world. I could make the sound of three or four people by myself. This really helped when times found me opening for acts like Finger Eleven, Sum 41 and Tegan And Sara.
I also put out an album about every two years. My favourite recording experience was being the first act to make an album with Dale Morningstar at the Gas Station Recording Studio on Toronto Island. Dale is still a hero of mine and has recorded Godspeed You Black Emperor, Gord Downie and Neko Case as well as being an amazing musician himself.
Eventually I felt like I had done what I could do in Canada. I’d ran for Mayor of Hamilton, moved to Toronto, I’d been back and forth countless times with my old road pals Wax Mannequin, B.A. Johnston and Run Chico Run but every time I came back to Toronto I was broke and sad. This was not a nice feeling. I decided to move to England but I went out in style thanks to the help of my dear, dear friend, Julie Fader.
On St. Patrick’s Day, 2005 Julie and acts like Matthew Barber, Warsaw Pack, Sarah Harmer and Luther Wright And The Wrongs did a second tribute show to me to say goodbye and good luck to me. Both shows were really good for my confidence as a songwriter. I found myself really enjoying the songs, forgetting for a moment that I had written them. A week later my gear and I flew to London. I’d never been there and barley knew anyone.
The kindness of an ex-pat in the industry named Ian Williamson insured I had a place to stay until I got on my feet. My second day there, Ian’s wife, Naz took me to a show at Water Rats. It was there I met Freddie Fellowes. We started chatting. He found the troubles I was having adjusting to English life quite amusing and I was happy to be making a friend. When he asked me what brought me to London I told him. When I asked him what he did he told me, “I run a festival called Secret Garden Party and you sound like you’d be perfect for it.”
By the summer I had adjusted to life in London and off to the Secret Garden Party I went. I was on my own so was just making friends and handing out flyers saying when and which tent Mayor McCa would be playing in. This would turn out to be a very important show for me because it was were I met one of the producers of my next album, Sam Swift-Glassman, indie-rock trio Noisettes and super-photographer Dean Chalkley. Friends I still have to this day.
Dean turned out to be a real champion of mine. Not only did I always have amazing pictures (one time paid for by Amy Winehouse when she didn’t show up to Dean’s studio) but he and his girlfriend took me out and introduced me to a lot of people and places. We even starred in an advertisement together for Cannon Cameras.
Playing regularly in dive pubs and former public toilets turned out well for me. My chops were solid and I could easily fit into any circumstance. Once I opened for Nick Oliveri (QOTSA) and he was so intimidated by my show he smashed his guitar five songs into his set. He ended up bringing me on tour with him as well. I toured with Noisettes, Foals, The Magic Numbers, Slow Club and even my old pal Feist. When I asked her why she chose me for her tour she said, “I was looking at this list and I saw Mayor McCa! I remember that guy!”
It was around the time of the Feist tour that I got news from back home that my youngest brother Marc had passed away. Heart-broken, I took some time to reflect.
During this time I did a video with Dean for, ‘Drinkalottawater’ that took me seven months to make. A song about the most basic life lessons I could share in a song. It was around this time I started acting again, something I hadn’t done for years. I also recorded an album with a friend I had met through Charles and Becky from Slow Club. His name was Glover, he liked what I did and was happy to make an album with me.
When the album was completed I shared it with a few people, one of them being friend, video director Christopher Mills. He emailed me whilst listening and asked if I had ever thought about releasing this album but not as the one-man band. He felt the one-man band was distracting people from what I really did well: wrote songs. I will always remember him saying, “maybe it’s time people got to know the guy who writes these beautiful songs instead of some crazy idea you had when you were twenty”. People had tried to tell me this for years but this time I agreed.
I got in touch with everyone I worked with, telling them that my new album would be released under my own name, CA Smith and it would be called, ‘Someone You Love’. They all gave their blessings.
We released the album and I hit the road opening for Lucy Rose, Cate Lebon and Jeremy Fisher in North America and Europe. These shows were the most fun I’d had in years. What I always liked about the one-man band was the challenges it presented. It turned out getting up in front of an audience only armed with a guitar was a challenge in itself.
I also started playing drums again for Men Of Good Fortune, my pal Keiran Leonard and helped Charles from Slow Club hammer out some ideas. I enjoyed taking the back seat.
I got married last year and at the party had Charles and Glover back me up in a band. We did a set of oldies and I took my old position behind the drums and
singing lead. After discussing what fun that band had been Charles suggested we do a new album like that. The boys would help me finish up any songs I had and we’d record it quickly and efficiently. It turns out that is exactly what we did.
My new album, ‘Life Of A Building Downtown’ is a collection of songs about subjects that as an adult, I think are pretty important. I couldn’t be more proud of it and I hope that everyone enjoys the album as much as the people who made it do. The title track is about urban regeneration but like a lot of things I think I can relate it to my life as well:
They built me up like a stack of cups
Brick by brick
With a box that goes up and down
In case you need a lift
They filled me up at infancy
No time to be confused
Thought hard at work I must admit
I like being used
I heard it told when thing are old
“Just tear the whole thing down”
But there I was and here I am
A building downtown
As time goes by business moves on
The visits less and less
I’ve heard they’ve made another one
And I start to feel a mess
I new it was bad when people left
And found a new place
I never thought they’d nail these boards
Across my face
When things are new and shiny
People come from all around
But look at me I’m not a pretty
Now it’s been years since I was born
Seems more since I fell ill
Almost gave up and now I’ve found
There is hope for me still
People struggled just like me
And I’m inexpensive
They bought me, cared- and fixed up
A place where they can live
They say that one man’s rubbish
Is a treasure if it’s found
By a person who has a dream
And wants to live downtown
I hope you remember the good
When the bad comes back around
And I am able to remain
A building downtown