Straight white men and IKEA provide inspiration for Evalyn Parry

Evalyn Parry has had four plays produced on the Toronto stage and has issued three well-received CDs and a concert DVD. She also tours with a three-piece band and maintains a parallel solo career as a spoken-word performer. That’s a wide range of activities, but the Ontario writer and musician thinks there’s a single thread that runs through all of her work.

“Ultimately, it all comes down to storytelling,” Parry says on the line from her Toronto home. “The common ground is my desire to tell a good story, no matter what form it comes out in.”

A variety of tales are told on Parry’s new Small Theatres, which contains one disc devoted to songs and another dedicated to spoken-word readings. Her previous releases, Unreasonable and things that should be warnings, found the two genres sitting side by side, but their creator says this combination sometimes made for uneasy listening—even for her.

She’s more explicitly political as a spoken-word artist than as a songwriter, she explains, and she finds that she has to be in a particular mood to listen to pieces like the new record’s “14 (For December 6)”, which memorializes the 14 women killed at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique in 1989, or the green-themed “Bottle This!”, which decries the waste involved in the production of bottled water.

“I kinda felt like maybe it would be fun to make two separate discs: a music disc where you wouldn’t want to skip any tracks, and then the spoken-word disc could be a place where the more political or novelty-oriented things went,” she notes. “Hopefully, those bear repeated listening, but I think it’s a different kind of listening.”

The durability of Parry’s songs and spoken-word tracks—which also address such diverse topics as Anne of Green Gables, coming out as a lesbian, and IKEA furniture—might be due to the way she works.

“It’s very rare that a song or a spoken-word piece is born from a single source,” she says. “There’ll be a story or an idea that will be of interest to me, and it often sort of swims around inside me until it meets up with another idea that is the thing that’s going to make it interesting.”

She cites Small Theatres’ “Sailor” as an example: on one level, she’s simply transcribing a Lake Superior shipping story she was told in Sault Ste. Marie. But she’s also referencing her folksinger father’s love of sea shanties and other songs that reflect the everyday experiences of working-class life.

“That whole tradition of music is deep, deep inside me. And I’m always interested in updating things, like taking that tradition and making it relevant to some things that aren’t about straight white men in history, or whatever.

“Actually, I’ve written about some straight white men on this album, too,” she adds, then laughs. “So I guess I’m interested in the place where my own experience meets somebody else’s experience, where I’m touched by that and it resonates with something in me and makes me want to explore that story or that feeling.”

Evalyn Parry plays an early show at the Railway Club next Thursday (July 10).