Northey Stays in the Game

Craig Northey is best known for his work with the Odds, the whimsically rockin' local quartet that spent most of the '90s churning out some of the most enchanting, Beatlesque pop this city has ever heard. Since the Odds called it quits in 2000, he's stayed deeply involved with the music game, recording the solo album Giddy Up, writing for the likes of Colin James, Wide Mouth Mason, the Waltons, and Rosanne Cash, and even acting as musical director on a North American tour by comedy troupe the Kids in the Hall. You could say that Northey's been keeping busier than a dog with two dicks, so when the Straight tracks him down to chat about his latest release, Northey Valenzuela-a collaboration with Gin Blossoms guitarist-vocalist Jesse Valenzuela-it's no surprise to find the tireless rocker in a studio in Bath, Ontario, mixing the debut solo release by Tragically Hip guitarist Robby Baker. Performers on the CD, which sports the working title Strippers Union Local 518, include Hip members Johnny Fay, Paul Langlois, and Gord Sinclair, as well as former Odds Doug Elliott and Pat Steward. "So it's kind of one of those hip-hop collectives," quips Northey, who cowrote all the music with Baker, sang quite a bit, and played guitar here and there.

As for the Northey Valenzuela disc, which is distributed in Canada by Maple Music, that's the result of Northey's long musical relationship with the Arizona-based tunesmith. "When we started in the Odds we kind of moonlighted as the [cover band] Dawn Patrol at the Roxy on Granville," recalls Northey, "to pay for trips to try and get the Odds thing going. Every month or so we'd go to L.A. and play house gigs and showcases, and I met Jesse down there through a mutual friend. We ended up sleepin' on the same floor at this guy's place in Silverlake."

It was on that floor that Northey and Valenzuela discovered their mutual admiration for Nick Lowe, via their host's com?prehensive collection of Lowe albums. Many a late night (and early morning) was spent grooving to the man who gave the world such pure-pop gems as "Cruel to Be Kind" and "Half a Boy & Half a Man". "Jesse and I really bonded over those records," Northey relates. "We both liked what they drew from; you know-from the soul and roots-country traditions. And we liked the wise-ass lyrics. It's kind of a place we can go together."

The collaboration spawned some extremely catchy pop ditties, in particular "See Through Heart" and "The Little Things". And the theme from the CTV comedy show, Corner Gas, gets my vote for three-minute jangle-pop tune of the year. Series star Brent Butt asked buddy Northey to come up with a tune for the program and the result was the irresistible Northey-Valenzuela composition "Not a Lot Goin' On". Northey describes the tune-which features a sprightly guitar solo from long-time Bryan Adams picker Keith Scott-as "a little sparkly song". Local blues-rocker Colin James also contributed guitar solos on two Northey Valenzuela tracks. As Northey puts it, "It doesn't hurt to bring your friends in to do all the stunt work."

Much of the material on the CD sports the same simple, hook-filled vibe that typified the best Odds songs in the '90s; hearing them makes one pine for the latter quartet all the more. But Northey insists that there are no immediate plans to hook back up with Odds singer-guitarist Steven Drake-an in-demand producer himself-and get a reunion going. "You can keep checkin' in with me every year like you do," he says, "and I'll give you the same answer. Basically my modus operandi is to just keep makin' music. And I still get two out of three-I work with Pat and Doug quite a bit, so I get my jollies. And there's a lot of 'interdisciplinary studies', as they used to say in the old university days. I get to work in different mediums, and being able to do collaborations like the ones with Robby and Jesse are fantastic. It helps you bring stuff back to your world."

When he isn't writing, producing, or mixing, Northey likes to keep his chops up with gigs like the Puck Bunny Ball, which takes place at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre Hotel on Saturday (February 26). It's an after-party for the Remax Sea to Sky Hockey Challenge, with proceeds to the PacificSport PodiumFund for Canadian athletes and will feature appearances by Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy, Loverboy's Mike Reno, Colin James, Barney Bentall, and country artists Lisa Brokop and Aaron Pritchett. "A lot of my hockey-playing friends will be there," Northey says, "and everybody gets a coupla songs at an event like that. You sort of pick songs based on what everybody can get up and jam on without creating too much of a mess, so I'll probably play 'Louie Louie'. And maybe 'Free Bird'."