In a business marked by bluster and blunders, Reid Jamieson is quietly and smartly carving out a career as one of Canada’s best folk-pop songwriters. It helps, though, that in this endeavour the self-effacing singer-guitarist is being guided by his undeniably effusive wife and songwriting partner, Carolyn Victoria Mill, who’s not shy about taking credit for her husband’s steady rise.
“I’ve worked in the music business for a long time,” Mill asserts, in a telephone interview from the couple’s West End apartment. “I was [Toronto singer and media personality] Molly Johnson’s assistant for 15 years, and then I worked for Richard Flohil, the publicist, and then for ACTRA and some talent agencies, so I saw some stuff. And the overwhelming thing that comes to me is that the music business is a bit broken, and maybe set up for people who enjoy sleeping on couches and eating bad food. But for us, I thought, Reid’s a fairly gifted singer and player, and that’s maybe not the path he should take.”
So while Jamieson got to work crafting songs, Mill began placing those ditties in some very visible places. Jamieson, for instance, is a regular on CBC Radio’s Vinyl Cafe, and had the smarts to pen a birthday ditty, “Hey Big Kid”, for host Stuart McLean’s 65th. The duo’s penchant for entering songwriting contests has also paid off: they played their way onto the Vancouver Folk Music Festival main stage in 2011 and have become annual fixtures since then. Meanwhile, Jamieson’s “Rail” was a grand-prize winner in the folk-song category in the 2012 edition of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, and he and Mill have landed their tunes in a number of movies and TV shows. And this month they’ve got a high-profile gig in Toronto, opening for the Cowboy Junkies at the release party for their new Kennedy Suite.
Mill and Jamieson are not quite making a living from their art—she works part-time for a nonprofit; he’s got a union gig as a server at a downtown hotel—but they’re getting closer to it. And they’re clearly enjoying their mutual endeavours. Mill repeatedly swears undying love to her husband during the course of our interview, while his 2011 release Staring Contest contains three marriage proposals set to music. Not coincidentally, the two had gotten hitched the year before.
They’re cute. Almost too cute, at least when Mill shares the story of their most recent songwriting collaboration.
“Last night I was in the tub, and Reid was supervising my bath, as he often does,” she confesses. “I just sort of sang a little line, something I was thinking, and he just walks out of the room, comes back with a guitar, and plays exactly what I’m hearing in my head. I don’t know how he does that, but he totally played what I was hearing in my head. So then I towelled off and we sat down and started to plug through it.”
Jamieson is considerably more reticent, but he gets audibly excited when talking about the technical aspects of his art form. And the biggest piece of advice he has for budding songwriters is to record everything, a tip he picked up from The Frustrated Songwriter’s Handbook, by tunesmiths Karl Corvat and Nicholas Dobson.
“What they suggest is that you take 12 hours where you are not going to be interrupted by anybody,” he says. “The only thing you’re allowed to do is write songs. You can go for a short walk if you want to, just to clear your head, but you’ve got to write 20 songs in one day. And you have to record them, so you get a little sketch out of them.
“They’re not finished songs, but what you can then do is take the ones that you like and work on them. Some of them you might never want to hear again, but with some of them you go ‘That’s got to be finished.’ ”
No doubt it helps that even when Jamieson is locked away in his home studio, he’s got a steady source of inspiration right next door.
“Carolyn will say something,” he says happily, “and I’ll go ‘I’m just going to write that down. That’s a line of a song, to me.’ ”
“He’ll pull out the guitar and just makes everything seem like it was a lovely idea,” Mill adds, laughing. “But I would have wasted it on a tweet!”