There’s aiming high, and then there’s shooting for standards that separate the world’s elites from the also-rans.
Thanks to his lineage, Jonathan Roy went into his career as a singer-songwriter determined to challenge himself. And he’s unafraid to admit that, at first, it was hard meeting his own expectations.
“I’ll always remember the first time that I got up on-stage,” Roy says, on the line from his adopted home of Toronto. “I was in Quebec City at a place called Le Casbah. It was pretty much karaoke—I was singing my original songs to a soundtrack, and there was maybe 250 people there. I didn’t know if I could do it.
“I was in this little hallway and completely freaked out. It wasn’t that there was 250 people there. It was more ‘What if I’m not good enough? What if I can’t pull this off?’ That was the stress—it wasn’t being in front of people. It was more the wanting to perform at a high level.”
Roy has done that—shot for perfection in front of an audience—pretty much his entire life.
“When I was a kid I used to do shows in front of my parents and family at Christmas with my little brother and sister on my right and left,” he says. “So I was always very comfortable performing for people from when I was young. I was also really comfortable when I was playing junior hockey in Quebec City in front of 15,000 people every night. I just loved being on a stage. So to be there singing and talking to people was a really natural thing for me.”
The singer indeed comes across as a natural on his new album, Mr. Optimist Blues, the songs on which would fit right in on a mix tape salted with the best of Sam Roberts, Paolo Nutini, and John Mayer. Working with Canadian pop legend Corey Hart—who was filling hockey rinks in the Great White North in the ’80s—Roy has crafted a record that smartly nods to blue-eyed soul (“New Shoes”), sun-splashed pop (“Daniella Denmark”), and even ganja-bonged Studio One reggae (“Beautiful Day”).
Interestingly, Roy calls Mr. Optimist Blues his official debut, despite the fact that with a little bit of digging you can unearth three previous releases, including the smoky-and-stripped-down 2009 effort What I’ve Become, and a French-language follow-up, La Route.
Chalk that up to Mr. Optimist Blues showcasing him as the singer-songwriter that he’s always wanted to be. In the past, the 27-year-old found himself straddling two worlds. Hockey fans might know him better as the son of Patrick Roy, and a former goalie for the Quebec Remparts. Jonathan Roy was good between the pipes, but not world-beating great like his Hall of Fame father. That led Roy Sr. to sit him down in his 20s and suggest that maybe something other than hockey would be worth pursuing.
Rather than feel like he’d somehow failed, Jonathan Roy redirected his energies, showing a mindset that sheds some valuable light on the album title Mr. Optimist Blues. When you’re determined to do something no less than gold-standard in your life, dwelling on the past isn’t an option.
“Look, we all have ups and downs in our lives, but I’ve always been an optimist,” Roy says. “I’ve always looked at a glass that some people would say is half empty and seen something half full. I really see the positive in everything. I grab the positive out of everything that happens to me in life and then I move on, determined to better myself.
“That’s what you have to do. If we focus on the negative stuff in this world, we’ll never get anywhere. Maybe we’re all made so that the negative stuff hits us harder. But for me, it’s more of a case of ‘Okay, that was bad, I lived it—now what did I learn?’ ”
Jonathan Roy plays the Fox Cabaret on Monday (February 20).