CEGEP St. Laurent is an intriguing school: some people dislike it, and some love it. It antagonizes because of its activist lifestyle, but it also brings people together because of its openness to everyone and everything. When the students fought against austerity and capitalism (amongst other things) and set up tents in front of the CEGEP last year, they were praised by some, but mocked by others. It was hard to find common ground. It was just one of the several student protests during the school year.
But not everything at CEGEP St. Laurent is about politics. While opposing political positions were being put forth, the art scene blossomed as it has every year and by art, I mean every kind imaginable. About 200 meters behind the two main buildings that are linked by a breezeway, sits the “E”. Whenever you have class in the “E”, you know you’ll hear the sound of a drum, or that of a sax. The “E” is the music hub. Musicians slowly make their way to their niche, rambling along the pathway with their instrument on their back, before playing all day to the pleasure of those sitting in a boring class. Teachers have gotten use to it and I think that somehow they appreciate the fact that their voice is accompanied by a tune. The program is demanding but students really make the most of it and stand out in different ways.
The music studies department has hosted numerous accomplished artists. The Madore brothers, for example, reached the finals of “Cégep en spectacle”, an annual competition featuring the best artists in Quebec that are studying in a CEGEP. They are now playing in different cities across the province.
The latest on the list of talented composers to come from this “sacred” place is Reno McCarthy.
“Oh yeah, Reno he’s a rock star,” said an acquaintance of mine I knew from the CEGEP when I asked him about Reno. He too was studying music at St. Laurent. As a matter of fact, that’s how he got to know McCarthy. All Reno could think of was his musical career, he added.
McCarthy’s love for music isn’t something new. He’s been playing music since he was seven and was writing songs by the age of 11. “I pretty much spent all my high school years locked up in my bedroom, writing songs and learning to play instruments. I was getting more and more experimental each year,” he explains. The years spent strumming his guitar led him to chose to study music in CEGEP. It wasn’t exactly what he had hoped for though.
“I enrolled at CEGEP St. Laurent in jazz guitar and classical composition, but it somewhat backfired,” McCarthy told me. McCarthy was conflicted at school because he was still aspiring at playing pop music while teachers pushed students to become the best at the instrument they played. It was then that he realized that this wasn’t what he would be going for. Even though he struggled to perform the music he loved, he finished school in December. It was at St. Laurent that he met his band members. After all, studying in music has its dividends.
He didn’t want to be a jazzman, all he wanted was to “Write good songs that made people happy and that made people [want to] dance and have a good time”.
Reno McCarthy launched Man Of The City, his EP, at Casa del Popolo on August 18. I was there and I had a great time.
Casa del Popolo is a small but welcoming venue. McCarthy played with a keyboardist, a bassist, a drummer and two backup vocalists. At one point he asked his brass players to come on stage, which made his band sound like The Mowglis. Together, they played three songs. He also played songs with one of the two backup vocalists and his acoustic guitar. His music has definite jazz influences, given his background, but the upbeat rhythm is similar to mainstream pop. He kept his sense humour throughout the show, not letting stress get the best of him. After playing several songs he had composed prior to his EP release such as “Calm” and “Women From Jungle’s Breakout”, he anxiously asked, laughing, if people were waiting to hear the songs from Man of The City to buy the CD. Some of the songs had not been played in front a live audience before, so under these circumstances, Reno and his band aced it. The crowd was really into it by the end of the show.
He had performed at Ottawa’s Zeephod Beeblebrox the night before in front of a “sparse but enthusiastic” crowd and he was following up his Montreal show with one at the Mansion in Kingston.
McCarthy is taking his musical career very seriously. I didn’t have to ask him if he was ambitious to understand that he is. Inspired by “big acts” such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Rolling Stones, and others, he attributes his “back-to-pop” mood to Katy Perry’s “Hot N Cold” which he heard at a party. He was surprised at how little people cared that the song had only four chords: everybody was dancing, he told me. One thing led to another, and he’s now listening to Maroon 5, Bruno Mars, Daft Punk and Michael Jackson.
He writes and composes by himself and has worked on songs such as “I Think We Love Each Other” and “They’re at It Again” for about two years. “That means that the way they sound on the EP is really the way they are supposed to sound,” he says. In the upcoming months, he plans on playing as many shows as possible and putting out new music videos, in addition to the two already released.
The path to becoming a household name is long and excruciating. You’ve got to build up a reputation, reach out to people and you need to remain be positive. McCarthy proclaims he has been “going for it” ever since he finished school.
Reno must have listened to what Anita told her little brother in the cult-classic “Almost Famous”:
“One day, you’ll be cool. Look under your bed. It will set you free.”
Reno McCarthy is already pretty cool.