If you intend to go around referring to something you did as a "caper," you'd better have a darned good story to back it up.
Corin Raymond was most definitely involved in a caper, and as a result he's got a pretty fabulous yarn that he's more than happy to spin for anyone who'll listen.
The story, which has actually been elevated to legendary status in some corners of the Canadian folk-music world, has to do with a plan to record a CD, a dream of paying tribute to this country's great unknown songwriters, a serendipitous outpouring of fan support, and a hockey bag full of multi-coloured promotional bills from a well-known national auto-parts department store.
That's right, it's The Great Canadian Tire Money Caper.
"It just kind of happened; I didn't really think of any of it," explains Raymond, who, along with his band, the Sundowners, will give the aptly titled CD Paper Nickels its official Winnipeg launch on Friday, April 5 and Saturday, April 6, at Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club. "I mean, you could have hired the best publicists in the world, paid them a million dollars, sat them down for a month and they wouldn't have come up with this. It's just one of those things."
The Caper has its roots in Raymond's 2011 tour through Alberta and the Yukon, when he started performing a tune called Don't Spend It Honey, which he'd co-written with Winnipegger Rob Vaarmeyer. Its lighthearted lyrics -- "Don't spend it honey/not the Canadian Tire money/we saved it so long/we saved it so long..." -- inspired audiences to start rooting through their wallets and purses for whatever denominations of the odd-coloured promotional bills they had on hand.
Canadian Tire cash was tossed onstage. A gimmick was born. And a groundswell had begun.
"It could have just been, 'Oh, that's a funny idea,' but it turned into a caper when I kind of took it and ran with it," Raymond recalls. "There was a bar here in Toronto, The Done Right Inn, that accepts Tire money at par, so when people started giving it to me whenever I played the song, I was just excited because I figured we could have a night out and I could buy everybody a round.
"I had over $60 (in CT money), and then I found out that the Rogue Music Lab has been accepting Tire money at par for, like, 20 years.... I went home and put up a single Facebook status about it, and people started bringing it to the shows and bringing it by my house. Everyone just wanted to be involved. My buddy and I made a little video, and it got 1,200 views in the first 24 hours, and people kind of fell in love with the idea. It was incredible how much fun people were having with gathering up this spare change made of paper.
"For an entire year, there was this incredible explosion of love."
By the time The Caper was concluded, Raymond's fans and supporters had donated enough Canadian Tire money to cover the entire cost -- $7,333.75 -- of recording Paper Nickels. In order to accumulate that much CT$, those people would have had to spend more than $1 million in actual Canadian currency at the chain's stores nationwide.
"At this point, I'd say it's no longer a caper," he laughs. "I'd call it a coup, because we did it."
The album, he points out, really does justify the old-school record-biz terminology he's using to describe it. The two-CD set contains 20 songs, written by a variety of Canadian songwriters and performed live at The Tranzac Club in Toronto by Raymond and the Sundowners. It also includes 144 hardcover-bound pages of song lyrics, stories and photos that describe, in full detail, the magical happenstance that led to the CD's production.
"I guess this is my response to the digital age," he says of Paper Nickels' elaborate packaging. "I'm 40 years old, and when I was growing up, I loved buying those CD packages with the books in them where some music journalist had written something really thoughtful about the songs on the CD or the artist. I could never get enough of that stuff.
"This is kind of like the package that I'd like to buy; I wish my favourite bands would do this. And even before The Caper came along, I'd been dreaming of doing an album of my friends' songs, songs that I consider to be world class that most people don't know anything about.... And I knew, in my mind, that I wanted to be able to tell the stories behind the songs.
"And after The Caper came along, I knew I couldn't just put out something ordinary. I wanted the result of this incredible adventure and this unbelievable generosity to be equal to the love that all these people had been giving me all year."
Raymond, who was born in Winnipeg but raised in Ontario, says he feels deeply connected to this city's music scene because of the numerous local artists he's met in recent years on tour, as well as the relationship he has cultivated with Times Change(d) and its faithful clientele.
"There are really only two cities that I consider home, where I feel I need to celebrate the release of this CD properly, and that's Toronto and Winnipeg," he says. "You could easily argue that the core of this album lives in Winnipeg; there's so much Winnipeg in the project, and more than a quarter of the material on the album is Winnipeg material. I'm stoked to be bringing the album to Winnipeg to celebrate it there."
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