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Ex-Constantines frontman Bry Webb's new solo disc inspired by son

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TORONTO - When the Constantines elected to end their bar-busting run as one of rock's fiercest live bands, the decision was made in part because gravel-voiced frontman Bry Webb wanted to start a family.

And yet, if Webb's paternal instinct heralded the widely admired Toronto band's hiatus — and he calls himself the "instigator" of the split — it's now his son, Asa, who inspires him to make music at all.

"All the songs I'm writing and releasing are essentially for my son — that's how I'm justifying putting things out in the world at this point," said the thoughtful Webb recently over coffee at a west Toronto cafe.

If Webb's solo debut, 2011's "Provider," captured him in the throes of new-dad euphoria, the shrewdly observed followup "Free Will" — out now — finds Webb broadening his view, with some grime on the lens.

It is, in his own words, a less idealistic record, with the singer feeling "upset and guilty" about bringing a new person into a world that feels increasingly to him as if it's in disarray.

It's a topic Webb explores most explicitly on the austere "Let's Get Through Today," which he calls an "apology for the world he's inheriting," but the theme is tackled from other angles elsewhere.

The crawling "Policy" is about the "inaccessibility" of democracy and the tendency for politicians to avoid divisive stances, morning-dew stunner "AM Blues" is about the destructive effect distance can have on a personal life and the seemingly idyllic "Positive People" is actually a satirical song about family life written years ago, when Webb couldn't fathom the impulse toward settling down and procreating.

"I was just wondering who are these people who are bringing children into the world now, and why are they everywhere?" he recalls with a laugh. "How are people coming to that decision? So at the time it seemed kind of unrelatable to me."

As on "Provider," Webb tends toward uncluttered folk, with whispers of lap and pedal steel guitar imbuing gentle elements of country.

After the pure physicality of the Constantines' serrated rock, Webb admits that playing such quiet tunes onstage required adjustments. He's only recently become comfortable.

"I was always 10 times more nervous playing that kind of (solo) show than playing with the Cons," said Webb, lanky and tall with coarse curls piled atop his head. "There was a real comfort in the volume of that band.

"But it's been a nice transition and a nice balance to that. Towards the end of the Cons ... I didn't have any perspective on loudness. So exploring the other end of the dynamic spectrum is good. It's healthy, I think."

With the recent news of the Constantines' reformation for an upcoming tour and 11th anniversary re-release of their landmark "Shine a Light," Webb will again feel the comfort of a gusty amp at his back.

In the interim, he has Asa when yearning for a racket. Webb says his three-year-old son — "he's a threenager; that's what they call them on the parenting forums," he says with a laugh — has proven adept at slamming on percussion, even if he otherwise doesn't have much patience for his dad's music.

"When I'm playing at home, I don't think he likes it at all," Webb said. "I'll sit and try to learn a song or something and he'll just keep saying: 'Stop.' Because I think in that moment he realizes I'm not paying attention to him.

"He's awesome to play music with, though," he added.

"Drums obviously are the (best) because it's the most instant feedback — instant and biggest feedback. So we have garbage cans and a giant marching band (drum). He loves sitting behind that. We'll just jam."

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