Happy
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Happy

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Band Pop Singer/Songwriter

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Happy appeared as #2 on Tom Murray's Top 10, garnered by their first live performance ever. - See Magazine


With musicians, sometimes you have to watch yourself even when you’re paying them a compliment. You just never know: that band you’re telling them they sound like just might be their idea of everything wrong with the music industry. So it’s with enormous trepidation that I tell singer/songwriter Sherry-Lee Wisor that “Seven,” the peppy slice of power pop that concludes her band Happy’s new EP Kiss. Bang., reminds me of the songs that Kay Hanley from Letters to Cleo performed on the soundtrack to Josie and the Pussycats. As soon as the words are out of my mouth, I regret them. I mean, could I have chosen a more out-of-left-field comparison? And my God, what musician would be flattered to hear that the album they’ve poured their heart and soul into sounds like a girl group from an animated cartoon?

Well, Sherry-Lee Wisor, for one. “I love that soundtrack so much!” she says. “I think the songs are so brilliant! That’s a huge compliment — to me, that’s pop songwriting at its epitome.”

Bullet dodged! And to be fair, Kiss. Bang. offers a lot more than just bubblegum pop pleasures. I could just as easily have talked to Wisor about the songs that reminded me of the hard-bitten country-folk of Lucinda Williams, or the droll jazz-pop of Rickie Lee Jones. Wisor calls her sound “original Canadian pop goodness (for the people),” and while she’s only really been writing songs in earnest since 2003, she’s been soaking up influences for two decades as a fixture on the Edmonton music scene. She started out playing bass in Evelyn Tremble, and put in time with a long succession of other local bands too: Jr. Gone Wild, Hookahman, The Mike McDonald Band, Po’ Girl, The Bodkins.

“There were all these great musicians in The Bodkins,” she recalls, “and the rule was that everyone who came into the band had to bring three songs for themselves to sing. Mike McDonald was in there, Terry Cox, Luann Kowalek — and they were all very, very different songwriters stylistically. The first rehearsal was just, ‘Oh my God, how are we going to do this?’ But eventually it became a cohesive thing — all these disparate sounds wound up creating a cohesive sound, and I think the same thing happened with Happy.”

Wisor wrote all the material herself, honing it during her regular gig hosting the open stage at The Rose Bowl, and songs like “Like Quicksand” and “Malta Train” have a breezy sophistication that does not sound like the work of a first-timer. Indeed, she says the only hurdle she had to overcome to become a songwriter was psychological, not technical.

“I think the challenge was to get to a place where I felt free enough to express myself,” she says, “to do something over and over again enough times that the mechanics are no longer in your way and you can just be while you’re doing it. I’ve never proclaimed myself to be a technically great player, but I do bring a great energy. I get a lot of joy from playing — it’s a very visceral experience for me.

“The EP’s called Kiss. Bang., which is kind of a reference to my romantic tendencies. I’ve recently gotten out of a pretty torrential marriage, so a lot of that is reflected in it — a lot of it is about being single after that kind of situation. But it’s not a ‘settling scores’ kind of record. I always try to take something positive out of everything and understand things from all angles. That first song, ‘Like Quicksand,’ is targeted equally at me as it is the guy who’s the subject of the song.”

So is Sherry-Lee Wisor literally in a happy place? “I am happy!” she says. “I’m sad that Robin Hunter [who plays guitar on the album] is leaving for Vancouver and has only two more shows with us, but I’m happy to have so many projects on the go. And I’m happy and proud that I did this album by myself — writing it, funding it — and I’m happy to be living in a musical scene that let me develop my skills.” - SEE Magazine, Published July 9, 2009 by Paul Matwychuk in Music Feature


There's an ease with which Sherry-Lee Wisor and Robin Hunter interact as they discuss the next song. Set up to play live in Vue Weekly's studio, Wisor and Hunter are running through a few of the tunes off of Kiss. Bang., the debut EP from Happy, along with a couple of extras that didn't find a place on the first release.

At the moment they've just abandoned a performance a few bars in, the two of them conferring over how it should begin. Hunter offers his opinion, Wisor thanks him and kicks the song off again, this time starting it on her own. Hunter watches and waits, then joins in at what seems like nothing less than the perfect moment.

Given the immediately apparent musical connection—not to mention the fact that both Wisor and Hunter have been fixtures in Edmonton's music scene for many years—it would be easy to assume that these two players have developed their chemistry over a lengthy period, but the truth is that they only had their first rehearsal together in November 2007. Since that time, though, Hunter has been playing with Wisor in Happy and another project, Sherry-Lee & her Handsome Fellas, giving the two of them plenty of opportunities to gel.

"Robin has been just a constant presence for me musically because of the fact that he’s in both bands, and I just love his aesthetic very much, I love the way he plays guitar," Wisor admits readily. "We’ve been lucky enough to work together so much that he just knows what to do, he knows what I write and he knows my tricks."
Those are the sorts of claims that are often made but difficult to truly understand if you're outside of the creative process. But watching and, more importantly, listening to Wisor and Hunter, it makes complete sense as they unfold the songs, Wisor leading the way with her strumming and Hunter weaving his accompaniment through the song's form with just the right amount of heft.

The two of them recently returned from a tour of Italy where they played as a trio and Hunter credits some of their chemistry to that experience.

"We did the Italy tour and it kind of solidified that thing," he explains. "We were working as a trio with another guy named Keith Rose, a bass player, so it was good training for these kind of situations."

As impressive as it is to hear the musical interaction between Wisor and Hunter, Happy—rounded out by Graham Guest on bass and keys and Al Pickard on drums—will be undergoing a change soon when Hunter packs up and makes a move to Vancouver. Wisor is quick to note that she has no intentions of giving up on making music with him, though—Ayla Brook and Fat Dave Johnston will be on rotation in Happy, while Wisor will take advantage of Hunter's new west coast digs to venture out from Edmonton and play with a group that Hunter will put together out there. (She says she'll be doing the same thing with Rose in Italy and another player she knows in New York City, as well.)

"It’s so much cheaper [to fly out alone] and it’s more fun to play the songs with a fresh group of people," she suggests. "They interpret it differently and all of a sudden it’s a new thing, and I really love that kind of variety."

In the meantime, Hunter will be on hand to celebrate the EP's release. Wisor makes a point of emphasizing her sentiment that Hunter had a huge role in shaping the release—and it's very true that his guitar playing gives the record some fantastic shadings—but Hunter himself suggests that producer Stew Kirkwood also played a defining role in the creative process.

"[Kirkwood] has all kinds of interesting keyboards and amplifiers, so Graham Guest who played a lot of keyboards and some bass on this record had the chance to stretch out a little more and play piano, play B3 Hammond organ, so it really just filled out the sound that much more.

"The same with the drummer, Al, too—Stew’s got a whole bunch of drums there," Hunter continues. "He had all kinds of snare drums and it would be like, ‘OK, let’s try this one, OK, what does that sound like? Try this one.’ It was kind of neat to just fool around like that."

"It’s great," agrees Wisor. "Especially if you don’t mind doing some arrangements on the fly—interesting things can happen."

But Happy is about much more than just the sounds—if the musicians are the blood that flows through the band, then it's Wisor's songs that are the heart of the group. The words and music are well-suited to the band's name at times, but at others they stand in stark contrast, contradictory and painfully revealing.

"It can be pretty sombre," Wisor agrees. "I like to juxtapose ideas and you’ll find that often the most depressing part of the song will have the happiest, most melodic line. I don’t know how I could capsulate that in terms of a philosophy, but I guess it probably covers pretty much my whole life. It’s pretty organic the way it comes out. Some of the songs are from way, way back ... but a few of them—'Like Quicksand' and 'Just Some Thoughts from the Grey' and 'Fishin’ are from after my divorce and cover a lot of the stuff that was kind of going on internally at the end of the relationship, coming to grips and moving on. I don’t know what I would write about if I didn’t have heartache and strife in my life.

"I’ve had very extreme experiences in my life and I know that that’s where my music comes from," she continues. "I know that’s where the words come from on a very basic level, but just being able to go to a place on stage where I’m in that part of my gut that it comes from, that’s all from kind of having everything on the line at one point or another and realizing that in the end nothing really matters, so why hold back?" V - VUE Magazine, Eden Munro, Week of July 9, 2009, Issue #716


Savvy singer using Internet to get messages across to growing fan base

By Francois Marchand
July 22, 2009

Sherry-Lee Wisor has put together her own band, Happy, after years of playing in other groups.Photograph by: Shaughn Butts, Edmonton JournalSherry-Lee Wisor's latest musical endeavour may as well have been named "Lucky."

The seasoned veteran, who for the past 15 years has provided her bass-playing skills to the likes of Jr. Gone Wild, Old Reliable, Carolyn Mark and Po'Girl, is now carving her own path with her band Happy, and the release of a debut EP, Kiss. Bang!

But Happy and its Appalachian, foot-stamping, bittersweet folk-pop are getting much more than just a dutiful nod from the local scene. Wisor, 37, is fast becoming a household name in Italy--where her European label handles Happy's digital distribution-- and also turning heads in important U. S. centres New York City and Seattle, where her publicity agent is located.

To top it off, a licensing agency out of Burbank, Calif., that takes care of song placement in television, advertising and movies has already added Happy's songs to its catalogue.

"If my daughter could hear one of my songs on Ugly Betty or Smallville, that would be it--she could die happy," Wisor chuckles.

"Actually," she adds, whispering, "I like those shows too."

Wisor admits much of the ideas for distributing her music and giving Happy more exposure have stemmed from the Internet, from where suggestions and invitations have come pouring in.

"I don't sit here with a business plan and a list of contacts to call every day," she admits. "But I do have a 'yes' philosophy and I very much believe in the power of intuition. (The licensing company) wanted a Leslie Feist-ish, Joni Mitchell-y kind of voice and I signed a deal with them. It's just another conduit to get my music out there."

Kiss. Bang! is a logical extension of Wisor's musical direction throughout her career, which has taken her from punk to folk to pop and back.

"I always knew that I would put a band together," Wisor explains. "Along the way, I picked up certain things. In Po' Girl, they had a Wurlitzer piano and I just loved that sound so much--I knew when I had my band that the Wurlitzer would be in there. I knew that I loved real, raw guitar and an evil kind of influence underneath. And I knew that I loved pop music--the major scale and those pretty melodies.

"So the Wurlitzer brings a pop sound, and the evil, driving guitar balances out the sweet melodies --I don't want to come across as too bubblegummy. I like to surf the sweet and sour."

The poppier aspect of Happy's music is also often counter-balanced by a stark, weary outlook on life and storylines that aren't afraid to send you up and down and up again.

On one song, Wisor talks about recovering from an illness through the eyes of a cat ( Seven) while on another she takes the experience of almost being hit by a train in the dead of night and turns it into a metaphor for anger management ( Malta Train).

Ultimately, the songs usually conclude on a similar note--when the dust has settled, it's OK to be happy.

"There's a lot of guilt that goes along with being happy," she says. "For me, at least, when you're happy, there's always the knowledge that there's people really suffering. We're in the eye of a hurricane here in a lot of ways. But I believe everybody has the right to happiness, and if we're not happy, we can't spread happiness around."

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal - Edmonton Journal


Mike Garth / michael@vueweekly.com

Happy's debut cleverly weaves together a range of folky styles, instrumentation, tempos and lyrics. Sherry-Lee Wisor's breathy, at times near-whisper vocals are reminiscent of both Martha Wainwright and Lucinda Williams' stylings, while an accordion and B3 organ accompany the rich, yet simple and catchy, songwriting. "Fishin'" sees the group perfect its "weave," Wisor's vocals balancing the instrumentation of Robin Hunter, Graham Guest and Al Pickard beautifully. No two songs cover the exact same ground, making for a broad scope that showcases the group's wealth of songwriting prowess, as opposed to a consistent flow. Nonetheless, an impressive debut EP from one of Edmonton's finest musical collaborations.

- Vue Weekly


Discography

Kiss. Bang.
June 2009

Photos

Bio

After taking off like a shot in 2007 and being creditted with the #2 spot in SEE Magazines best shows of 2007, Sherry-Lee Wisor has stood on the shoulders of groups she's been a part of and pushed her music far beyond expectation. After 2 years, 2 European Tours and 1 critically acclaimed E.P. Wisor, (and her illustrious 'Wisor Trio') are slated to record a full length record and tour western Canada before the end of 2010.

With heavy influence from all musical styles and backgrounds, Wisor is embracing a more stripped down, rootsier atmosphere for her voice to really reach people's ears and hearts... which is no problem for her. She's cast-off the "always a bridesmaid, never a bride" stigma of the being a hired-gun-musician and has gone on to hire some guns of her own.

Sherry-Lee Wisor's name may seem a little new to you, but she's a music veteran, having played with the likes of JerryJerry & The Sons of Rhythm Orchestra, Po'girl, Jr. Gone Wild & The Mike MacDonald band to name a few.

Wisor consistently attracts some of the most sought after players in their hometown of Edmonton, Canada - all well-seasoned touring musicians and all singular in their styles. The Wisor Trio can suit any environment, from soft-seater concerts to folk festivals, to alternative clubs.

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Tom Murray has been electric and playing upright bass in the Edmonton area for many years with experience in punk bands like 'Pal Joey' to alternative/country bands such as 'ManRayGun' and 'Old Reliable'.

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'Fat Dave' Johnston has been playing in noisy rock & roll bands in Edmonton since the mid-nineties. Always being a leader and creating a name as a songwriter, he enjoys stepping back a bit to just play guitar. He's done time with The Fat Dave Crime Wave, The Rumble Strippers and Black Market Inc. to name a few.