Singer-songwriter Jennifer Brewer performs regularly at The Old Nick, a bar steps from Broadview station. Every Tuesday night, Brewer hosts an open stage, where she plays a selection of her songs before inviting others to perform. The stage, at the front of the bar, can be seen through the restaurant windows so passersby, too, can watch the show. Brewer doesn’t mind if the audience inside is eating while she plays, or even if they’re only half listening to her performance, because she enjoys the bar’s casual atmosphere. However, there is no lack of enthusiasm for music at The Old Nick, especially from the people who work there. “You can tell the people here really love music,” says Brewer.
To experience the music for myself, I went to see Brewer perform at the start of an open-stage night. That night, Brewer was accompanied by a percussionist, and started off her set with the song, “Tongue-tied.” Coincidentally, “Tongue-tied” is also the first song she has finished recording for her debut album. The drummer, Jason, also doubles as her producer. He approached Brewer after an open-stage night, and the two have been collaborating ever since. Brewer writes the songs with her guitar, and Jason, who has a recording studio in his apartment, fills in the drum parts afterwards. The actual recording space is set up in a shed in Jason’s backyard and is warmed by space heaters. Brewer plays guitar in the shed, while Jason monitors her progress from a soundboard inside his apartment. They have been working on Brewer’s debut album, entitled Songs I Played In Your Room, since June of 2008.
While listening to her on stage, it does not take long to notice that all of Brewer’s songs deal with the themes of love and loss. “A singer-songwriter should play what they know,” Brewer says. She considers herself a singer-songwriter of the folk music tradition, and her musical influences include heavyweight folk musicians, such as James Taylor. She confesses, however, that Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual was the first album she ever purchased. She only began teaching herself how to play the guitar when she was twenty-three. Despite being a late-comer to the music scene, Brewer commands a lot of stage presence with both her voice and instrument.
Brewer is a native of Fredericton, New Brunswick. She came to Toronto in 1997 to study theatre at Humber College. Three years later, Brewer returned to her hometown after deciding she no longer wanted to become an actress. She then came back to Toronto in 2003 to pursue a music career and heard about the open-stage night at The Old Nick through a college friend. Following her initial performances at The Old Nick, Brewer would be invited back repeatedly, and has since become a regular act. “I remember my first performance,” Brewer says, beaming. “It was July 5 — my best friend’s birthday.” When I ask her if she has ever had any bad performances, she reveals that she once attempted to cover Norah Jones’s song “Turn Me On;” she accidentally replaced the lyric “like a school kid waiting for the spring,” with “like a school kid in a dark room,” which turned the hopeful song incredibly dark.
Brewer now divides her time between working at the East Delta Hotel, hanging out with her friends at The Old Nick, and working on her music.