Gentleman Reg on Coming to America
Even though his fourth solo effort Jet Black marks his first album release outside of Canada, the world has seen Reg Vermue a.k.a. Gentleman Reg before, namely as the albino in John Cameron Mitchell’s film Shortbus. The two were friends previously, and Reg expressed interest in a call that Mitchell put out for the orgy scene. “I was like, Oh, I’ll do that. I want to be in your movie, I’ll do whatever,” says Reg. “And I think by me saying that I wanted to do it he then got the idea because it’s a running joke that I’m an albino.” Reg’s look is certainly arresting, with pale skin and white hair, but his voice is just as light to match — which is why he went with the ironic title for Jet Black, out today on the label Arts & Crafts (Broken Social Scene, Feist). “It plays on a lot of things,” says Reg. “It’s the polar opposite from anything I did and the way I look.” The title notwithstanding, the album is a tight piece of pop craftsmanship, with sweet folky harmonies and lush dance beats, guaranteed to take residence in your head. Reg spoke to us from Toronto about the album, his former acting aspirations, and being ready for his international debut.
It’s been four years since your last album. Have you been constantly writing? It was probably the last two years that we worked on it. It’s not like it took four years to make. The last record came out, and then the label folded, and then we wanted to work the record. So I still did that for a while, and then I just realized that I needed something new, and we basically made the record without knowing who was going to put it out. That was a scary process because I just made it and paid for it myself. So it was like a lot of process, but the creative process did not take the most time.
Is there a concept behind this album? It’s not like one huge theme. It’s called Jet Black, and that’s very specific. My last record was called Darby & Joan, and I had one called Make Me Pretty, and there’s sort of a preciousness to those albums, and I just wanted to move away from that. And then musically too, I did mostly faster songs. I also recorded ballads and slow tracks, and I didn’t put those on the record. I wanted a more upbeat vibe. Thematically it’s not necessarily that different, but I feel like musically it’s more of a departure with the dance tracks. It’s definitely more experimental in the creation process.
How did you come up with the title Darby & Joan for your last album? Thanks to you, I now know what that term means. Funny … a lot of people found out what that meant through that. That’s something I stumbled upon on the Internet. I was doing research on etymology websites and I came across it, and it’s one of those things that stuck in my head a little bit, and when I was thinking of album titles, it just popped up. And I liked it just from the romantic aspect — it’s about an old couple that grow old together. That was really appealing to me. I had never heard of it either.
Did you have any musical influences growing up? I probably looked up to a lot of Top 40 singers. For sure, when I was a kid, I was very much a Top 40 Video Hits kid. My parents were singers too, they sing barbershop. So there was a lot of singing in my family. I started out just writing a cappella songs. I picked up a guitar in high school, and that was the vehicle for writing folk songs, and that evolved into what I’m doing now.
Was there anything else you wanted to be besides a musician? I wanted to act. As a kid I did acting courses and theater camp. In high school and university, I was always doing theater, so that was a career for me, but at one point I just sort of said, “I can keep this in my life, but I certainly can’t make a living off of it” … but it’s okay. I’m fine with that. In the last couple of years I’ve done film and theater and stuff, so it’s still around a little bit. I’m up for anything. All the stuff I’ve been doing in the last few years, it’s just stuff people have asked me to do. I haven’t been searching for it.
Your look is striking. Have you ever dyed your hair? It’s all natural. I’ve never actually dyed it, but it’s something I think about.
And you’re rocking facial hair now. You think that will stick? Yeah, I’m liking it. It’s a pain … I didn’t know what would happen when I grew it, and it’s interesting because it’s all different colors, so it’s kind of fun.
This is going to be your world debut outside of Canada. What sort of impression are you hoping to make? I hope to make a huge, amazing impression on the world. I’m just excited to get the opportunity. I feel like I’ve really come to a really good place with this album. Not just with the record itself, but live. Musically I feel the live band is solid — I’m more comfortable on stage right now. I can be really shy, so I feel okay having my picture taken and being looked at, and I feel like I’m really ready to tour the world.
Photo: Norman Wong