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One Hundred Dollars’ story time 

The powerful psych-country group weaves manly tales Tuesday at the Seahorse

One Hundred Dollars craft a heartbreaking country tale or two.
  • One Hundred Dollars craft a heartbreaking country tale or two.

One Hundred Dollars believes in storytelling. For the past five years, the Toronto band has relayed the tales of troubled souls, urban decay and social inequity with a rich and heartfelt alt-country sensibility.

The mind behind these stories is lead singer-lyricist Simone Schmidt, who first began composing songs for the band with musician Ian Russell in 2006. As the band's lineup expanded and solidified, Rick White caught one of its early shows and offered to produce the band's acclaimed debut Forest of Tears at his Elder Schoolhouse studio. This May, the band released its sophomore album, the Polaris Prize-long listed Songs of Man, a collection of haunting, beautifully rendered character studies that reflect modern concerns both intimate and universal.

Between Forest of Tears and Songs of Man, Schmidt worked as a speech facilitator for a close friend and disability rights activist named Aaron. During this time she developed a new understanding of writing as self-expression; in a sense, she found her voice while communicating for someone else.

"I was speaking for two people, but using my own voice," Schmidt says. "I needed songwriting as an outlet. At the same time, I found Aaron very inspiring in that he was a fighter. This set my trajectory between music and language and art. I really became a songwriter after working with Aaron."

Through her work, Schmidt occasionally found herself in all-men's spaces, speaking for Aaron during rehab meetings. It's not surprising, then, that the songs composed for Songs of Man were written from men's perspectives, while some stories form part of larger narratives intended to play out across multiple albums.

"I would journal as these characters that became parts of broader stories that I might reveal within the song, or later on the album," says Schmidt. "I felt they should all fit together."

While only one---"Aaron's Song"---was written with a specific person in mind, all the stories on Songs of Man possess a strong and vivid sense of narrative. "Black Gold" chronicles the life of a refinery worker seeking solace in VLT machines and prostitutes. Other songs are more abstract: The wise old narrator of the darkly rollicking "Ties That Bind" laments faded dreams, while the tale embedded in the wistful piano and plucked-guitar strains of "Brother" could be about forbidden love or lifelong friendship. Whatever the meaning, these songs succeed in conveying a sense of classic country narrative while remaining steadfastly modern.

"Ultimately, it became clear to me that all my favourite country songs had elements that I wanted to rewrite," Schmidt says. "I'm not even sure Songs of Man is a country record. But I know there are themes in country that I love to play with and expand upon. I want to keep that renegade sensibility while expanding on the old archetypes---and allow a new dimension to be shown."

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