Essentials… with Neil Osborne
Each week, Essentials allows Canadian musicians to share the things that have helped get through through the pandemic, and why they still can’t live without them. Here are the choices of 54-40's frontman.
By Jason Schneider
Each week, Essentials allows Canadian musicians to share the things that have helped get through through the pandemic, and why they still can’t live without them.
Since 1980, Neil Osborne has been the primary creative force behind 54-40, one of the key bands of the CanRock renaissance which, now after four decades, continues to maintain a loyal audience while pushing its sound in new directions.
The band has always seemed to be the ideal vehicle of expression for the Vancouver-based Osborne, although in 2019 he hit upon a concept that was just too personal to be handled by anyone else. Working under the pseudonym Niz Wiz, he began writing songs that reflected his confusion and frustration with the state of the world, and in short order had amassed enough material for a double album, recorded on his own and in chronological order on the record’s final track list.
Osborne explains, “As a person—as Citizen Niz—I began to sense some kind of disconnect with common sense, and outdated or hijacked cultural values. I supposed some of it could be attributed, as my father used to say, as feeling, ‘Well, the world is passing me by,’ but I had this insistent, nagging feeling it was much more than that.”
He adds, “I remember pontificating these thoughts in my basement studio before looking up and saying, ‘Hey! Am I the only one feeling this? Am I the only one thinking about this change? This undertow of a tide sweeping us all potentially underwater? And how we don’t know when we can come up for air?’”
Given some of Osborne’s concerns about modern technology that are present on the album, it’s not surprising that he hasn’t yet shared Niz Wiz in full on streaming services. Instead, since last October, Niz Wiz has been available on limited edition double vinyl through El Mocambo Records, and as a digital download through Bandcamp. But just to remind everyone it’s out there, Osborne just shared a second Niz Wiz single, God Do Me A Solid, a clear example of his eclectic musical vision for the project. For more information, go to nizwiz.us.
Essential Song: John Lennon, Imagine (from Imagine, 1971)
There is never just one song or album for me, so this question is always difficult to answer. Songs and albums or playlists are always a choice for that particular moment in your life. The Niz Wiz album references certain songs and artists that could be considered influences. As Niz Wiz, I have a fear about the impact of artificial intelligence on composition and recording as we move forward. I mean, AI is all around us and as it perfects itself, it is only a matter of time until human composers and artists get in the way of profit centre efficiency. So the song I’ll choose today is one for the humans: Imagine by John Lennon.
Essential Book: Fred T. Hodgson, The Steel Square (1881)
This is a book that anyone interested in carpentry needs. I think its value has been demonstrated by the fact that it was in print for nearly a century. It’s proved helpful for building my new studio over the past couple of months.
Essential TV: Anderson Provis Films
An easy answer would be Jeopardy, but I’m still fascinated by the children’s shows I remember that were made by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson for British TV in the 1960s that used marionettes, or “supermarionation,” as the process was called. These shows included Thunderbirds, Stingray, Fireball XL5 and Supercar and I assume you can watch them all on YouTube now. They are really curious productions.
Essential Movie:2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
There’s not really much more that can be said about Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece. It keeps giving with each viewing.