Jason Sniderman's Glam-Rock Reinvention As Ensign Broderick
It has taken four decades, but the Toronto pianist/composer's youthful alter-ego has finally been sprung on the world. Sam's son is making up for lost time by releasing five (yes, five!) albums this year.
By Kerry Doole
The arrival of Ensign Broderick on the scene is one of the most fascinating musical stories of 2018, and it is one that is gaining traction.
To say that that is a long-awaited debut solo project from Toronto singer/songwriter/keyboardist Jason Sniderman is one serious understatement. His vision for Ensign Broderick, his glam-rock alter-ego, dates back four decades, and only now, at age 60, has Sniderman felt comfortable enough to introduce him to the world.
He is certainly making up for lost time, releasing five (yes five) Ensign Broderick albums since March this year, on Six Shooter Records. The records are, in order, Feast of Panthers, Beauty NorAshes, Ranger, Only Love Remains, and Bloodcrush.
The first four are archival works, while Bloodcrush, released on Nov. 9, features new material and was recorded with noted Canadian producer Malcolm Burn (Patti Smith, Iggy Pop).
In recent interviews, Sniderman has explained that he has been writing his own songs for decades, but keeping them private. “This is how I expressed myself,” he says in a label press release. “It became more and more private as the years went on. I think not in that type of really cloistered, savant way, like Henry Darger. I was a fully functional person in the world, I just had this other side of me that I kept to myself.”
The Ensign Broderick aesthetic is described in a label press release as "high concept, high art and high fashion." To date Sniderman has played just a few carefully-selected shows as Ensign Broderick. He has performed in Tokyo, Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg (at the New Music Festival, headlined by Philip Glass) and Austin and premiered a short film directed by Guy Maddin in Berlin.
A key catalyst in bringing Ensign Broderick to fruition has been Six Shooter Records president Shauna de Cartier. Sniderman is a member of one of that label's acts, NQ Arbuckle, and when de Cartier learned of his treasure trove of material, she demanded a listen, then committed the label to the ambitious project.
"I was thinking, you're making the biggest mistake of your life," Sniderman told CP's David Friend in a recent interview.
The concept of Ensign Broderick dates back to the 1970s, when, as a music-obsessed teenager, Sniderman began writing his own glam-influenced songs and creating a new persona. "You spend a lot of time in your bedroom thinking about being someone other than who you are," he told Friend. "Eventually something comes out of that."
Early public performances were poorly-received however, prompting Sniderman to keep Ensign Broderick under wraps.
He went on to enjoy notable musical success as a sideman and session player. In the early 80s, he was a member of popular Toronto new-wave/synth-pop band Blue Peter, and he went on to record with such artists as Rush, Art Bergmann, Chalk Circle, Randy Bachman, and Leslie Spit Treeo.
Sniderman was also very active on the music industry front. The son of Sam the Record Man founder Sam Sniderman, Jason joined the family business in the '80s, as vice-president of the noted Canadian record store chain, then, along with his brother Bobby, took charge of the company when it emerged from bankruptcy in the early 2000s. Sam's closed in 2007.
His creative vision for Ensign Broderick is an ambitious one, but Jason Sniderman's commercial goal is decidedly modest. "Even if I found 100 people or 200 people who liked it, that would be great," he told David Friend.