Gentleman Reg: Nomad, Underground & Military Brat
Welcome to In the Key of Q the weekly podcast where I chat with inspiring Queer musicians from around the world as they share stories, inspirations and of course their music.
Gentleman Reg hails from Toronto in Canada. He's a singer songwriter, drag artist, DJ and makeup artist. He has released seven full-length albums with various bands, including Light Fires, and Regina Gently. A former member of the group Hidden Cameras, Reg has also sung is also sung with Broken Social Scene and Owen Pallett.
Intriguingly he also had a cameo in the film Shortbus, which this year sees a rerelease.
Reg had a nomadic upbringing. With a military pilot father, he grew up in both Germany and Canada. Eventually settling in the small town of Guelph he found himself surrounded by music, not least because of the indie-celebrating festival, Hillside.
Eventually releasing his own music, he worked with many different bands and guises including the highly popular Hidden Cameras.
He has a striking look with white hair and pale skin, and eventually learned to embrace people's wrong assumption that he was albino. And as the effeminate kid in school, from an early age he learned to roll with is Otherness.
Gentleman Reg embraced online living during the pandemic and found himself not only entertaining his old audience but swathes of new people who never usually visited bars. He is an advocate of the alternative side of the queer scene, and this was a natural extension of that, reaching audiences for whom mainstream queer living mostly ignored.
- Gentleman Reg on Spotify, Apple Music, Bandcamp
- Gentleman Reg on Twitter, Instagram
- Gentleman Reg homepage
If you enjoyed this episode why not take a listen to Nick Vaan.
In the Key of Q is a weekly 30-40 minute podcast publishing every Tuesday. I’m your host Dan Hall, and in each episode, I chat candidly with a gay/bi musician about their life and music.
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But the press always needs angles for things. So they just really picked up on the queer aspects of my songwriting. And then that's actually how I really came out.
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I'm Dan Hall. Tune in. And be heard.
This week's guest hails from Toronto in Canada. He's a singer songwriter. drag artist, DJ and makeup artist. He has released seven full length albums with various bands, including Light Fires, and Regina Gently. A former member of the group Hidden Cameras, Reg has also sung is also sung with Broken Social Scene and Owen Pallett.
Intriguingly he also had a cameo in the film Shortbus, which this year sees a rerelease. A big welcome here at In the Key of Q to Gentleman Reg. Reg, hello!
My parents are actually both singers. Um, so they sing barbershop. Uh, so that's what got me singing. Um, there's a lot of piano players in my family. Um, so yeah, there was just music growing up and then, you know, music lessons starting at age five for ever. And, um, and then when I was a teenager, I started writing songs myself.
So what did the, five-year-old you think of being thrust into music training?
Um, I don't think I was too happy about it. It was, uh, I was living in Germany actually, when I was a little kid. Um, we had like a military sort of upbringing. I moved around quite a bit. Um, and I was five and I was a little bit of a slow developed child. So yeah, I was not ready for it at five. I'll just say that. Um, so the piano lessons didn't last too long, but then I subsequently, you know, took them again and again, and again. I took accordion and saxophone and drums and guitar. And I just kinda like floated around, see what, see what would fit.
Can you remember at what point music stopped being something that was just around in your life and started to be something which you were drawn towards and you wanted to create?
Yeah, that was in high school for sure. You know, there was definitely a period when. When indie music sort of started to get on my radar and sort of grunge and like singer songwriters. Um, and when I realized that anyone could play music, you know, there was sort of, I always just sort of thought like, oh, It's Madonna or it's like Prince, like those are the people that can make the music.
And then I realized like, oh no, it's, you know, then there's like Elliot Smith and Liz Phair and, um, like Riot Girl Movement. Like all these things in high school sort of sort of came into my radar.
And, and so I just dipped my toes in and started a little folk duo with my lesbian bestie. She was the only, well, I was going to say out lesbian. She was the only out queer person at all in my huge high school.
Was there a point at which suddenly you thought I don't want to stop doing this, this music thing and spend my time being an accountant? I actually want to take it to the next level.
Um, yeah, we, I moved to this little town called Guelph, which is like an hour from Toronto. Um, Which is, you know, Toronto is one of the biggest cities in Canada. So I lived like an hour away from there. And, um, and it was just a music-. There was so much music there. There, there was a really popular music festival there every summer, um, called The Hillside. And I don't know, at that time there was just the synergy where bands would come through and they would play Guelph like, it was sort of a stop for some reason. And there was a really intensely healthy, like indie punk rock, um, culture. So, you know, kids throwing shows. So you would rent a room, rent a PA make flyers charged $5. And like eight bands would play or something.
Um, and that would happen like every weekend. And you know, that we had this music festival every summer. So it was like every young person's goal to be like, oh, I'm going to play Hillside the music festival. So, you know, there were sort of like these small ambitions, but they were enough to sort of drive you and like, and, you know, get you to like record.
And at one point I put together this compilation, um, it was called the goods and it was a compilation of like 15 local bands. Um, and we each submitted a song and I put it on, you know, it was on a CD and like that at the time, that was a big deal. Like it's felt like more professional than the cassettes we'd been putting out.
And so that was really an eye-opener for a lot of us, because it was like, oh, we can, you know, we can be on a, on a CD and like, and have like release shows, just like, just like these other bands,
So you performed in a number of bands across the years, and now you've released content under two different guises. That's Regina Gently this great synthy dance music, and also the slightly more acoustic, a little bit more peaceful, Gentleman Reg.
I'd been doing the band thing for like a dozen years or whatever. Um, I played in the Hidden Cameras for many years, um, and sang with a lot of other bands. So even when I wasn't just doing my own thing, I was like always sort of on the road with someone or, or singing guest vocals with someone. And then, yeah, it just, I just thought, you know what? I don't, I don't want to just start another band. I want to do something totally different. So that's kind of when, when I started Light Fires, that was sort of the electro indie dance project. And then I also started doing drag at that exact same time. And then I just meshed the drag with the, um, indie dance project, Light Fires, and then yeah. And then it felt like, wow, okay, this is what I want to do. I want to be like a different person. I want to be, you know, at this persona like that nobody even recognizes like for years. Nobody even knew that like in Toronto, at least that it was me. Um, because I just looked so different.
And is it freeing as an artist to have more than one persona in that way, that many authors, if they're stepping outside the genre that they're known for, they will often publish under a pseudonym.
It was just a way for me to break, um, clean from sort of the past and, and, and what, um, people knew of me thought of me what, um, what I thought of myself.drag persona that I wrote in:
I've been known to be an albino, even though I'm not, but I kind of grew up, um, with everyone thinking that I was an albino and, um, having, uh, an obsession with my hair. So that's a funny thing to do, you know, grow up as a kid and, um, old ladies want to touch your hair and other kids make fun of you because of your hair. And then at some point you're cool because of your hair. Um, yeah, I sort of always had this weird identity with like my, um, with how I looked.
I was kind of this shy effeminate kid, that like played with Barbies and dressed up. But then yeah, it was always being drawn to like performing and there was always like attention on me for things.
So from an early age, you were aware of your otherness?
Yeah, because of other people, which is always interesting.
My dad was in the military, um, as a pilot, so we would move every two to for years we would move. Um, and yeah, born in Canada, but then moved to Germany, uh, for four years. And then back to Canada, the rest of my life was in Canada.
Do you feel that you were missing something by always moving around and not managing to sit, lay down these routes or is that not really possible to mess what you don't know?
It's definitely hard as a kid to, to do that, but then as an adult. I sort of appreciate that. I did that. So it's sort of like, in retrospect, it's like, yeah, I'm so glad I, I lived in Germany.
I love traveling. And then just in general, I love seeing the world. So, you know, I think it's, it's like it's good and bad. I, I, I don't know what my life would be like if I had just lived in one home.
You talked about, it was other people that made you aware of your otherness. I think it's other people who make in a way make us realize that we're gay because we know that we're gay. But what other people do is make us realize that we are different.
Oh, you know, it's funny I just thought of this. I mean, I used to. I definitely used to like play with Barbies and I used to dress up as like one of the Charlie's Angels. Um, you know, I, I definitely was always different, but I do have this distinct memory of painting um, my nails, like my fingernails and my toenails. Um, and I have this memory of my, of being in the pool, like swimming. Which has always like semi traumatic when you're like a gay kid and my toenails were painted and I have this distinct memory of like, uh, you know, all these adult men, like laughing at me, um, for having painted toenails.
And then I was just like, so, you know, realize like, oh my God, I shouldn't have painted toenails.
And what was the point at which you decided to come out yourself? What was that tipping point?
Well, that was, um, with music really. Um, yeah, when I was fully doing music and putting out albums, um, I started to get, uh, quite a bit of attention, like in the early two thousands, of course, you know, the press always needs angles for things and stories and hooks and headlines. So, so they just really picked up on the queer aspects of my songwriting. And then that's actually how I really came out was like through doing press for my album, which is kind of crazy.
And how did that go down in the family?
Um, it did not go well. Um, yeah, it, it didn't go well at all. Um, partially because of the way that it happened and then yeah, just everyone was so surprised.At that time, like the early:
He's passed away, but he was, yeah this amazing queer artist and DJ and promoter and, and yeah. And Vaseline, I mean, it was like groundbreaking, like this, it was this underground queer party that he brought in, oh my God like Peaches did one of her first shows there. He brought in The Gossip, um, Lottigra, uh, the Oregon, like it just so many bands like early, early, early, you know, before any of them had broken.
And, and it was huge. Like it was for, for Toronto, it was, you know, six, 700 people at these parties, which is like really big for us.
It was like, so mixed. I mean, that's what was interesting about Vaseline and is almost like hard to find now. Like, I, I feel like that was like a time and a place and then it ended, and I don't think it's ever been fully recreated even.
Danqueer here in London, in the:
I don't know whether it's vanished because I'm 48 and I don't have the finger on the pulse anymore, but it just feels like everything is dissolved into apps and mediocre bars. Yes.
I know what you mean.
After we finished recording this episode, I pull it into the edit and chop us down here and there, I take out some mistakes and nip and tuck our voices. But I'm not going to do that for the next two or so minutes. For the next couple of minutes, the platform is all yours to speak about anything that you would like, it could be something we've already spoken about or something that is just popped into your head right now apropos of absolutely nothing. Here's your two or so minutes to let your voice be heard.
Um, wow. So many things I could talk about, um, you know, something that, um, not a lot. I feel like not a lot of people I know are into or got into is I really embraced online, performing and, um, all things. Um, online during the pandemic. Um, I sort of had to, I had no choice, but doing drag DJ and being a performer, you know, when everything shut down, I just thought I, um, can't just not perform for, you know, however long this is going to last.
So I really started to explore like Instagram live and, uh, Twitch and, um, and had an amazing time with it and realized there was this whole other world, um, specifically on Twitch and a lot of queers, a lot of drag, a lot of music. Um, it was kind of fascinating to realize like, um, and talking about you know, alternative spaces and stuff shutting down. I mean, hopefully that never totally goes away, but, um, it was interesting to find that, um, a lot of these things exist online in these places that I had never looked and never thought, um, Yeah, I wouldn't have ever thought it was for me to have like a dance party online, but then the more I was DJ'ing online, I realized, oh, some of these people who are coming to watch me, you know, they wouldn't normally go to a bar or maybe they don't drink, or maybe they have like social anxieties or accessibility issues or. I mean, there's just so many things that, um, I thought, yeah, were unique about, about that experience.
And so I'm still, I'm not doing it as intently as I was, but yeah, I'm still DJ'ing um, on Twitch and trying to explore these other avenues that I have um, other friends doing the same thing. And that was just a little pandemic realization that I came to. I thought I would share!
You spoke earlier about being an effeminate kid with your amazing white blonde hair and being a little bit the other all your life. What would your words of wisdom be to anyone listening to this who thinks, I can absolutely identify with that right now?
Oh my God. You just need to, um, try and not listen to other people, the other voices. Um, you need to trust your instincts and you know, when it's young- when you're young it's you don't necessarily have those instincts developed, um, or you don't necessarily know who you are, but, um, yeah, every time I sort of tried something new or changed or did something terrifying or scary even if, even when I was like, like having a folk duo in high school, I mean, I was painfully shy at the time. So singing these songs, you know, I had to be forced to do it the first time.
Um, but now, I mean, now I'm like a stage whore you know, you can hardly get me off if I'm like on, you know, on a roll. But you know, that only happened because I just I tried and like took those leaps.
What does it feel like when you get on the stage?
It's funny. I fit into that category of, I actually feel more comfortable on stage than I do off stage. Um, You know, it's sort of like the shy, introverted person and then the full-on extroverted performer, uh, on stage. And, um, yeah, something sort of unlocks in me and the filters come down and I just feel like more free to sort of express myself.
That is curious because. One would imagine getting on stage as the points at which the mask goes on rather than comes off.
I know, I don't know. Maybe, you know, maybe I'm performing now and then when I'm on stage, that's the real me. I have no idea.
What do you think you'll 15 year old self would think of you?
Um, I think they'd be pretty proud. Um, and, uh, yeah, I think they would be probably.. God, what would they think? Yeah, I mean, back then, it was just like this idea of like, oh, can I, you know, can I be in a band? Can I write a song that, that people like, and now it's sort of, um, I can't imagine never, you know, not doing that.
So I think the 15 year old would, yeah, would think I'm pretty awesome.
Now this podcast is about introducing people to queer music and queer artists. Handing the baton on who are you listening to at the moment?
I was just listening to Owen Pallet the other day. He is... full disclaimer, a good friend of mine, um, and an ex band mate and boyfriend.
But, um, yeah, he put it, he put out a record called 'Island' in, uh, during the pandemic. Yeah, so many friends. My friend's Land of Talk from Montreal. Um, great, uh, indie rock band, female singer Lizzie um, they just put out an EP and a record just before the pandemic.
Now, then Reg where can we find you online?
I do have Gentleman Reg, um, Instagrams and Twitter and Banadcamp. And then I have Regina Gently Instagrams and Twitter and Bandacamp. And, um, and then I also have a Light Fires record, which is its own thing. So yeah, on I'm my music's out there Bandcamp is, is the lovely place that we'd like to promote cause it actually pays us. But, um, you know, Spotify, iTunes, whatever, whatever you guys use.
And it's funny, we're talking about this, cause I'm gonna put out some, uh, Gentlemen Reg B sides and remixes and stuff this year. That's stuff, you know, that I recorded way back when and, um, and I'm going to release that soon just to get it off my laptop, basically.
I like to ask our guests do they have a gateway song that they feel would act as a perfect introduction to their catalog, especially for the new listener who's just coming in. Bearing that in mind what song of yours would you choose as your gateway for us and why?
Uh, I would choose a song called 'We're In a Thunder Storm'. It's from my album 'Jet Black', which was my, the one album that was on a pretty big label. Um, so got a decent push, um, via grant money, Canadian grant money. Um, yeah, so it's sort of like more well known. It got a little bit of CBC radio play. So you may know it.
I choose that it has a little bit more of a Nu Wave, um, dance vibe to it than some of my more indie rock stuff. But it's very much my style of singing my vocals, very catchy. Um, the chorus has the line, 'I'm going to dress myself up and run around', which was I guess foreshadowing my, my life as a drag queen as well. Um, But, um, yeah, there's just something about that song that people seem to respond to. Um, so that's why I'm choosing it.
It was always a song we would play near the end of our sets live and has a bit more of a dance feel and an, an upbeat tempo in a. More outward looking, um, lyrics. So I think there's an accessibility to that track.
Gentleman Reg, thank you so much for sharing with us your music and your story here at In the Key of Q. It has been lovely to talk with you.
Thanks for having me.
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The show was made at Pup Media. I'm Dan Hall. Go listen to some music and I'll see you next Quesday!