Monica Schroeder in the TO (Stylus Magazine)

by Jeff Robson, April/May 2004

It’s a long way from the tiny town of Horndean, Manitoba to the bustling Centre of the Universe in Toronto, Ontario, but local singer/songwriter Monica Schroeder (pronounced Sh-Row-Der) is about to complete that journey when she leaves the cosy confines of Manitoba in April.

She actually left Horndean years ago, and hasn’t looked back since. She first found music on the long-running TV show, The New Music, and it was pop music that really caught her ear. She grew up listening to the likes of Tears for Fears, Crowded House, and INXS, and isn’t afraid to admit it. “I do love pop music,” Schroeder says, “I have a great deal of respect for it. It’s fun.”

Obviously, exposure to 80s pop left her with more than bad hair and legwarmers (she has neither), as she has an uncanny knack with a memorable melody. Those wonderful melodies are all over her two CDs; instead of simple, folky acoustic treatments of her introspective and thought provoking lyrics, Schroeder’s CDs, on many tracks, employ lush orchestration and electronic elements, which were brought to her songs by producer Olaf Pyttlik and a stellar group of backing musicians.

But Schroeder’s foray into music was not calculated, and did not come about easily. She didn’t really dream of releasing a CD. “I can’t remember what I was thinking,” she says, “If I’d been thinking clearly, I might not have done it, you know?” Although she had a keen interest in music and a great natural talent, like so many great artists, her art was at first inspired by great pain, which came from the death of her father. “It was about five years ago, maybe six years ago now that I sat down and decided that I wanted to write a few songs to kind of express some feelings that I had, I suppose,” explains Schroeder.

That led to her first CD, 1999’s The Expectation of Home, which is not an overly happy album, but it sure is moving. And honest. Songs like “Something Beautiful,” “Without You,” and “Arms Around Me,” ache with the kind of pain that can only be expressed by someone who’s lived through it.

It seems strange that even though Schroeder is very shy and quiet in conversation, she’s able to be so brave and honest in song. She explains, “I think it’s different. That’s why you write the songs, because you don’t necessarily want to talk about it. It’s just easier to sing about it. I know that for myself, I can separate myself from emotion. I don’t get emotional when I sing about it. When I think about it or talk about it with my friends, I might, but there’s something about writing it down and then it just kind of becomes a song and you can separate yourself from it. For me, that feels good. It’s a good process and it helps me deal with those emotions.”

But somehow, even though most of the songs deal with loss and longing, the album is not a downer. This is due in large part to her uplifting strong and clear voice, which many listeners notice first, and reviewers are quick to comment on. Now Magazine in Toronto said, “Monica has a beautiful voice – emotive, fluid and clear. This Manitoba-based pop musician could make the white pages sound like Yeats.” One of her strongest champions has been the respected Canadian editor of Billboard Magazine, Larry Leblanc, who once said, “Featuring one of the most spellbinding voices to grace Canadian music … her acclaimed, independently released debut, ‘The Expectation of Home’, is a true gem. This Manitoba singer/songwriter is Canada’s finest undiscovered artist.”

But the modest and pragmatic Schroeder doesn’t rest on the laurels of Leblanc’s kind words, instead saying, “It’s certainly flattering. It was wonderful to hear. Wow, I was blown away by that. But then there’s another part of me that decides, ‘ok, how am I going to work that into my bio and how can I use that to promote it?’ You try and think of how you can use that for your business. It’s really nice, but if I sat there thinking about it, I’d have a really bad headache.”

Obviously, Leblanc isn’t the only one who has taken notice of Schroeder’s talents. Her debut was nominated for Pop Recording of the Year at the 2001 Canadian Independent Music Awards and 3 awards at the 2000 Prairie Music Awards. Two songs from it were licensed for TV movies on CBS and HBO in the U.S., and it’s been picked up for distribution by an Asian record company.

In 2003, she released another strong collection of songs called Orbit. When I listened to this CD, I thought that, like many artists do after their first CD, Schroeder was trying to distance herself from her songs a bit and write songs with a more general connection. Not so, she says, “It’s interesting to hear you say that, because I have the exact opposite feeling about that. I feel that this album is more personal. It’s a warmer album, and when I listen to the first album, it feels kind of cold to me. In the songs, this person is kind of searching for some sort of comfort, but she’s also more removed from people. But this album is more about wanting to let life in and be open to love and to people and life. I feel that the songs are more personal and more giving and more warm.”

And now Schroeder’s search is taking her on a great journey, as she’s about to head for the big city and pursue her musical ambitions. “I decided to try a new environment,” explains Schroeder, “I’m going to live there for a little while and see how I like it. I mean, I love this city, but I wanted to be in a new city and try something different.

“I am definitely trying to pursue [music], and I’ll do whatever I need to do on the side if I have to do that. I figure I’m still young enough to be in a new location and move a little bit. Growing up in Horndean, I did always dream of living in Toronto.”

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