Chris Warren
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Chris Warren bio

In the fifteen-odd years Chris Warren has been performing, he has developed his own brand of cerebral acoustic-rock that blends his background as a poet with his lifelong love of melodic pop. His guitar-playing developed through far-ranging influences, from Big Bill Broonzy to Paul Simon, The Beatles and Caetano Veloso. In the early nineties, when Warren sidled from a poetic/literary career into the popular song, he joined a groundswell of acoustic-alternative Toronto songwriters like Ron Sexsmith, Bob Snider, Kyp Harness and others then starting to emerge.

By that time he had graduated from university, received a scholarship to live for a year in Jerusalem, and published a number of poems in literary magazines. Like his early hero Leonard Cohen, Warren considers songs a kind of literature. Exclaim! Magazine, reviewing his '93 indie tape BONE, called his lyrics "outlandishly well-written tales…clever, poignant, offhandedly funny."

BONE was Warren's first production, a six-song EP, featuring members of his early band The Warren Commission. His next was the far more ambitious Crazy Wisdom, recorded between 1995 and 1997. Showing a Costelloesque range, the 13 (or 14 with the "hidden track") songs were each meticulously arranged and recorded, using altogether some 24 musicians, with Warren contributing guitars, some woodwinds and vocals. Several Toronto songwriters contributed as well, including Dan Bryk (keyboards), Mia Sheard and Kathryn Rose (vocals). The CD was released in early 1997. One reviewer wrote: "A romantic without gushing mush, Warren lays down a very palatable model for what adult pop could and should be more like."

Following the release of Crazy Wisdom Warren returned to writing short fiction and a novel, for which he received a Toronto Arts Council grant. During this break from playing live, the songs that became Beautiful Ruins began to emerge. They had a common theme: the idea of transience, from the personal, in the form of friends who had died, to the global. Beautiful Ruins reflects a certain anxiety we live with continually right now, and the paradox is expressed in the title. It was self-produced with a simpler, though still meticulous, approach than his first album, and performed primarily by Warren on guitars, woodwinds, percussion and keyboards. The album was recorded over about two years. Maury Lafoy (The Supers, Starling) on bass and Tom Bona, the multiple Maple Blues Award-winning drummer in Sue Foley's band, contributed, along with Sarah McElcheran on horn, Jeff Burke bassoon, and Jennifer Warren vocals.

Reaction to the new album has been positive and insightful. "Beautiful Ruins is fascinating, avant-garde world music with retro-pop inflections and a serious literary intent" (Greg Quill, The Toronto Star). "Drawing on themes ranging from evolution and extinction to regret and mortality, Warren aligns the microcosmic and macrocosmic with deft arcs of mystical lyrics" (Sarah Liss, NOW Magazine). "Warren's lucid, engaging writing is stronger here than ever. And it manages to accomplish that rare feat: it reads even as well as it sings" (Stuart Henderson, umbrellamusic.com). "Don't go thinking this is a grave affair. Warren's storytelling agility and experimental ear keep things light and exciting" (Brent Hagerman, Exclaim! Magazine). "He does it all and does it deep, digging great songs from the mineshaft of eternal truth" (Howard Druckman, umbrellamusic.com).

Warren's songs have been covered by other artists. The Crazy Wisdom track "Graveyard of Friends" appeared on the Japanese edition of Dan Bryk's Scratchie Records release Lovers Leap. Toronto singer Stephanie Belding covered "Memory is Water" for her debut, Lustre, produced by James guitarist Michael Kulas.

Warren currently performs both solo and with his band, and plans to tour in the near future. A collection of poetry, House on Fire, including published and unpublished pieces, is available as well.