by Emily Kendy

Johnny Sizzle is lying on his bed in the small room of his rooming house in Winnipeg. On his wall is an abstract self-portrait and punk gig posters spanning from the early 90s to the most recent shows he’s caught at The Cobalt (now Asbalt), Vancouver’s notorious hardcore bar. Sizzle is back East for reasons that aren’t clear though he does mention in passing with no obvious intention of keeping it a secret he has recently been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

While he’s only 33-years-old the acoustic musician sounds older, and perhaps it has to do with the fact that when he first started recording material, in the 80s, cassette tapes were the norm. Regardless, the concurrent successes of those releases brought him a fair share of touring and acclaim and somewhere in the 90s he included a drag show act to his miscellaneous oeuvre that was not originally intended, despite what he says is a long-term relationship with eyeliner.

During a phone interview from his room where he says there is a foot massager and dirty cups on the floor, the very thorough Sizzle talks in a slow, rasping monologue about what it’s like to be back home, his 2005 album, Metamorphasiz and the very real people who are following his every move….

You just mentioned something about a TV show you used to do…

Sizzle: There was recently a reunion. It was a local, cable all-access TV show. Johnny Sizzle’s Entertainment Watch. I wrote and produced it. I’d have these local bands on, this was the late 80s early 90s when most people thought arena rock ruled the world. I did the show because I wanted to say ‘look, there’s a real, talented and interesting person living down the street from you.’

How’s it going back in Winnipeg?

Sizzle: It’s been quite a struggle coming back to Winnipeg, for one thing the music scene here is young, there don’t seem to be any people well into their 30s…I took off from Winnipeg in  ’95. What happened is it’s a completely new scene, no one knows me, or remembers me. For my own survival I play the best I can play, and I worried a bit there that I was too gimmicky.

But it’s working out?

Sizzle: What I like most is that I’m playing all-ages shows. That I’m almost 20 years older than all of them and nobody dumps on me feels great. I think my songs stand up.

I found a couple songs on the Internet, “Bee Cuz I Want 2” and “I’m a Nerd”, which are both uniquely great. Tell me about them…

Sizzle: The song “Bee Cuz I Want 2” I wrote when I briefly lived in Toronto back in 2001. I didn’t record it until 2004. I consider it an exercise in creating as simple a love song as can be with a rock’n out twist. “I’m a Nerd” is one of my oldest songs. I think it might have been the second song I ever wrote.

It must have some history.

Sizzle: It’s been a Canadian University campus-radio hit, back in the mid-90s, I’ve sold the licensing rights to films and TV shows around the world, and it’s been played on CBC a number of times. Nardwuar the Human Serviette always bugs me to play the song whenever he sees me or when he’s had me on his CiTR radio show [101.9 FM].

Where did the inspiration for the album Metamorphasiz come from?

Sizzle: Every different place I’ve lived in Canada: Winnipeg, Montreal, Toronto, Northern Ontario I’ve put out a release. Most of the CD I wrote while living for a number of years in the Cobalt Hotel, in Rooms #315 and #318 respectively. It’s a weird CD. Half is with a band and half is done as a soloist, hence the title. Also, half the CD is creepy complicated messages relating to the environments I lived in at the time…the other half of the songs are majorly influenced from easy little chants I’d sing to myself while working downstairs in the punk bar at the Cobalt Hotel. Happy? Depressed? Together? Alone? What really do I want? No wonder I’m diagnosed as a schizophrenic.

What was it like living in Montreal?

Sizzle: I got into the druggy, crusty punk lifestyle around ’94. I went hitchhiking in the winter of ’95 and went to Montreal. I stayed in homeless shelters and did some modeling and released a second album, This One’s For the Kids which went to helping street kids in a grassroots way...I’d literally play a show and take the money out onto the street.

That’s really cool.

Sizzle: Tiring but cool.

Were you always into gender bending?

Sizzle: No…I never shied away from eye shadow, but that was something I found which was completely new while I was living in Vancouver. I haven’t continued as a drag queen entertainer since moving back to Winnipeg. I still go out and cross-dress in public with a punk rock/heavy metal style but not to do shows. Mostly when I go out to punk shows or dance-y nightclubs or certain places to do karaoke.

Did it change your direction as a musician?

Sizzle: No. In fact I thought it would, when I started gender bending I was frequenting night clubs and doing my drag act and I thought my music would become more dance like. But on the other hand I was also immersed in the Cobalt hardcore bar scene, and bussing tables there...

How important is DIY in punk music?

Sizzle: You have to get your music and songs out any possible way you can. Doesn’t matter if you have a discography that makes sense or not at least the raw material is out there and people can see what you have to say.

It seems like a lot of so called “punk” bands today are getting away with not working very hard.

Sizzle: Punk’s really weird right now, there’s “celebrity punk” and then the local punk community. The generation of punk I came from didn’t think about becoming a celebrity. The aspiration was to have a great weekend show with all your friends.

What are you looking forward to in the upcoming New Year?

Sizzle: In the last year there has been a filmmaker creating a documentary film on my songwriting “career”. I will also be re-releasing the recordings I put out on cassette tape between 1994-1997 on a CD, which will include an unreleased track with Mexico’s Acoustic Hardcore master Metallor Montoya,,,I think I’m done for, personally. I can still sing but really I’m happy just going to karaoke.

What’s your favourite song?

Sizzle: (Ozzy Osbourne’s) “Good Bye to Romance”. I’m the sentimental sort. 


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