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A $20,000 Dollar Decision: Inside the Polaris Prize Grand Jury

Posted by Jer / September 23, 2009

20090923award.jpg photo by music blogger, polaris juror, and damn fine photographer chromewaves

In case you had earplugs in yesterday, Toronto hardcore act Fucked Up stomped away with the $20,000 Polaris Prize, awarded annually to the band with the best Canadian album in the last year based solely on artistic merit (i.e. screw genre, sales, or record label etc.). The ten finalists for the award are chosen by a jury of music journalists, critics, bloggers, podcasters etc. from across Canada, but the final decision comes down to a grand jury of less than a dozen people from this wider group.

In addition to being nightlife/music guy for Hour and tourisme Montréal, Brendan Murphy was also part of this select group of judges. Midnight Poutine caught up with him - exhausted from a tough decision process that also included a party, an after party, and an after after party - and tried to kick and drag a few back room secrets out of him.

1. Please explain just how *secret* the secret grand jury room was at the Masonic temple in Toronto. Were you really cut off from all distractions of the outside world? Were there at least those little triangle-cut sandwiches to keep your stamina up during the gruelling decision-making process?

That room was one of the most incredibly bizarre spaces I've ever been in. Right outside was a massive painting of a huge collection of old white guys standing around looking like they're in the middle of oppressing someone- sort of like what that Exclaim article said the Polaris jury looked like. The room itself was huge, with chairs carved out of dark wood running around the edge. There was a stage at one end, which we all assumed was where they sacrificed the virgin bricks, or whatever they do. There were no sandwiches but plenty of beer and we were totally sequestered. The process was taken quite seriously.

2. How heated was the debate in the room? Without naming names, were you all good Canadians, politely disagreeing and compromising, or did someone throw a chair (currently my favourite way of solving complex debates).

I think the only time there was a chair almost thrown was during that food/drink fight between Pat Watson and Malajube's table right after Fucked Up played. The debate, which started the night before at a dinner at the Drake, was pretty spirited. There were some pretty big disagreements but, though this is less exciting to report I suppose, what impressed me was the amount of thought that people had put into their decisions. It was pretty thrilling to totally nerd out about music for 2 days straight.

3. If you're allowed to say, what record were you championing going into the weekend, and how did your tastes change as the weekend/gala wore on? (An extended treatise on the notion of taste formation and habitus a la Carl Wilson is also welcome as an answer).

Chad Van Gaalen, K'naan and Fucked Up were the big ones for me. It's pretty impossible to change another critics mind based on some combination of words. What happened more than that was confirmation of things you'd thought about a certain album or artist that, in my case, you hadn't been able to fully articulate. Which is why I'll leave the extended treatises to Mr. Wilson- after all, while he was reading Joyce, Hesse and Camus at age 12, I was exploring the extended works of Asimov, Frederick Forsyth and De La Soul.

4. Would you say the crowd was more excited to hear that Fucked Up had won, or to see Fucked Up's lead singer give the Joel Plaskett-idolizing Grant Lawrence a kiss?

We only saw part of the show, but the crowd- critics, musicians and fans alike- seemed pretty excited all around. None of the bands were phoning it in and some people even stopped Twittering long enough to listen. The place was totally primed to see Fucked Up play- the fact that they were banned from MTV for trashing one of their bathrooms a while ago, were frisked every time they came in and were the only band that had to sign a liability waiver before playing certainly is a good set up. I was pretty excited that I got to talk about pug ownership with Damian at the Drake after- it's been said before but he is by far the nicest scary man you'll ever meet.

5. Now that you have been Grand Juror for the Polaris, are you planning on expanding your juror-ing skills to other award shows/venues? So You Think You Can Dance? Survivor? Dog Shows? etc.

The only show like that I watch regularly is Top Chef. I'm a closet food nerd and if this helped me get on that show and have the chance to meet the divine Padma Lakshmi I could die happy.

6. After having been at the Gala and through the whole Polaris process, please say something insightful/remarkable/gut-splittingly witty about your thoughts on the Canadian ("indie") music landscape and Montreal's place within it.

I think 19 of the 40 bands on the Polaris long list being from Montreal says it all. It was pretty great to hear several people, who admitted to having very poor French skills, say that they loved the Malajube album. Also, I'm totally exhausted and apparently there's a whole work week still ahead of me.

if reading about brendan via various blogs and weeklies isn't enough, you can follow him on twitter too. many thanks to brendan for taking our questions despite a very late night on monday and a polaris-sized headache.



Valerie / September 23, 2009 at 06:39 pm
Awesome! Thank you for this interview.
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