Sound Seekers by Fateema Sayani is published weekly at OttawaMagazine.com. Read Fateema Sayani’s culture column in Ottawa Magazine and follow her on Twitter @fateemasayani
Dave Norris uses the story of Canadian bank robber Ty Conn as a jumping off point on his second album called They Let You Paint Your Darker Dreams. Conn busted out of Kingston Penitentiary in 1999. He was running free for two weeks, until police found him in a Toronto apartment.
“Out of sheer desperation, facing the balance of a forty-seven-year prison sentence if re-incarcerated, Ty Conn shot himself fatally in the chest,” write CBC reporters Theresa Burke and Linden MacIntyre in their book, Who Killed Ty Conn.
The story resonated with Norris, an Ottawa songwriter who performs with his band called Local Ivan. Norris read an article about the Conn case and then searched out more information.
“Ty Conn had such a horrible background,” Norris says. “His life was about going from foster home to foster home and a lot of the record, lyrically, is about that character — if not specifically Ty Conn, then that character.”
Norris takes artistic license in exploring the feelings and ideas of a man on the lam. The eight-track album opens with “There’s Lonely, There’s Lonelier.” It’s got a simple one-two chord opening, before the song bursts into a swirl of sky-searing choruses and lush embellishments. It’s a Norris formula to go from simple to soaring. He did it well on his 2011 full-length debut, Alma Mater, which was full of dynamic tunes with swooshy instrumental largesse.
This album continues in that vein with buoyant pop glory made by kids reared on The Beatles, but mired in contemporary conundrums.
Towards the end of the album, we see the results of a life like Conn’s.
When he shot himself, Conn was on the telephone with Burke, a TV producer at the fifth estate. Burke and MacIntyre met Conn at a Saskatchewan Correctional Institute in 1994 in relation to a story on the effects of child abuse. In their book, they say that Conn wasn’t a danger to society, but simply a man trying to come to terms “with a life of rejection.”
Norris’ song “Where You End Up” sums up the irony and anger he felt about a story like this.