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Why Ashley MacIsaac decided to rock his fiddle

Ashley MacIssac

Helen McLennan

From his home in Windsor, Ont., the often-controversial fiddler Ashley MacIsaac speaks about Crossover, his new album of rockified Celtic music.

Given that your new album is being compared to 1995's Hi™ How Are You Today, I'll ask you: How are you today?

Well, I'm 36 now. If I'm not okay there's something wrong. I figure at this point of my life I have to be able to deal with my stresses - as much as they are, being a recording artist. I have a pretty good job.

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Is it a secure job?

It's like operating an individual business where you don't know if work is coming tomorrow. But I've known since I was a kid that if worse comes to worse, or maybe best comes to best, I can always hop in my car and drive around Cape Breton Island and play for square dances to make a living.

The first song on the album is King is Back. Is that you, the king?

If you want to call me that, I wouldn't disagree.

It's a brash rock track. It reminds me of The Who, which then makes me think of The Who's Baba O'Riley.

Which had a Celtic twist to it.

Right, at the end, which exposed fiddle music to a lot of people. Is that your goal, broadening people's perceptions of what fiddle music can be?

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Yes, it really is. When I started making this record, I wanted to make a record like Rihanna. It didn't happen, but it was that kind of pop-dance music that really influenced me when I was in New York, when I was 17, when I began thinking about how I could make the crossover.

How, then, did rock music become your vehicle for crossover success?

Growing up, I always wanted to be a rock guitar player. I dreamt about what it was like to be on stage with Nikki Sixx and Motley Crue.

Your take on Vivaldi's Summer on the new record seems like something from the Eddie Van Halen school.

I thought about him. I never really listened to him, but when I decided to record it I put the fiddle through an amplifier and turned it up and played it that way.

The Toronto show you're playing this week is in a small club. Will things get loud?

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I would imagine. Anybody who's close to the stage might need earplugs.

The song 2012: Too Late to Hide has a line about the world having a heart attack. We saw a bit of that last week in Vancouver, didn't we?

Oh, there's a heart attack everywhere. It's funny. I have this image of being frantic and crazy and intense and saying anything at any time. But that's all just newspaper clips and headlines from my career on stage. I'm not like that at all. I'm so the opposite of that. I don't know - I ain't having no heart attack yet.

How about giving us your own headline, then, for the new album.

If you like Ashley MacIsaac's music, you'll like this album. It's about the fiddle mostly. I have some singing on it. I think I'll get a gold record out of this one, which isn't asking for an awful lot. I always get asked when the country needs something done musically, like the Olympics or Parliament Hill. I always show up. And now I'm hoping that the people out there that have distanced from listening to my music, because of particular parts of my life that they didn't agree with, will just plug their nose for a little bit and actually listen to the music.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Ashley MacIsaac plays Toronto's Cadillac Lounge on June 23.

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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