In Buffalo, where the love affair with Canadian music is an obsession, it appears Brent Bodrug is going the wrong way.
While Buffalonians embrace the music of Ron Hawkins, the Barenaked Ladies and just about any other Canadian artist, Bodrug is traveling from Toronto to enjoy the wealth of talent in Buffalo.
"This scene is so happening and the people in Buffalo don't even know it," Bodrug, 32, says with the infectious enthusiasm that permeates his conversations.
Sitting at an Elmwood Avenue coffeehouse alongside partner and fiance Juliane Duda, the Canadian record producer is vivacious despite having worked nearly 20 hours the day before mixing songs by Buffalo rock band Rufus Maneuvers.
The head of the Toronto-based B-Group Music label and a former student of jazz great Oscar Peterson, Bodrug has been quietly working to bring notoriety to youthful talent on Buffalo's original music scene, where history shows you often don't get noticed until you make it big somewhere else.
B-Group combines Bodrug's production, engineering and musical skills with designer Duda's creative artwork, photography and marketing skills. Last year, the independent label produced seven releases, including "Channel 92" by Buffalo's Plastic Soul, and worked on six additional projects. The newest B-Group effort is Rufus Maneuvers' full-length debut, "One Clear Moment."
Bodrug has produced, written or arranged for artists including Alanis Morissette, Juno award-winner Carlos Morgan and Jacksoul. He wanted to diversify outside of the Toronto market and Buffalo's proximity made it a natural starting point. He's been thrilled by the reception he's received from the Buffalo music community.
Ironically, his work with Buffalo artists is giving him added credibility at home. "To some, the border is a big fence you can't cross. People are amazed and ask us how we got to work with Buffalo bands," he says.
The answer is easy: hard work. Duda researched the area, and, through wnymusic.com, Bodrug explored band Web sites and downloaded clips. Next came a scouting trip to Buffalo. Bodrug's and Duda's second visit, to the 1999 Medaille College "Lizzard Fest," illustrated the gap between B-Group's enthusiasm and Buffalo's ambivalence toward original music. The two were among a relative handful of people at the all-day original music event, yet they looked past the low turnout to the emerging talent on display.
"We went in with an open mind and gained perspective on what was happening in Buffalo. We saw great acts. It was a fantastic day," Duda recalls.
Within months, Plastic Soul was recording at Bodrug's Sly-Fi Studios. "He taught us more than we ever expected," says guitarist and vocalist Gerry Love. "He opened our music beyond our influences and gave it a more radio-friendly sound."
Bodrug was immediately attracted to the hard-working attitude he found in musicians here. "I love Toronto, and I want to live there my whole life. But there is something really exciting outside of Toronto. I think there's a lot to be gained leaving the big city and seeing a community where people work hard," Bodrug says.
"I think Buffalo is a fantastic example of a place that doesn't have the shiny lights and the size, but is still a fantastic community. There's tons of talent, a community of musicians and a do-it-yourself attitude. People don't expect anything to be done for them."
That strong work ethic - along with "a seed of something great" in their music, as Bodrug puts it - is what drew him to both Plastic Soul and Rufus Maneuvers. He loved Plastic Soul's charisma and saw a freshness in the songs of guitarist Gerry Love, who he calls a fantastic songwriter. Bodrug is also blown away by the determination and focus of Rufus Maneuvers, a band he says just keeps getting better.
Bodrug's musical journey began with piano and keyboards at age 5. By high school he was interested in synthesizers and electronics and then jazz. He was attending York University and working in a Burlington, Ont. record store when he met jazz great Peterson, who would take him under his wing and later choose Bodrug for the Toronto Arts Protege Award.
"It was one of the most amazing times of my life. I learned more just talking to him than the entire time I took lessons," he says.
Bodrug has played in everything from a jazz trio to a rock band and as a solo pianist, but he's always been most at home in the studio.
"I found out I would burn out on constantly playing, but I don't burn out on making records. In making a record, everything has to come together and that appeals to all sides of my personality. It's the absolute combination of all aspects of music - the artistic, the theoretical, the technical, the performance and emotions - that make a great record. It's the ultimate musical statement," he says.
Canadian R&B pop artist Paul Manchin, whose fourth collaboration with Bodrug, "Natural," was recently praised in Billboard, says the producer's openness and eagerness to listen make him ideal for the job.
"Bands need to be listened to by their producer, and Brent does that. He takes the music very seriously and perfects a project to its fullest. I believe he truly can make anything ordinary quite extraordinary," Manchin says.
Rufus Maneuvers vocalist and guitarist Scott Celani agrees. "What we learned about songwriting, instruments, vocals, recording, production and gear was an amazing education," he says. "Brent is an absolute genius. He is beyond his years in terms of his craft. It's only a matter of time before something big happens for him."
Bodrug would probably be uncomfortable with such praise, as he appears to be when Duda discusses his passion and leadership over coffee. "Brent puts his heart and soul into making music. The artists we work for realize that, and there's a loyalty between them," she says.