School of Hard Knocks
Latest Project by Andy Simpson and Gerry Madden - theHumm December 2022

School of Hard Knocks
Latest Project by Andy Simpson and Gerry Madden - theHumm December 2022

By Kris Riendeau

Carleton Place’s Andy Simpson has been making music for at least as long as theHumm has been publishing. Over the years we have covered Andy’s ambitious undertakings and enjoyed seeing him perform on local community theatre stages. During the pandemic, Andy kept busy working on another new project his musical partner Gerry Madden — this one entitled School of Hard Knocks. We contacted Andy to find out more about his plans for this fifth album.

theHumm: Can you give our readers an overview of this concept album?

Andy Simpson: The story takes place in the fictional town of Madsonville, Ontario and tells the story of the staff, students and administration of the middle school there during the first three months of a new school year. We meet characters such as Simon Young, who is 14 years old and a brand-new student at this school; a beloved teacher called Mr. Greene; and we see the changing of the guard when the current principal is replaced by the incoming principal, Mrs. Valerie DeMort and her assistant, Ms. Belle LaStrange.

We also learn that the school – and the town – is haunted by a Troll. While the children and the staff like Mr. Greene, DeMort and LaStrange do not. Tensions build until the teacher is dismissed on false allegations — a claim that was spearheaded by the Troll, who influenced DeMort and LaStrange’s thoughts.

What was your inspiration for this project?

This concept was drawn from personal experiences that I had both as a child and while working as an Educational Assistant in schools in my hometown of Carleton Place. I was looking for something to write about for our next project, and there it was, right in front of me. I strung together the story of me working as an E.A. with memories of my childhood, and made it a storyline for the album.

As a child, I was moved from school to school through my elementary years, so I was the “new kid” a few times. I didn’t really mind that; but then the bullying started. I was horrendously bullied by other children — on the playground, in gym, the change room, you name it. I was smaller than other kids and had difficulty walking and keeping my balance (later diagnosed as Cerebral Palsy, Stage 1, at 20 years old), so I was an easy target for bullies. Every single line in Bullying Song on the album was either said to me or done to me in the changerooms.

I didn’t really know it at the time, but I had (and still do have) a few learning disabilities in addition to my physical disabilities. The school system tried to make things easier for me, I grant that. I still feel I fell through the cracks though. All that said, I think I came out on the other side of things alright. I survived. Bullying sucks, but I got through it.

I will point out that this story is a work of fiction, based on true events. There are a couple of songs on the album that are born out of my imagination — and also what I heard from Gerry’s riffs when I was writing the lyrics and coming up with the storyline. The fictional elements, I think, make the story a little more interesting and, of course, a little more dramatic.

Musically and artistically, who were your collaborators and what did they contribute to School of Hard Knocks?

Gerry wrote the music and I wrote the lyrics and the story. We recorded the album with Kirk Armstrong, who also played all the guitars and keyboards on it. He also engineered and mixed it.

On the artistic side of the album, all the artwork was done by my friend Jesse Gibson. The photography was done by Michaela Koster.

The pandemic was tough on performers, but it did offer opportunities for creative pursuits. Did working on an ambitious project like this one help you get through the past few years?

Yes, I think so. We actually wrote and recorded everything before the world shut down for what seemed like an eternity. The finger snaps and the “Sh!” sounds on the “Schoolyard Shuffle” track were the last things recorded for the album. We were going to mix it the next week (March 13) when everything just... went away and I wasn’t able to get back into the studio. The album was supposed to be released in September of 2020 but that never happened.

While this was happening, I wrote the stage version of the album, adding dialogue and scenes here and there in between the musical numbers from the album. My friend Jesse Gibson, who did the cover art and the sound effects as well as co-producing (I Feel Like) Charlie Brown on the album, co-wrote the stage script with me. He added some scenes and characters that enhanced the story.

In 2021, Kirk started to send me tracks from the album as he mixed them. I would listen, make notes and send them to him, and we would go back and forth until every track was mixed.

By the start of 2022, I was bound and determined to get the album out. So, to start with, we would release two singles a month from the album in the hopes of gaining interest. This started in January and moved to the end of May — two singles a month. Each single was released on the same day in each month.

Then, finally, in November, we released the full album in physical format and online.

During the lockdown, I got bored and decided to write the novelization of School of Hard Knocks. I conceived it as a Young Adult novel. When working on it, I would send the manuscript to friends to get their input. One of the friends was Jesse Gibson, who wound up co-writing the novel with me. He had lots of great ideas and expanded some of my ideas and tied up loose plot threads that I had left. He added a lot to the story and I was very happy with the results. It was intended to be sold as a companion piece to the album. We will get the novel out... eventually.

What are your hopes and plans for the future of this album, and how can people follow your progress?

What I would love to see is this album be staged as a rock musical. That’s the ultimate goal for this project, as it is for our other concept albums (The Fork, We Are Right and Robinson Crusoe). I think the first step to getting to that goal is to do a staged reading of the piece for two or three nights at a local theatre somewhere and see how the audience reacts to it. It doesn’t have to be that elaborate; just actors on stage reading the script and singing the score.

Gerry and I are also putting together a live band to play the material in pubs, churches, theatres, schools, you name it. Things are just starting out in that venture at this point, so we’ll see where it goes. But ideally, I would like the band to play a few shows next year and have the reading and the novel out by December of 2023. Maybe a full stage production of the musical in 2024 or 2025. And who knows? Maybe a movie. That would be fun.

People who have heard our other albums and have heard this from demos to final product have told us this is our best work; our best album. I’m quite proud of this material. I think it’s because of the personal feelings that I have about the situation — and the people involved in the situation. But writing these songs was cathartic for me in the sense that I now have had my say about things. Now it’s out in the public and I can let the feelings and the situation go at last!

Our website is for more info, contact information and all the other stuff like YouTube, Facebook, etc.


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School of Hard Knocks
Latest Project by Andy Simpson and Gerry Madden
- theHumm December 2022

By Kris Riendeau

Carleton Place’s Andy Simpson has been making music for at least as long as theHumm has been publishing. Over the years we have covered Andy’s ambitious undertakings and enjoyed seeing him perform on local community theatre stages. During the pandemic, Andy kept busy working on another new project his musical partner Gerry Madden — this one entitled School of Hard Knocks. We contacted Andy to find out more about his plans for this fifth album.

theHumm: Can you give our readers an overview of this con......


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