Art Buffs: Canto 17

Photo by Blake Sellers

Written by Tamara Styer

It's a cold Friday evening, and Todd Osbern, vocalist and guitarist for Canto 17, is explaining his differing experiences of acting in theater and film when he steals a piece of sushi off my plate.

“I’m supposed to be home for dinner, so I really shouldn't,” he shakes his head. But after my insisting, he gives in, chop-sticks geared and ready to go. “I love sushi. Always take an opportunity to eat sushi.”

He continues about the movie he acted in a few summers ago called The Author. “Between doing that and doing theater, I much prefer theater. It’s the same thing with performing [musically] onstage - you get the audience reaction right there - and with the film it was like we’d shoot for five minutes at 6:00 in the morning because the sun was in the right spot, and then we would have to go shoot somewhere else. You had to skip all around and the continuity wasn’t there.”

However, Osbern looks at all the things he’s done as good experiences. He has acted in local theater for nearly 15 years, and his minor at Drury University was in theater. He also ran a theater company with a friend in downtown Springfield, Missouri.

Always a connoisseur of the arts, he has dabbled in many outlets other than acting, including writing, music and visual arts.

“I used to write poetry a lot, and that’s how I wanted to get into music, to turn my poetry into songs, so people could actually hear them instead of just reading them.”

Greg Marshall, bassist and guitarist for Canto 17 was the theater scene director at Drury when Osbern met him. The two quickly became friends. “Sometimes I think we share a mind,” says Osbern.

Osbern met drummer John Christopher at a restaurant where Christopher was working.

“The sweet tea is dynamite,” says Osbern. He noticed Christopher was wearing a Dave Matthews Band bracelet. (Osbern is a huge DMB fan, noting that Drury friend Greg Marshall had been at the DMB concert at Drury in 1994, when the famous band had never yet been so far west in the U.S.) Osbern and Christopher chatted about their love of DMB, and with their mutual interests aligned, they eventually got together to play music.

“It was the first time I’d ever played music with anybody else,” Osbern said. “At that point I had written about 15 songs, so John and I got together and put some beats to it. It sounded pretty good with just the two of us, so we just started playing out.”

For about a year the duo played around Springfield. Then Marshall joined.

“It’s been the three of us since then.”

Canto 17 regularly has other musicians sit in with them, combining different instrumentations, making new sounds and practicing onstage improv.

Their music is comparable to that of Dave Matthews, Jack Johnson, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Damien Rice. In their song, “The Façade” featuring Jeremy Larson on Piano, there is a completely organic moment when Osbern takes a vulnerable breath just before the song begins, then starts, “Everything’s going okay / I guess I don’t have much to say / Except for the fact / That I hold it all back / And will till I’m deep in my grave.” Osbern’s naked vocals, tap the emotional core of the song, catching phrasing and inflections exceptionally similar to acoustic Dave Matthews. “Counterclockwise” and “Buzzed” are reminiscent of singer/songwriter Jack Johnson’s easy-going ambience and gently syncopated guitar.

“Last summer was huge for us,” says Osbern. “We would average two shows a week, sometimes three. So we were playing a lot. We played at Rokbar every Thursday night. They let us do whatever we wanted. We were dancing on the bars! In fact, I was playing on top of the bar one time… the sax player and I were on top of the bar playing in people’s faces, walking down the bar. He jumps down and I thought it looked cool, so I thought, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna jump down too!’ This is a couple of glasses in… and I jump down and just land right on my butt. I’m still playing, laying on the ground thinking, ‘Oh, I broke my back! I broke it!’ and I’m still playing!”

Canto 17 has created over 40 original songs and they have recently recorded a 7-song EP with Jeremy Larson producing, available online and at Borders.

With their latest project, Canto 17 hopes to combine all kinds of artistic talent into one event.

“I was trying to think of ways to meet new musicians, people to jam with,” says Osbern. “That led me to the idea of trying to get some musicians just jamming together that wouldn’t have normally played music together, and see what kind of sound we get to happen.”

His love affair with theater then led him to the Old Grey Whistle Test, combining music with various styles of musicians, theater, visual art and more. “I was just trying to think of ways to use all my resources.”

The first effort of this combined art project included a group of artist that do “live art”. At the beginning of the show the artists get some different ideas from the audience, and then go offstage and start painting. At the end of the night the finished piece of art is raffled to the audience.

“So you get a painting for a dollar,” says Osbern. “All the money goes to the artists.”

Osbern also brought in an actress who did a scene from her one-woman show, and a percussionist. “He jammed with us a little bit. It was a good crowd, it was a fun time!”

The Old Grey Whistle Test is held on the first Saturday of every month at the Q Enoteca Wine Bar, two doors down from Lindbergs in downtown Springfield. Support this new venture in the local arts scene this Saturday, March 5! More information is available on Facebook.

Osbern hopes the Springfield music scene grows in big ways. Recognizing the many artists in the area who need support, he hopes to see more large acts come through, and to see local artists opening for those bands. He goes about his dreams with a collaborative approach, getting creative minds together just to see what happens. His love of the arts spills over into his hopes for those around him.

“My dad used to always tell me you can do anything you want to if you set your mind to it, which I know is kind of cliché. And he’d also say there’s a formula for success: it’s patience plus persistence equals progress. I always thought about that and took that to heart. My dad passed away about five years ago from Lou Gehrig’s disease. So obviously that’s been a struggle for me mentally dealing with my dad not being here anymore, and so I always think about him every day or when I experience some hard times. Like when I first started playing music. He never really got to hear me play music, the way that I’m doing now. He’d heard some stuff that I’d recorded, and he said, ‘It’s good, but it’s a little dark.’ I wrote about sad stuff at the time. If I was happy, I was out being happy, if I was sad I was writing music. After he passed away I focused on writing more upbeat stuff and getting a little funkier with it. I would just say if you love something keep doing it, and something good is going to happen, even if it’s just on the inside of you.”

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  1. Great article! I love that you are able to do what you love and utilize all of your talents! Keep it up, I look forward to hearing more of your stuff.

  2. These guys are so Cool! I loved hearing about their beginning together and what makes them tick!

  3. Thanks so much! It's fun to stop and think back on accomplishments once in a while. We get so wrapped up in our day-to-day that sometimes we need to slow it down and realize what we are accomplishing. Having a nice conversation with Tamera and reading this piece is really the first time since I started playing music that I actually stopped and looked at the whole adventure. Without knowing from where we've come, we'll never get where we're going. Infinite thanks to Tamera for all the support. See you at a CANTO-gig soon!


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