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Natural-born entertainer

Singer, songwriter and funny girl Carolyn Mark forges unique path

Carolyn Mark conversations feature a mixture of cadence (lightning fast) and verbiage (equal parts long-haul trucker and standup comedian) that is uniquely her own.

For instance, when asked what birthday she'll be celebrating this year -- she was born on Christmas Day, of all spots on the calendar -- Mark responds, "Forty-wonderful." She punctuates this, as she does nearly every sentence, with an uproarious laugh.

For the better part of two decades, Mark has stayed true to her unique ways. If she has devised some sort of theatrical persona, she hasn't broken character once, which perhaps is to be expected, given that Mark graduated from the University of Victoria with a degree in theatre.

During her last day of school, in 1990, she formed a band with some UVic classmates and friends from the local music community, and named it the Vinaigrettes. Mark has been on stage ever since -- usually making people laugh and drawing raves as one of the city's best songwriters and zaniest personalities.

"I don't have any other options at this point," Mark says of her chosen career. "I actually had a chat with myself on a plane coming back from England once. I said, 'Mark, this has gotta stop. You've got to get a job.' But I realized this is my job."

The downside of being a self-employed musician is a role Mark loathes to inhabit. "Am I a good boss? No, not at all," she says with a shudder. "I don't like that part of it. But I hate to be bossed around, so I guess that makes me a boss. I just wish everybody could reach others' minds. I'm still holding out for that."

Let's Just Stay Here, a collaboration with Toronto group NQ Arbuckle, was released in October on Vancouver's Mint Records, an indie label that has been putting out recordings by the Victoria-based performer since 2000. Mark's record sales likely won't keep the lights on at Mint, but she's a vital, essential addition to the roster nonetheless.

"I don't know any person who is more of a natural-born entertainer," says Mint co-founder Bill Baker, who has known Mark since 1994.

"She can adapt to any crowd and get a read on them instantly, and see what they would be amused by. She plays directly to that. She'll have people in stitches in no time. You'd have to be a Scrooge to watch her show and not feel some sense of joy."

Mark developed her stage presence early. Born in Sicamous, she came to Victoria for her final year of high school. It was a memorable one, Mark recalls. "There were lots of outsider freaks at Oak Bay that year. The theatre department was really happening. All the people in black trenchcoats took over Oak Bay for a while."

After high school she went immediately into studies at UVic. But despite the occasional appearance in a Fringe festival production, acting was not to be. Not surprisingly, it was a creative writing course at UVic that lit a spark in her -- one that later turned to a flame.

Aside from being an excellent songwriter, Mark is also superb non-fiction writer.

Everything her pen touches turns to gold, from her hilarious blog posts (carolynmark.blogspot.

com) to her always-amazing album liner notes. She has also released two volumes of Recipes for Disaster, which compiles food and drink recipes "road-tested" by Mark and her friends. Her favourite? The recipe for How to Feel Good 4 About 3 Hours, which involves smoking pot, drinking a Caesar, visiting an Asian fusion restaurant and thinking fondly of friends back home.

"It really works!" she said. "But only for three hours."

Mark is thinking about writing a book, which could be full of everything from tour advice ("If you ever want to get rid of two grand, take four people to Newfoundland," she quipped) to the division of on-set duties during a video shoots ("Ideas, a-- kicking -- me; technical, camerawork -- them").

Mark has already finished her next project, which mixes new songs with answering machine messages dating back over a decade. "There's wrong numbers, debt collectors, celebrities -- you know, regular stuff."

The release, titled The Sound of the Tone: Echoes From the Last Resort, takes a portion of its name from her legendary Fernwood residence, dubbed the Last Resort.

Over the years, the house has become a catch-all of activities somehow related to music. Parties upstairs are legendary, while recording sessions in the basement, in a studio run by her longtime friend and bandmate, guitarist Tolan McNeil, have produced reams of quality material.

Bands touring through Victoria often crash there, to help make ends meet while on the road. Some days it resembles "a halfway house of dudes," Mark says, but she admits to loving the commotion. "Checkout time at the Last Resort is 4 p.m., and if you stay past that you have to make me dinner. Lately I'm making the dinners and they're making me the breakfasts, but it's working out."

Mark and McNeil are cleaning out their house with the goal of hosting a garage sale at Logan's Pub prior to an upcoming Sunday Hootenanny, the event Mark has hosted every week since 1994. It is one of more than a half-dozen gigs Mark will be a part of this month, including events on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at Logan's Pub.

Those who attend any of her gigs can expect great songs and stage banter. Mark is also good for an epic story or two, skills that she has put to good use in recent years as an emcee at the Calgary Folk Festival. But for our dollar, all you need to know about Mark can be found in her Recipe to Keep the Demons Away.

"Mix equal parts food, water, light and air. Fold into existing vices. Add love. Garnish with music. Enjoy."

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