April 8, 2010

April 8, 2010

The Making Of The Album

I thought it might be fun to share with you how this record came about. It all started with last year’s NBA playoffs. Joel Plaskett and I had recently figured out, while on a trip to Memphis together, that we shared a love of basketball. So when it came to playoff time we hooked up a few times over a couple weeks in downtown Halifax to watch the games and have some beverages (vodka on the rocks was the drink of choice). Anyway, as we often do, we were chatting about music. I was telling him about all my new tunes that I was really excited about and my plan to make a new record and he was talking about getting more and more into producing. So, it just seemed natural to ask if he’d be into producing the record (I couldn’t believe it hadn’t come to me sooner really). I told him I’d send him a whole bunch of the tunes I’d written over the last year or two (there was about 24 or so) and said that if he dug them and thought he’d be into producing them I would be totally keen. It was kind of like asking a person you’ve been friends with for a long time whether or not they want to go on a date, take things to the next level. “No pressure at all, if you’re into it we can go for it and if not, we’ll still be friends, so no worries.” Kind of funny. In any case, he was keen.

So we figured out a time when our schedules would allow a good amount of time to work on this beauty, he picked his favourite tunes of the lot and we went from there. I figured if I was going to be hiring Joel as a producer I’d really let him dig in and give his input on everything. It was pretty new for me. We sat down early on in the process and he suggested little things that could change in the tunes (repeating choruses, cutting out lines, adding hooks, etc). Songwriting had previously always been a pretty personal experience and I was a bit precious about it. But I figured if this was going to work and I was going to get the most out of having Joel involved I had to drop that and treat it as if I had an editor. Someone who’s really helping me get at the best of what the tune has to offer. It worked. It was a great experience and it helped me see the tunes from a different perspective, which was really cool. Plus he had some sweet ideas. The bridge on “Out of Love” was his idea. I hadn’t really intended to go into co-writing territory but he suggested the “do-do-do-do” hook for a bridge and it was too good to deny. One thing Joel really brought to the tunes was a sense of risk and fun. If there was a possible vocal hook that could be added or something that would draw the listener in, sure it may sound quirky at first but it was worth it. And because I had told myself to go for everything without too much judgement until I had lived with it for a while we went for it. Now looking back I can’t really think of much that we tried that we eventually backed out on. It was a blast.

So after Joel and I had had a few days looking at the tunes we parted ways for most of the summer (we were both busy touring). During the summer I had a chance to figure out how it was all going to translate with the band. I had been playing with the same crew of characters for a good part of the year and four out of five of us were heading to the UK for three weeks to open for Jools Holland.

It was the perfect chance to spend some time together to work out the tunes. In fact, how it worked out, was that between two of the shows (which were a week apart) we packed up the van and headed to Amsterdam. We rented this unbelievable houseboat, set up our gear on the bow of this barge and rocked it all day for a few days. I will tell you, it was pre-production at its most rad. Here’s a photo that Kyle took that might give you an idea.

Soon enough it was time to hit the studio for some proper rehearsal with the whole crew [Joel, Alan Jeffries (guitar), Kyle Cunjak (bass), Joanna Borromeo (piano, wurlitzer) and Josh Van Tassel (drums)]. We set up in Joel’s Scotland Yard studio in Dartmouth and ran all the tunes. Everything’s in one room there (no control room) so it was all six of us, the console, the tape machine and all our instruments crammed into a pretty small space working away at harmonies, hooks and arrangements for three or four days. It was super productive. Plus we had set up mics and ended up using some of those first or second rehearsal takes ’cause they had such a great vibe (So Far Away and Need A Break).

A month later and after a three week trip I had taken to India we were ready to roll. We spent the first couple weeks of November tracking. The fun part about tracking at Joel’s place is that everything is done on tape. He’s got a great 2 inch 16 track tape machine. It’s a beauty. Most of the records I listen to and love were made in the age of analog (tape) recording so I have a natural affinity for the sound I’ll admit. However, I was surprised at how much I loved the process of recording on tape. First off, because there are only 16 tracks you have be really choosy in terms of what is going on the song and what isn’t. The arrangement have to be pretty tight. Plus, because of the nature of editing tape (it’s not easy) you really have to aim to get full takes of everything. No getting too uptight about a funky syllable or funny note here or there. If the take is good it stays. I really enjoyed that. It helped me get into each take ’cause I knew I couldn’t just go in and fix up anything I didn’t like afterwards. In most cases we just ran two takes of the vocals and picked the best of the two. Very refreshing.

After three weeks or so the record was starting to really take shape. Some tunes came together really easily and were closer reflections of what they sounded like when the band had played them live and others transformed quite a bit during the recording process. It’s always a really exciting thing to witness and hear. There’s almost always a definitive moment when we would all come to realize that we had turned a corner and the recording of the song had come alive.

A couple months before starting the record I had bought a 60’s era Wurlitzer Electric Piano. I bought it ’cause I’ve always loved the sound and I didn’t have a keyboard at home. At the time, I didn’t really have it in mind that it would show up on the record but as we were recording we decided to lay it down. It was a great moment. I think it was “Out Of Love” that we tried first. We muted piano parts and tried out the Wurli. Immediately, we all smiled, realizing that this was the sound. Tight, close mic’d drums, electric bass, wurlitzer (and in some cases, doubled wurlitzer, one for each side of the mix) and electric guitar. It sounded like the seventies. Like Fleetwood Mac or some other type of soft rock from that era. Not a sound I would have guessed we would have gone for but it revealed itself and sounded too good not to go for. That was the approach we went for on “Out Of Love”, “Turn Time Off” and “I Will Love You”. A similar sound was used in “Peace of Mind” but we went closer to dub/reggae territory on that one.

Piece by piece the album took shape over the month of November. Joel and I then headed down to Arizona to mix with this wicked dude named Bob Hoag. He only wears clothes from the 1940s and has an insane amount of knowledge about a seemingly infinite amount of gear and mixing tricks. Very fun. Here’s a video I took when Bob was making me sound like T-Pain by putting me through some serious auto-tuning. In the end we decided not to put this version on the record (though I do still have it in the vault!). Hilarious.

After the mixing, came the mastering (the final touch). That was done by my good friend J. LaPointe in Mineville, Nova Scotia. J.’s a dude and has a beautiful spot in the countryside outside of Halifax. Mat Dunlap did all the sweet art work, created the website and generally makes me look as sharp as possible. Anyway, that’s the story of the record so far. I hope you enjoy it.