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Monday, July 25, 2011

Oh Jesus! Part 1

During the recordings, Laura Bird said, "You sing about Jesus a lot," to which I replied, "I do?" Then I realized for the first time, that in the fifteen songs we recorded, there actually are references to "The Nazz" in three songs! 

I was brought up in a laissez-faire United church family, but with a Christian fundamentalist battleaxe of a paternal grandmother. She was a fire-and-brimstone type, and once I was old enough to think about these things, formal God-as-an-entity Christianity didn't make any sense to me, and that was that. From that point I explored the mystical practices of Zen Buddhism, Taoism, aboriginal spirituality, and deep feeling therapy (yes, it does shift consciousness!) and have arrived at a multifaceted perspective/way-of-being. Regarding religions, I tend to agree with Joseph Campbell, who states that religious explanations of the universe, or myths, are just different ways of attempting to explain what is, in fact, beyond words or rational explanations. Just like different languages have different words for the same item, religions are just different explanations for the same thing. 

So even though I am not a Christian, I believe that Jesus is the most iconic figure in our culture. If I want to touch on major existential issues and not be pedantic, I need powerful "trigger" words that create similar associations for my audience. Explanations are too long. Other iconic figures like the Buddha, Lao Tzu, or Black Elk, are still too obscure to most western minds. And when you're playing roots, blues, and gospel music, talking about the Buddha just doesn't cut it!

More on this tomorrow . . . 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wee tour and holiday!

Jane and I are headed up to Haliburton today to be on CANOE FM 100.9 with host Kris Kadwell. His show is called, "Paddling Beyond the Main Stream," and we'll be featured with live and recorded songs. On Friday we'll head to South River to play The Café. On Saturday we'll go to Bracebridge to play the Griffin Gastropub. On Sunday we're headed back to South River to join Jane's family for a few days housesitting a home-on-the-lake for a family friend. A needed break.

Since internet is iffy up there, I may not post on this blog until we get back in a week.

Until then, here are a few more Kate Vanderhorst shots of the vocalists for "Just a Little Bit." There were three groups of three vocalists, and each group had one simple harmonized part that overlapped the others. Simple but complicated!

This group had the phrase, "Just a little." From left, Dennis Gaumond, Jane Lewis, and Guy Stefan standing in our upstairs bedroom.

This group had the phrase, "Hmmm, just a little bit." That's Rich Langedijk, Jeff Bersche, and Joni NehRita in the upstairs hallway. Rich is joking with the group in the bedroom.

This group had the phrase, "Little bit." That's Tannis Slimmon, Heather MacRae, and Tricia Brubacher in Jane's upstairs office at the end of the hall.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Appreciation of Nik

The "At Home" project would not be possible without the experience, talent, musical sensitivity—and good nature—of Nik Tjelios, the master engineer. Kate Vanderhorst took a few shots of Nik at work.

When we discussed recording my work song, "Pilin' Line," Nik suggested that we do it outside, because he loves natural acoustics. Here he is setting up mics in our back yard.

Nik is also a talented musician with a keen ear. Here he is checking the sound of singing and clapping. The stump was there as a "found" percussion instrument.

Setting up my lead vocal mic.

Sound control central—my wee office.

Nik emerging from the back door to give pointers to the group. Tannis Slimmon with headphones. Jane filming every bloody thing with her little recorder. Tricia Brubacher taking note. Heather MacRae and Tannis Maynard-Langedijk taking a break on the deck. 

The big red mic—and me hauling a pail of my grandad's tools for percussion.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The challenge of singing tired

Holy Hannah. I finally got to the critical listening of the gospel tune "I'm On My Way," recorded late on May 21 when we discovered we had extra time.

On the first takes my voice was tired and shaky, and I started thinking this one might not make it. I felt bummed because the band was really rocking and the singers (Jane, Tannis and Katherine) were nailing their parts.

Then as I started listening to the second-last take, like a dog who hears a distant whistle, my head turned to the side as I heard some decent lines! I'm too tired to continue this evening, but I think I might just have pulled this one out of the bag!

Saturday, July 9, 2011


My reasons for this project are:

1) to document my musical life as it really is—in live performance, and in informal jams at home with family and friends.

2) to record my latest songs in a way that will best capture the energy, organic cohesion, joy, and human character of those performances.

3) to extend the "live locally" lifestyle to my music by recording within the unrefined sonic character of my home.

These were virtuous reasons, but could I pull it off? In this less-than-ideal environment—with Jesse in the hallway and Tannis on a squeaky floor upstairs—could the band and singers manage to perform entire songs without any significant glitches? In the days when artists had no other option, there are stories of sessions going into thirty or forty takes, and I couldn't imagine us all having the stamina for that. And historically, the bands that could knock off final versions quickly—like the early Beatles—had often been playing together every night for years.

When I approached Nik Tjelios about engineering the project, he listened and made a fascinating reply. He basically said that the intention of the project, as he heard it, was to capture the essence of performance, and that intelligent, limited editing, using state-of-the-art technology would not only preserve that, but could enhance it. I was intrigued. Why toss an entirely good track, he said, just because someone bumps a microphone in the last four measures? If we fly in a section of another entirely live track, how does that compromise the project? I was looking to avoid the sterile effect of multiple overdubbing, and what he was suggesting maintained that.

And what about unexpected moments of live magic? What if, on one otherwise mediocre track, there is an exception musical moment? Why should it be relegated to oblivion when, as a truly genuine, live, full-band expression, it can be incorporated in the final take?

After our meeting, I mulled over these options and realized that not only did his suggestions fit within the parameters of the project, they would enhance it by allowing us to play for fun—like we usually do—and not succumb to the tension and mediocrity of playing for the "no error" track. 

When we finally did record, we always played for the ideal take but would stop when we intuitively knew we "had" it, without analyzing every detail. The least number of takes was the instrumental, "Chapter Eleven" with two. The most was "Next Time," with fourteen.

Post recording, we are following the ethic of only using live performance edits when they have artistic merit within the intention of the project. And what I'm hearing so far sounds fantastic!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Even more photos from Saturday, June 25 sessions

After Pilin' Line was done, Kate insisted on getting some shots of the homesteaders.

The background is a wild section of yard behind our workshop space where we keep our compost bins and woodpiles. The wood behind us is from the maple tree that fell on our house.

Yes, we were Siamese twins in a past life . . .

I absolutely adore this woman. I wouldn't be where I'm at without Jane's steady love, support, and inspiration.

That's my boy! Oh yeah, and the peeker dude is my other drummer boy. Nice Juno swag watch.

Dennis, Jane, and Guy, in discussion about the vocal complexities of "Just A Little Bit." Their part was, "Just a little," "Just a little," "Just a little," "Just a little," "Just a little" . . . 

All photos by Kate Vanderhorst.

Monday, July 4, 2011

More photos from Saturday, June 25 sessions

There was the singing. And then there was the backwoods percussion session.

That's me emerging from our "mini back 40, " with an old stump that just might make a resonant thumping sound . . . 

This one is even better!

From the left: Tannis Slimmon dropping a cedar 4x4 on another cedar 4x4; Mike Driscoll hitting a rock with one of my grandfather's old ball peen hammers; Jan Vanderhorst thumping a stump with a hammer; Dennis Gaumond thumping a bigger stump (very nice low tone, you guys!); Jeff Bersche whacking a small anvil on a stump with another ball peen hammer; Guy Stefan hitting a metal wedge with an old wooden maul; Rich Langedijk bonking a cedar 4x4 with another hammer. It may look funny, but it sounded great!

Tricia filming as I give complex instructions. Nice garden in the foreground, eh?

Jeff and Guy deep into the groove. I told them it was a work song!

All photos by Kate Vanderhorst. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Photos from Saturday, June 25 sessions

We started our last day of recording with "Pilin' Line," my call-and-response work song. Nik was determined to record it in our backyard, even though it was cloudy and threatened rain. Here are some shots from that morning session, taken by Kate Vanderhorst.

I'm set up at a mic with headphones, singing lead. The group is in three groups each around a mic, with an overall area mic in the centre. The group, from left to right: Jeff Bersche, Tricia Brubacher, Laura Bird, Jan Vanderhorst, Stu Peterson, Dennis Gaumond, Tannis Slimmon, Mike Driscoll, Rich Langedijk, Guy Stefan, Tannis Maynard-Langedijk, Jesse Turton.

Stomping, clapping and shouting!

Rich, Guy, Tannis, and Jesse: "Hard work on the pilin' line!"

After a successful take, Jesse picks salad for lunch.

Janet Lewis is not only highly intelligent, wise, loving, and lovely, she is a master in the kitchen! Lunch for the work gang is ready.