Last month was the 10 year anniversary of the release of my first full-length album, Fell Out of Oz. Wowza.

The album came out a year and three months after I had an abortion. In many ways, the album happened because I had an abortion. A half-hour after my injection of methotrexate, I pulled my car to the side of the road, sobbing and overwhelmed by the reality of terminating my pregnancy. I called my friend Aynsley at work.

“Where are you?” she asked.

“Around the corner.”

We met at a nearby park and I talked about the future fantasy that had only appeared the week before that I was now letting go of, the very real and important reasons for doing so (health and safety), and the question I suddenly didn’t know the answer to: if I’m actively choosing not to have a child (this was when I still thought a pregnancy automatically meant a full-term birth, a live birth, or even a healthy baby) what am I choosing to be or do instead?

“Didn’t you want to make an album?”

It was September 2004 and at that point I’d been back in Canada about a year since I spent one year in London, England. Oh, London, where I had my first gig ever, where newness and stubbornness and discovery and difficultly inspired my first good songs and where I wrote many. I’d played a few gigs in Vancouver since I returned to Canada, I was still writing, though less often, and I wasn’t thinking very deliberately about a path as a musician.

“I did. I do.”

What can I give versus what can I give up?
The answer to the former I’m afraid is “not much.”
And as for the latter it’s just a matter of not now.
So, the best thing I can do for you is write this down.

“Who was that guy who produced the Be Good Tanyas album?” Aynsley asked and then suggested I track him, Futcher, down. I think I spent three hours on what would have been a three line email to him; I was so nervous to ask if he would work with me. In what I eventually learned was true taciturn Futcher style, he replied:

heya
thanks for the kind words.
sounds good

And we began. I applied for my first FACTOR and Canada Council for the Arts grants and, not surprisingly for a beginner, didn’t get them (I did, in collecting letters of support for the applications, obtain a prized possession: an utterly charming and encouraging letter from Bill Richardson). Remarkably, a friend stepped in and lent me the $20,000 I would need to make the album. As I write that now it seems even more incredible than it did at the time. Nicky, THANK YOU.

It was just five months after that pivotal September day that Futcher, the band we pulled together (guitarist/atmospheric master Murray Atkinson, who had been my first and only guitar teacher whom I found via an ad in the back pages of the Georgia Straight, and who helped produced my EP Starter; drummer Niko Friesen, who Futcher had met as the boyfriend of a women he recorded some background vocals with; and bassist Michael-Owen Liston who I had seen and met one night at the Backstage Lounge when he was playing with Mark Berube), and I piled into the now-gone Smiling Buddha Enjoyment Complex studio and recorded the 13 songs that make up Fell Out of Oz. The title track was actually a late comer as we had planned to record only 12.

songe selectsThe 12 were selected from 18 demos I sent to Futcher who then picked his favourites based on his first impressions. He always trusted his gut reaction to a first listen, though he’d later love to tell the story of how he poopooed Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day” when he heard it in studio being recorded, thus tainting his confidence in the strength of his first impulse. But a couple of days into our studio time, he came in saying he’d listened to the demos again and had a new liking for “Fell Out of Oz,” adding that “it also gives you a way better album title.”  He disliked the working title Other Side Down and he was right to. Ultimately, the album became a reflection on coming-of-age with “Fell Out of Oz” a near thesis statement.

We recorded live off the floor, largely due to the fact that I was incapable of recording to a click track (and, to be honest, that hasn’t improved much over the years). That it was off the floor means you can occasionally hear my chair squeak in our unedited, simultaneous performances, and Brad Wheeler of The Globe and Mail might have nailed it when he described the album, that rawness, as “intimate enough that whiffs of Couture’s organic soap are caught.”

Though that scent could have more likely been due to Michael-Owen drying his laundry one day while we recorded:

mike & laundry2_5724

Nota bene: the album artwork lists 11 tracks, not 13. But there are 13. Upon completion of recording, Futch and I had (though later rescinded when it was too late to change our minds) doubts about the strength of “Other Side Down.” So we added it as a hidden track at the end of “Habitual” to downplay it. And then, with too much cleverness for our own good, Futch and I hid another track, “What Peace Is,” at the beginning of the album. That is to say, on a CD player (we were so forward thinking), if you let a bit of the first song play and then pressed and held the rewind button you would find that the time started to dip backwards into negative minutes all the way to -02:30. To tip-off anyone paying enough/extra attention to the existence of this Easter egg, I included the lyrics as track 00 in the liner notes. I don’t know if anyone ever found it.  You can get it here though.

We spent a leisurely 9 days in a row recording that album – days that ended up being more time than we needed – and added the extras of harmonies, percussion, banjo, accordion, and cello after capturing the core four of us together. It was such a lovely experience, and I have loved the making of each of my other albums since, very much, but there was something special with those people, that February. Maybe because it was my first, and you don’t forget your first, but more than that…very dear friendships came from the strangers gathered there, long term working relationships, too, and in that gathering I felt so much that we were all in it.

Niko, Futcher, Murrary, Michael-Owen, moi. Captured by Rosamond Norbury.
Niko, Futcher, Murrary, Michael-Owen, moi. Captured by Rosamond Norbury.

Ten months after those studio days, the album was released on Maximum Music with a kick-off at The Railway Club: appropriate considering the bar’s inclusion in the song “Jennifer Grey.” In a music industry/act of good faith fail, the label, Maximum, and I hadn’t yet signed an agreement. In fact, they handed paperwork to me that night at the venue and I spilled beer on it, later bringing that stained copy to my lawyer to review. The album was already in stores, at listening posts (remember those?); the label had already been promoting it, reviews were coming in, and…no signed deal in place.

Horrible font and HMV listening post; I cringed at the former and was so thrilled by the latter.

As we negotiated the terms, I had my first tour to promote the album. My experience with the label during those months unfolded negatively. I couldn’t get reporting from them, the financial terms (according to my lawyer then, though these years later I too could call it at a glance) were crap, communication was poor, and they lost their distribution with Universal. “Walk away,” was my lawyer’s advice and I struggled with it as the label had invested time and money, and despite the frustrations, I felt responsible to them. I made a decision and I don’t know how they saw the end when it came: I sent a “cease and desist” letter and we didn’t speak again.

The album was mine. All mine. A few hundred copies of it were sitting in a Universal warehouse somewhere and I couldn’t get them. I got a new run of the CDs manufactured and updated the artwork to my own label: One Foot Tapping Records. I’d release my next two albums independently in the same way.

Shortly after the album came out, I got pregnant again. Unplanned, again. I let the momentum the album was building slow on the side of the road as I stopped to consider a path of parenting for the second time. I was struck by the fact that I made the album in response to ending my first pregnancy, and there, with the album in my hands, felt I’d barely had time to follow through before having to make a decision about the subject again. I wasn’t ready, but I chose to carry that little one, my son Emmett, and wondered how music would stay in my life.

It turned out that it was Emmett who didn’t stay in my life and my second and third albums, since, have been full of loss.

In revisiting Fell Out of Oz on its ten year anniversary, I’m noticing that it held a lot of loss, too. It’s the album that holds stories not just of the abortion, but of having had cancer, of the childhood friends who didn’t survive the disease, of losing my leg, of living with disability. It holds the stories of my first heartaches of my twenties and while those hardly hurt now compared to what I’ve experienced since, I listen to “I Will” and “Habitual” and I stand by them still. The album grieves a loss of innocence, but seeing my young(er) self in these songs now I also notice a lot of hope. In remembering the recording, the joy and the promise I felt, the label mess, the shifting gears and making big choices, it’s good to remember that hope, to hold up what I felt ten years ago to what I feel now, and to look at my baby-face cover art photo and think: “You don’t know what’s coming, but you’re right to hold on.”

An outtake from the cover photoshoot, by David Wignall, and before I knew the value of hair and make up artists.
An out-take from the cover photo shoot, by David Wignall, and before I knew the value of hair and make up artists.

 

I recorded an album!

Over seven and a half days (tight sched!) at the newly relocated Henhouse Studio, in Nashville.

With producer Steve Dawson.

(and with thanks to FACTOR funding)

For those of you following along, I made my last album, The Living Record, in 2012 with Steve at the Henhouse when both were based in Vancouver.

But the man and family since moved their home and business south and so I pointed myself in that direction to work with him again.

This album, Zookeeper, Lovely Like You, Normal HeartacheMidnight Friends, title-to-be-revealed-below, will be my fourth full-length and it has felt a long time coming.

That said, there are a few parts left for Steve to record and then it will be mixed in April. I don’t know yet when I’ll have it mastered, much less released, and so it has a way to come yet.

I don’t want to rush it.

But it is moving along.

I went into recording this album neither more nor less prepared than I have been before, but less certain. I was still finding/waiting on some lyrics until a few days before heading into the studio.  A few of the songs were only written a couple months ago, instead of my having a tidy, complete set, months in advance, road-tested and raring to go.

For the meandering pieces that were falling into place, I didn’t feel entirely sure how they’d fit together.

Other than that I made them.

And by working with Steve, with Gary Craig on drums, and John Dymond on bass, that they would be a whole, shaped by our working together.

I have always loved these Ani Difranco words:

“People used to make a record

as in a record of an event

the event of people making music in a room”

The music that I love most sounds like people made it. Skilled, creative, collaborative, present, masterful, imperfect, breathing humans. I love that sound.

Christa Couture in studio with Gary Craig, Steve Dawson, John Dymond

 

With a different band, on a different day, the songs would sound quite different. But for three days, the four of us recorded 12 songs, capturing them like photographs specific to our thoughts and hands in that time frame. The likes of Gary, Steve, and Craig get to dabble in that kind of magic all the time. But at the rate of making an album every 2-4 years, and not being a side player otherwise (save for the occasional bgs session – and I’m always available for bg sessions, note!), it’s a lucky, special few days for me, every time.

Here we are figuring out the intro to “The Slaughter:”

Those three days of getting “the beds” avec band were a relaxed – despite being jam-packed – fun, and exciting time. Holy smokes I’m just about the luckiest and most grateful wee singer-songwriter around for the experience of working with these fellas. John and Gary have a seeming psychic link, thanks to their years of working together, and it was a delight to see it, moreso to have it, and their talents, on my songs. In addition to being super profesh with mad skills, Gary was also a maker of excellent juices and fresh ginger fueled our days. Working with Steve remains a pleasure – the man is a master – and in our tight time line, he captained us smoothly on track.

Listening back to drums and bass on “Separation/Agreement” with Steve at the helm and engineer Shannon Swords nodding along.

 

It was a mighty fine time, I tell you.

After that followed my overdubbing piano, guitar, vocals, and harmonies, which just Steve and I did together, up until the final moments before I had to load up the car and leave town. Whewf!

This is a bit of what I look like while recording harmonies (well, here, I’m doubling a line in “That Little Part of My Heart”):

I’m a hand-talker.

And here’s Steve and me, happy record makers, on my way out the door on our last day:

Steve Dawson and Christa Couture

While I was feeling some uncertainty going into the studio, now I’m so excited about what we made. It’s different than what I’ve made before, sonically, emotionally. It’s something I didn’t expect. I can’t wait to share the finished album, and I can’t wait to play the songs live (most of them only a handful of people have heard).

It may be a long time coming but I can tell you now it’s named:

Long Time Leaving

Coming to ears and hearts near you soon(ish).

xoc

p.s. Thank you Michael for filming the studio stuff.

Who was I even talking to? I don’t remember (goodness my memory can recall such useless specifics and then forget the essentials), but when they asked why it is that I like the recording phase best – of all the “phases” of this work I do – even though it’s the briefest time-wise, I realized this: it’s because it’s the time when I get to work with other musicians.

I perform and work solo most of the time – heck, this here blog post is even written 100% my me alone (ha) – and there’s much about that that I like (erm, control freak? little bit) and that is practical (touring solo vs touring with a band), but there’s also much about it that can be lonely (enough with the brackets already).

“People used to make a records, as in a record of an event, the event of people making music in a room” – an Ani Difranco quote I reference often because it sums up what I like about making a record: people in a room. Musicians in a room – an altogether strange and wonderful category of people.

Part One of this story introduced the talented and generous group who built each one of my songs a home in those first four days at The Warehouse. Part Two has been unfolding in a sporadic way, as schedules and projects are juggled, and near a month passed from those initial days of construction to when Steve and I reconvened at his studio. I almost forgot I was making a record (again with the spotty memory!) but in the past couple weeks, the two of us have continued to build and decorate and decide and I can’t believe it’s just about done.

In fact tomorrow we will record the last final bit of sound – the vocal duet part for Paper Anniversary – and then mixing begins. I’m excited that we’re moving forward – and holy fuck am I excited about how this album sounds – but I also don’t want it to end, this phase of possibility, these days of people making music in a room.

Over the last couple weeks, such fine folk have been stopping by Henhouse Studio as:

JP Carter – to record a seriously killer trumpet part:

My buddy, the lovely and talented Cris Derksen, to sweet cello sounds down:

The beautiful Christie Rose and Maya Siegal, my first official back up singers:

I don’t have  a photo of Steve singing, playing guitar, tambourine, and all the other stuff he gets up to when I’m not around – but he’s a remarkable knack for filling in spaces that need it. Have I mentioned how lucky I am to be working with him?

This whole thing has been one big lucky, (mostly) joyful, mess in my heart. I could seriously gush. Maybe I am gushing. The brilliant part is that outside of my heart it’s not a mess at all – it’s a work of art, crafted and cared for.

Later this week the mixing starts. The mastering is booked for the end of the month. The artwork is underway. The release date is forming in my mind. The CD release tour has been blocked out in my Google calendar (my next big task is booking it all…). What more is there to do?

Oh right, there’s tomorrow. And right now, there’s sleep.

Bisous*
cc

 

Well that’s the first part done then.

We spent four days at The Warehouse studio this past week getting much of what will be my new album recorded. Those four days were a long time coming, nearly a year in the making (more if you count the years that the songwriting spans), and after all of that preparation and anticipation, all of the piecing together of puzzle pieces, the near aligning of stars, those four days went by in an instant. A densely packed moment that left me both filled and drained.

There is more recording to come – next month Steve and I will continue to record more of my vocals and guitar, more of him playing guitar, and whatever other bits we deem necessary, like some accordion here, a little cello there, you know – so the process is far from done. But, this initial stage has been a biggie.

I can tell you now that is the best project I have ever been involved in. It sounds AMAZING.  And I’m not one to use all-caps lightly. The core players – Chris Gestrin, Niko Friesen, Rob Becker and Steve Dawson – are nothing short of fantastic. My songs and I are downright squee-ful to keep such remarkable musical company on this record. And the studio! Well, the Warehouse Studio’s Twitter bio of “the best studio anywhere” is not an exaggeration. Incredible gear, incredible space, top-notch crew…

Much of my view of the studio was of obscured by pop filters:

But you can see a bunch of other photos up in this Facebook album. Here’s one of my favourites – the lot of us attempting an aloof “rockstar attitude pose” photo:

Adorable, non?

It’s pretty special to get to make music with people, I love that us humans do that.

I love this record already so much.

________________________________________

I’ve been feeling speechless (despite my wordiness here), almost stunned, maybe just depleted… a kind of post-recording funk perhaps, aka the coming down phase. As mentioned, it’s not over, but the four long, busy, exciting, fruitful days were heart-rending too and while adreneline and dedication carried me through the weekend, I’ve been crying a lot since. A kind of release, and also the tears that I fought back so often while in the studio in the interest of time and vulnerability.

I managed one good cry in the lounge while others set-up on day two – thank goodness for that small exhale… Niko ate leftovers and listened and, because he’s the philosophizing type, we wandered into a conversation of our big human emotions in the face of our tiny human existence. As these things go…

The saddest song I’ve ever written is on this album, and completing it, coming close to completing it, feels like taking a step that I’m not quite ready for. A kind of admission, or acceptance. Recording that song is making the story true, more true – I’ve had my share of magical thinking in these past few years and recording is cracking those thoughts open.

________________________________________

It would have been wise to book time off directly following those studio days. Instead Monday morning was up and at ’em for some work at RPM, followed by teaching a workshop on grantwriting for Songweavers Studios… which was great (thank you Songweavers!). But I felt that the momentum of the weekend could have used a natural slowing to a halt, that I would have reveled in a fade out. I feel that I jumped tracks when I needed simply to ride it out.

Tuesday I found some balance between obligation and needing space by working on my laptop but refusing to leave my bed. And Tuesday is when I began to cry, thankfully with no time constraints, and no strangers to witness and wonder.

Today, I have finally had a chance to find some solid ground, thanks to a long shower, a soy chai latte, staring out a window into a sunny day, and the task of folding laundry. Phewf.

Here, me, Tuesday afternoon, hiding, thinking, remembering:

xoc