Yes, this fourth album of mine is now out in the world living her big, bold life. Get it digitally on iTunes or get the CD from Black Hen Music.
Long Time Leaving is the best thing I could make for you at this point in my life and I’m so proud of what Steve Dawson, Gary Craig, John Dymond, and I cooked up! Along with the talents of Shannon Swords (who engineered) and David Travers-Smith (who mastered) for your ears and Jen Squires, Catherine Mellinger, and Joi Arcand for your eyes.
Go get it. Sing along. Spread the word. Let me know what you think.
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 Heartache, Midnight 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.
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:
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).
p.s. Thank you Michael for filming the studio stuff.
Every autumn for the past four years I’ve been on tour. We (in the biz, you know) talk about fall and spring as the best, sometimes only, times to tour – the roads are safe, people aren’t too hot or too cold to venture out of their homes and/or into a venue, and generally audiences and media aren’t on holiday.
It’s a good time to do it, for those reasons, but also, as far as Eastern Canada goes, for the views, all reds and oranges and yellows, changing as we watch it seems. My tour mates Hilary Grist and Mike Southworth were a dream to travel with. Nothing broke or got lost, we laughed a lot and I loved getting to hear Hil’s songs each night (singing along on a couple, too.)
Hil and I, roadside, in small town Ontario.
We officially dubbed our tour “The Battle of the Ballads” as Hils and I each have numerous ballads, but unofficially it was called the “Shouting From the Backseat” tour as I, for the first time ever, was not one of the drivers and often offered my thoughts, and snacks, from my domain in the back of the Chevy Malibu.
It felt to me like the last tour for The Living Record. It’s been two years since that came out and I was able to tour it in a way I hadn’t with any previous album – tirelessly – and in a way I’d always wanted to. But now with the next album being recorded in January (yee!) I’m ready to have new conversations, to tell new stories.
I’m at the bend in the album-cycle road where I’m not sure exactly what’s going to happen next. I’m not entirely sure which combination of songs the new album will carry (note to self: decide!) or just what we’ll cook up in the studio.
Oh, by the way, I’m THRILLED to be making the album with Steve Dawson. I’ll be heading to the new Henhouse Studio in Nashville and carting John Dymond and Gary Craig down from Toronto to form the band (squee!). So whatever we DO get up to is going to sound great with these lads.
On this tour I played a couple of the new songs – Lovely Like You and Alone in This – prefacing them with an intro that this new record is set to be my country album. We WILL be recording in Nashville after all, and a number of the songs stem from separation, which is highly conducive to the genre of course. I’m still crooning over my piano like I’m spot-lit on a cabaret corner stage somewhere, so these things are relative and we’ll see how country I get.
And that’s the point – we’ll see. I learned a lot putting The Living Record out into the world and I hope this new record will continue to take me out on the road and into your ears and hearts as ever. But until it’s done, I’m going to step back from touring, get myself a sense of the big picture, and plan my next bold move.
Moi at Musideum, Toronto. Photo by Susan Kendal-Urbach.
Maps. Charts. Schedules. Spreadsheets. Now’s the time for plotting and creating.
I’m so grateful I’ve been able to play as many shows as I have these past two years and this last batch seem almost dreamlike these couple weeks later. But to each of the towns, cities, we played in, let me tell you this:
Sudbury, you were the first feel of plastic keys and disbelieved you could ever adjust (ah, but you did!).
Utopia, you conjured old Friday night dances and sent us home with leftovers.
Chatham, you were a wiry, patchy, friendly cat and a need to buy winter gloves.
Ingersoll, your incredibly warm faces were a reminder of how good it can get.
Barrie, you landed on hard anniversaries but crossed paths with a piano man who you couldn’t help but follow.
Owen Sound, you were an old friend and a really good juice bar to battle a cold.
Peterborough, you were unexpectedly perfect with your sing-alongs and uke-instrumentals.
Kemptville, you were 95% familiar faces, a lucky, lucky stat.
Montreal, you were the best croissants and need be nothing more.
Ottawa, your heart couldn’t get bigger.
Moncton, you were dance classes down the hall and refuge from cold, dark rain.
St. John, you were spiral staircases and cloud-like pillows.
Fredericton, you almost didn’t make it but I’m so glad we all rallied to pull it off. I like you a lot.
Bedford, you were top notch and topped that off with cranberry liqueur (Ironworks Distillery from Lunenberg, Nova Scotia – a delightful discovery.)
Halifax, we laughed a little too hard but we were just so tired.
Toronto, you were home and I was so glad to come back to you.
The fishy street lamp art of Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, where we wandered happily on a day off.
And now back to it. Back to culling this long list of songs, finishing the ones I can, leaving behind the ones I can’t force, keeping my hands and my voice in shape, sleeping, eating, doodling and noodling.
The working title for the new album is Zookeeper. I must tend to the beasts.
I have said on occasion that I don’t write songs, I just sing them. Which is to say that when the muse comes, when together we are at our best, that’s what it feels like – like a song I suddenly remembered, and maybe always knew.
I was standing at a bus stop in Berlin, in Charlottenberg, when I first sang the first verse to “Parasite.” I quickly and quietly recorded it into my phone (trying to look like I was just talking) and when I played it back months later, was reminded of that favourite city of mine as a German ambulance siren rings through the voice memo in the background.
Those months later I was at The Hill House in Michigan during a residency I pursued with the interest of sorting through the songs that would become “The Living Record.” It was just two verses that had come at the Berlin bus stop and there in the upper penninsula where the rest of the song made itself known.
When I played it for my partner he pointed out the inaccuracy of the word “parasite” and I had my own mini Alanis “ironic” moment in defending my artistic licence. For the months until we recorded it, I kept in the back of my mind the thought of replacing the word, but another never came. Indeed in this song, what plauges me (er, the protaganist) has not convinced the host of its own interests, it is rather a fight against the thoughts that won’t let up, the fight against the impossible question “what if.”
But the word stayed.
What didn’t stay was the original tempo. When composed it was much slower, in mind I imagined the final product would be darker, heavier. When Steve Dawson and I were in pre-production for the album his imagination led elsewhere and I followed – the outcome of which is the much more uptempo version on the album.
I love how it turned out.
Often people have said of that album, “The Living Record,” that for lyrics and themes that are darker, heavier, it is musically remarkably upbeat. Well, yes. I don’t think these ideas need to be hammered too hard, I think that a lot of the experiences chronicled on that album are complex – and the contrast reflects that – and I think stories in songs are worth digging for.
When it came to making the video I was lucky to be part of APTN’s First Tracks program which has, for the past few years, employed Big Soul Productions to produce five music videos per year for Indigenous artists. They brought director Adam Garnet Jones on board and over lunch I got to hear the visual ideas the song inspired in him. It always feels a kind of gift to have another artist create work sparked from your own.
(here’s Adam and I on set in what I liked to call our “mad Cowichan disease” matching-ness):
Finding beauty in struggle became the theme and let me tell you, singing that song in double time (due to filming 48fps) while inhaling the bits of feather-down being blown in my face did not feel beautiful at the time. But all in a day’s work.
We filmed the video in November 2012, through the night in the cold, cavernous space belonging to the Toronto School of Circus Arts, beginning with the aerialists’ set up:
Meanwhile, the lovely and talented Rachelle Whitewind attended to my hair and make up:
In an ochre dress my dear friend Susan Kendal-Urbach MADE for the shoot. It was handy that my bosom buddy was hired as cosutme designer – I couldn’t have trusted many other people to hold the tulle skirt in place, so as to avoid flashing the crew, when fans whipped up the “falling”:
(and I got to keep the sweet belt she found at Anthropologie. Score.)
Fans played a major part in all the scenes – most of the time to blow sundry items at my face while I lip-synced. The bubbles were easy. The feathers, as mentioned, went up my nose.
And the amazing art crew had to sweep it all up between takes to blow across the frame once more:
They were a killer crew.
Adam and editor Jay Brant got to work and in March 2013 it was locked and ready. And then we waited. And waited.
APTN had legal dibs on broadcast – other than when I worked with a label on my first album in 2005 it was the first time I’ve not completely owned the rights to something connected to my work. Indeed I left the label for many reasons – that I like being in control of such things being one of them.
But First Tracks – which I think is an awesome series and has made a handful of wicked videos – is what “Parasite” belonged to and we were at the mercy of their scheduling. Except the scheduling never came and eventually APTN decided not to broadcast any of this particular batch of First Tracks videos.
Which is too bad.
But it meant that finally I could share this with everyone. Like you.
And so, from a bus stop in Berlin, to circus school rafters in Toronto, “Parasite”, the official video:
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.
The time is nigh! In three weeks we head into the studio to start recording The Living Record.
I’ve been rolling out details of the recording on Facebook – so far that Niko Friesen will be joining me again on drums (he played on both Fell Out of Oz and The Wedding Singer and The Undertaker) and Rob Becker will be playing bass, electric and upright for those wondering. Also that after starting with a list of 20 songs, and recording demos of 14, Steve (that would be Steve Dawson who’s producing the album) and I narrowed it down to 12 that we’ll take into the studio.
Steve and I have started hashing out some ideas – here he is at his studio kindly tuning my guitar for me:
(Confession: I find changing the tuning on my guitar like playing Jack in the Box – a tense game of anticipation! It’s not often a string breaks, but the times it does it always manages to startle the bejeezus out of me).
Meanwhile, I’m practicing more often then I usually do (I can be terrible at such things) and because it was a cold winter day, lit a candle to warm my music room up a bit:
Isn’t it amazing how much heat can come off one little flame?
Upon lighting the candle, seated at my piano, intending to practice one of the 3 (of the 12) songs that are piano based, I instead began to sing something new. Always one to jump on distraction and procrastination, I followed that tune to its conclusion and then put it to tape – er iPhone – to share.
So here I am with that passing moment, that candlelit song – Come Here Little Shadow:
Come here fire
Here candle light
Help me to stave off the cold
I’ve been singing for hours now
Trying for these songs to take hold
The good part I guess is that playing makes sense of these fears
Come here secret
Comer here little shadow
It’s time to pack up and go
I’ve been waiting
They’ll all be waiting
For us to put on a show
Ready, get set, practice makes perfect
And the best part still is that we get to make sense of our fears.