CBC Ottawa THRESHOLDS interview w/ Alan Neal

I visited CBC Ottawa yesterday and talked about THRESHOLDS with Alan Neal. It’s one of my favorites ever.

The full interview is here: https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1469886019685

Alan dug up some of the earliest records about my music he could find and it brought him to my Calgary Herald Class Act award from 2004, a high school achievement, where my career goals were ‘music.’ He wondered which town I actually grew up in, Linden? Or Acme? And brought everything around to the new record and the theme of THRESHOLDS and recording it with Walla.

After the 15 minute interview, Jeremy Buller and I walked through the bustling Ottawa newsroom and left the CBC building, and I had a deep energy and could only describe it as intense. It felt good. The value of research and listening and good journalism and thoroughness was in full evidence and the fullness and weight of THRESHOLDS felt real to me. It was good.

CBC Radio has been a huge support, having a platform and an avenue for good Canadian music to land is great. I am a huge supporter/listener and am very thankful.

 

 

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Ocean View and Limitations (4/6)

I wrote the song Ocean View about Victoria. It’s the opening track on the record and it’s about myself and my people, both the individuals and the groups. The ocean represents time and peace and regret and forgiveness and the future and optimism and newness. The ocean is big so it can hold all these things. It’s big but it’s also accessible and personal to anyone and the song is meant to be listened to on Sunday Morning.

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Because Ocean View is a ‘Sunday Morning’ song, I decided to set a limitation in recording.  It had to be recorded in the morning and only in the morning, and nothing after noon was allowed and this was a serious rule. I wanted the limitation to bring out something unique and something different and by closing a bunch of doors, the ones left open can be seen clearer and are the rights ones to travel through.

 

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Because the song is at the same time personal and collective I assembled a somewhat random group of available friends to come to the studio one morning. Most of them assumed we are going to sing some ‘gang vocals’ but I think gang vocals are dumb. My friend Graeme Davies was really scared that he might have to sing, and he wasn’t into that at all, but over breakfast I assured Graeme he wouldn’t have to sing, and actually told him he wasn’t allowed to sing, and I told him about the song and the limitation and what we were going to do.

 

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We put our phones in a pile and sat in the back-yard where the birds hung out and we sat in the quiet while I tracked the lead vocals. Outside, in the morning and amongst 10 of us we all just took in the quiet anti-climactic moment. I think we captured part of this moment and the moments like it. I like to think that all of our hearts and our breathing were at different tempo’s but we were all listening to the same imperfect song of the birds and breathing in the ocean air. It felt a little weird at first but it felt right.

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 Listen to the birds, listen to the imperfections in vocals, listen to quiet of the morning and the waves and listen to the peace, forgiveness, optimism and newness.

 

There’s a welcome to a quiet start

There’s an Ocean View for a tired art

There’s a welcome to a quiet rest

There’s an Ocean View we can see again

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Victoria, Seattle (3/6)

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In 2017 Alissa and I got married and our plan was to live in Seattle, since she is a therapist and I’ve been traveling in the US for a number of years and the fact that Victoria is on an island, which presents travel challenges if you ever want to leave.

Moving and getting married are two of the most concrete and tactile examples of what this record is about and really are the faces of the record. I could never say however, that this record is only about moving or getting married and I think that’s why I love the title. It seems so fitting to me. THRESHOLDS seems to encapsulate everything and includes these life changes. I think there could be some great records made specifically about moving and another great one written with marriage at the forefront. The song ‘Could We End Up Like This’ (out Wed. Feb 13th) wrestles with fear and optimism in marriage, and ‘Slowly’ feels like a lonely Holden Caufield just moved to Seattle.

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I almost called the record ‘Small Step,’ taken from a line in Challenger which nods to the famous lines during Neil Armstrong’s moon walk. I really liked this title because something small represents something BIG. And this record is intricate and thought out and at times is quiet and can be listened to in the morning. But Walla thought that you ‘write your own headline’ with the album title and then said, ‘small step just seems to errr… how can I say it… small?’ It was too small, and this record is not small and maybe the step was a BIG one? THRESHOLDS was always on the table but sort of emerged while the final mixes were coming in, and I went with it.

We had an easter egg hunt at our wedding, got married on Easter Sunday, April 2017 and I begun recording THRESHOLDS in May 2017 in Victoria, BC.

The record was recorded in Victoria mostly due to grant considerations (Thanks Creative BC!) and the fact Colin Stewart was going to work on the record also. Colin is a gem and I love him and I hope he reads this. He has been a great mentor, encourager and producer for myself and many others and we are all better for him being in the world.

I entered recording with huge optimism and excitement and we had a whole month booked off at The Hive in North Saanich and I hoped and had full intention to track the record in that time. Jason Cook played drums, Sjoerd Meyer played some guitar and Shaun Huberts, Brian Chan, Mike Davis, Chris Walla, Colin Stewart, Alexandria Maillot and Sam Weber were all involved in some capacity.

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I didn’t smoke any cigarettes. I thought it would make me sing bad. I ate apples and peanut butter as much as I could.

Mike Davis smoked a few cigarettes though, and we’d get them from the corner store across from ‘The Roost’ bakery up by the Victoria Airport.

Colin Stewart made smoothies and then decided to go to France.

Chris Walla, well I’ll get into it in my next blog. He ate really healthy at the beginning. Arugula and stuff. Then organic Annie’s burritos. Then regular burritos. Then pizza, and lastly poutine. Chris Walla love poutine.

Alissa came to visit only 1 time and she cooked a real nice curry, and it might have been the weirdest first month of marriage. Sort of like curry is really good but weird. She is amazing though because of her go-with-the-flow attitude and her positive and steadfast demeanor.

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The end.

Harrison & Writing (2/6)

After living in Victoria for 7 years, I spent more than half a year living in Harrison Hot Springs, paying little rent, going for walks, resting and writing new songs for what is now THRESHOLDS.

It was the fall and winter of 2016. The previous year and a half was pretty grueling releasing my 2015 album India, Seattle. I charged pretty hard, toured lots and hit a point of burning out I’d say. I think I see this happen to lots of artist and musicians and you don’t totally know because it’s not a thing that is cool to say publicly. You never see an instagram or facebook post saying ‘I’m burnt out, and how I am living isn’t sustainable and I haven’t found that in my business or in my art or in my person yet.’ But like many others, this was me. So I retreated to the woods of British Columbia, paid little rent, drove to Seattle and served a few beers with my dear people at Field House Brewing Company in Abbotsford (never thought I’d spend any time here) to rest and write.

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I ran, walked and wrote as much as I could without almost any regiment at all because my personal wiring cares about productivity and achievement. In this season I was thinking so much about this new record. I co-wrote songs at a SOCAN writing camp in Gibsons, BC with Nygel Asselin, Parker Bossley, Mike Evin, Fintan O’brien, Ian Smith, Fraser, Cassie Dasilva, Dan Moxon and a bunch of others. I did a few sessions with my friend Taylor Swindells, and we re-wrote the song Challenger.

I wrote Challenger at the same time as I wrote my song ‘The Closer’ which is hard to believe because they came out 4 years apart. One November evening in 2013 Jason Cook, Shaun Huberts, Kiana Brasset and I drove through a blizzard after playing the Ironwood in Calgary as we headed back to the coast and Jason Cook told us all details of why Space Shuttle Challenger didn’t make it. The song started as a narrative folky feeling song much like how The Closer sounds, but it didn’t really have a message or a chorus, and didn’t see the light of day even though I still liked it and believed in it.

So in early 2017 I showed Taylor this song because his band Tourist Company had a whole record about outer space and Taylor was the perfect person for this. Taylor is an amazing collaborator and very positive creative energy. We re-wrote a new chorus and a bridge and demoed the song in Taylors East Van apartment. I showed this song to Alissa and she instantly loved it. I showed this song to Chris Walla at the beginning of our recording sessions and he ‘didn’t understand it.’ I included this demo on the digital pre-order of of this album even though sonically it doesn’t sound the best.

I wrote the songs 31, Go With You and Ocean View in Harrison Hot Springs and brought most of ‘31’ to JP Maurice and Nygel Asselin in Vancouver and we finished this song there. I really think that some collaboration and co-writing was such a positive step for this music. It helped me break my own writing, lyrical and sonic thresholds and I believe that any artist or writer really should co-write or collaborate if only as a learning activity.

I had assembled a good pile of demo’s and had been talking to Colin Stewart about recording, and had received a grant from Creative BC. I reached out to Chris Walla who I had met briefly twice before as a dream producer and thought it would be one of my life’s great moments if we would make a record together. HE RESPONDED! I was a little starstruck and he was living north of the arctic circle in Norway at the time. I remember sitting in Harrison Hot Springs at my dinner table, in the woods, still in hibernation and on the other end of the phone Walla chimed in with the timbre of an international call from Norway. And so we began.

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THRESHOLDS, Change and a New Orientation (1/6)

The title of this record is literal and specific and can be taken at face value. It wraps it’s big fatherly arms around all of these songs and squeezes them tightly together. At a distance it is clear and bold and balanced but when you look and listen closer there are eraser marks, dirt and incompleteness. Most often we don’t realize the exact moment when life has changed or we have changed but over a series of small moments or events we find it changed.

I see this when I look at THRESHOLDS’ album art and I thank JR Canest for that. He grew up in Bolivia, now lives in Vancouver and he knows a thing or two about change.

 
 
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I’ve had lots of trouble naming things before. It feels like a difficult task, it holds lots of weight and if you screw it up you are destined for failure like the Edmonton Oilers seem to be. You have to live with it, tell your graphic designer to change the font of it, and if you tell your dad Larry the title and he says ‘WHAT?’ because he didn’t hear the first time, you might have to spell it to him. Often I am calculated so this can be a difficult task.

But that wasn’t the case with THRESHOLDS. I knew the theme before the songs and I knew the name before recording. My emails to Jason Cook, Sjoerd Meyer, Shaun Huberts, Colin Stewart and Walla would start with, ‘THIS ALBUM IS ABOUT THRESHOLDS, CHANGE AND A NEW ORIENTATION.’

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Moving away from Victoria presents one of the most real thresholds I have ever experienced because packing up your belongings in a big white van and taking a ferry is slow and tactile, and you see every step, and the water and the trees go by and then you land on the mainland and all of a sudden people move faster and aren’t as relaxed and the houses are more expensive and you are in Vancouver or on the mainland and it’s different because water separated the two places.

Change.

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People often ask ‘What inspires your music’ and the boring and real answer is that my songs are mostly about my own life and how I see things or experience them whether I have the choice or not. Many things in life have changed over the course of making this record, some for the better and some for the worse it feels. I turned 30, I moved to a different country, I got married and finished a record I am proud of. I have some things that I regret and miss and some things that I am grateful for. I have optimism and I have hope for the future and this is one of the things that I hold on to always.

A New Orientation.

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The first 2 songs that were written on this record feel very old to me now, but I think they really are the first two chapters to me in the THRESHOLDS journey. Those being ‘Miles’ and ‘Stay On’ (which was originally titled ‘Conversation’). In June of 2016, before I took a live-show hiatus, I had written these and we wanted something fresh to play on the road, so we rehearsed these for the tour and were playing them. After a show at The Slice in Lethbridge we had a day off and Leeroy Stagger was out of town and let us sleep in his newly built studio and in addition we also spent the next off-day recording. My buds Sjoerd Meyer, Tyler Johnson and Jared Pasimio were along on this trip, and the new record began very early with these initial demo’s we recorded.

I really liked this process of having something to work with, or think about or hear when thinking about a new record. I think a lot of times I have acoustic guitar voice memos sitting on my phone or computer and you can really feel which songs are good and matter, but you don’t really get to discover the sonic qualities of them. These songs were a bit more loud. We even used those demo drums on Miles in the verses on that song.

The record begun.

Shortly before this time I had started to date Alissa. She’s beautiful, striking, peaceful and kind and we enjoyed ferrying back and forth from Victoria to Seattle the first bunch of times, but as any islander knows that gets old quicker than you’d wish so I had made the decision to leave Victoria and post up in Harrison Hot Springs for a time so I could write and not have to deal with water in-between us. Stay On.

I moved to Victoria in January 2009, and then one day just threw my things together and the cosmos beckoned me elsewhere. I was leaving my 20’s, heartbreak, the best times and community and moving into the unknown. The unknown both full of great fear and great hope. That is where this record began, crossing the Georgia straight quietly and unceremoniously. Sometimes change happens with a bang, and sometimes it happens quietly.

THRESHOLDS, Change and a New Orientation.

I get tired making the new 31 Music Video

Hello Friends!

I just celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving in my hometown for a couple of days, and took a few days to relax, enjoy family and reflect on the good things in life. I felt thankful, and often it seems like thankfulness is more a state of mind than about the things you’ve got.

I am thankful for everyone who has listened to ‘Go With You’ and ‘31,’ and that 31 is on the CBC Music Top 20, receiving airplay in Canada and in the US also. There are some other good things happening with it also, so I am super pumped to share a new 1-take-music-video for the song. My friend Jordan and I shot it in 1 take, but I think it captures the essence of the song. I hope you enjoy and please share the song far and wide. Check out the premiere on Indie88 out of Toronto too!

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10/19 Rochester, NY | Sofar Sounds DETAILS

10/20 Burlington, VT | Nectar’s DETAILS (free show) FB LINK

10/21 Asbury Park, NJ | The Saint

10/22 New York, NY | The Rockwood (6pm) FB LINK

10/23 Washington, DC | Sofar Sounds DETAILS

10/24 Toronto, ON | Burdock (6:30pm) TICKETS FB LINK

10/25 Ottawa, ON | Cafe Dekcuf TICKETS FB LINK

10/26 Hamilton TBA | Jilliard Guitars TICKETS FB LINK

10/27 London, ON | London Music Club TICKETS FB LINK

10/28 Waterloo, ON | Sofar Sounds DETAILS