Vancouver sure is beautiful. Much had changed and much had stayed the same. Some folks were older and wiser, some folks were just older. There were some new stools for me to grace and some old haunts to flesh out. Strangely, there were several places that were both old and new at the same time - Red Cat Records, The Main, The Railway Club, Slickity Jim's - this made some of my more tattered memories even less reliable. Happily, there were some new places to manufacture yet even more questionable memories - thanks to The Lido and The Black Lodge.
I was real lucky to be free to get out to see tons of local, live music - Ford Pier (on his own, including interpretive dance, and with his killer Vengeance Trio), Big Top, Invisible Ray, Sarah Wheeler, David Chenery, DOA, Tony Wilson, Dave Lang, Stephen Nikliva, David P Smith, Robin Hunter, Paul Rigby with Skye Brooks, The Slow Learners, Caroline Mark, Cloudsplitter (Skycracker), Geoff Berner, The Neon Stars - I also went out to see Lucinda Williams, who was in excellent voice and played some great new songs and many classics - Lake Charles was particularly devastating.
Oh, and Pho. Pho, Pho, Pho - I ate Pho nearly every day as well as some fantastic sushi.
But besides all that, I had come out to make music with old friends and to start the process of recording some of the songs I have written since my last cd way back in 2005. To start this all off I met with Paul Rigby and we began to explore some of the ideas he had for my songs. This was both a very challenging and satisfying experience for me. The first thing Paul asked me was whether we were aiming to serve the songs or to capture my performance of the songs.
Taking a hiatus from performing the last 7 years revealed two things to me:
1. I really love performing and get a huge buzz from sharing this experience with, and drawing from the presence of, an audience
2. Despite #1, I see myself primarily as a writer; I continued to play and write music daily even though I was not performing in public.
These revelations along with the fact that I would not always have the pleasure of the accompaniment of Paul and the other musicians who were on board informed my decision to serve the songs on this recording. I was happy to continue to perform these songs live as I had been despite how different they might be performed during the recording. I could tell Paul was pleased with this decision.
I had been playing some of these songs for over 10 years and in the past 7 years, with the exception of a few performances over the last 6 months, I had been playing them on my own in my living room to my cat (who was big fan by the way). This meant that when I performed these songs, I felt compelled to fill up all the sound spaces on my own with just an acoustic guitar and my voice. It soon became apparent that Paul's first mission was to break me from feeling that I had to make all the noise on my own.
Hand in hand with this one man band approach was also my tendency to go all out when singing - this is partly because my 2 biggest vocal influences are Rick Danko and Van Morrison, and also because I've performed for years in venues where I had to be loud to be heard above the din of the punters. I do also recognize my tendency to overemote but I don't always recognize this as it happens. Paul is an amazing guy, not only is he one of the finest musicians I've ever met, he is also a genuinely kind and considerate person who has a knack for bringing out the best in those around him. He drew my attention to my lyrics and told me that the words were powerful on their own and just needed to be delivered as a gift rather than as a birth. This appealed not only to my vanity but also made good sense and when I tried his suggestions the proof was in the pudding. Within moments of listening to his ideas for my songs I was won over by his approach to and feel for the music. I became determined to take advantage of this opportunity for growth by trying to stay as open as I could to Paul's ideas and direction.
Wanting to take and follow direction is not the same as executing those directions. Probably the busiest part of my performance style is my right hand - this is partly due to trying to make up for the large chunk of ham that is my left hand, but also due to me needing to be my own rhythm section when performing solo. Paul wanted me to 'straighten out' my right hand; keep it simple and leave room for other instruments. I was tied to Paul's straightening out rack quite often - actually it was more like a deep muscle massage than a torture technique but it was at times very challenging.
Not only was Paul asking me to play straight rhythms with contained dynamics, he also wanted me to change or simplify the actual chord progressions and leave off a whole bunch of fancy bits. I wrote, enjoyed playing, and was habituated to those progressions, and I was just starting to get kinda good at adding fancy bits after 35+ years of playing guitar.
I do not have the musical sophistication that Paul possesses and could not hear everything as he was hearing it in his head - all the things that seemed to me were being eliminated from the song were actually being replaced (and often improved) by other instruments in that head. I knew this was happening by the now famous constipated-cat-taking-a-shit look of concentration on Paul's face as I played, but I couldn't hear it. My vocal melodies and performance were often cued or accommodated by particular changes and rhythms that I was playing on the guitar while singing, when some of these changes and rhythms were changed, I sometimes found that my phrasing, cadence, and even tone were difficult to execute. Despite these difficulties, I knuckled down and practiced, practiced, practiced, and with Paul's support and at times monumental patience, I got a pretty good handle on what I was doing.
Next it was time to bring in the rhythm section, enter Keith Rose and David MacAnulty but you'll need to wait for part 2 of this trip blog which will be available in about a week or so…