The Making Of An Old Innocence
I took my guitar with me because everybody knows it's a good way to meet people.
For the last ten days, I had been mostly sitting cross-legged, eyes shut in a darkened cell so now it would be fair to say, as I pushed the door of my van open and stepped out into the street, I was literally and figuratively blinking in the light.
I thought perhaps the guy in the motorized wheelchair who I met almost immediately and who said he'd guide me up to the cafe I'd been told about by the retreat facilitators was going to be the one. But it was actually the guy sitting in the doorway of the music venue who asked me to come over and play him and his friend a song.
I was intrigued as to what it would be like to sing after such a stretch of complete silence. Halfway through the song, eyes shut, I heard his friend start to cry. Ok, that’s how it felt.
After the song, the guy who’d hollered me over told me he was a musician too and that he was supposed to be playing a gig that afternoon. He told me the last time he had played this place there had been girls dressed as mermaids, a river, a forest, "loads of amazing salad and a bunch of people hanging out who’d just finished some sort of shamanic ceremony". I could feel my eyebrows and face curl into a deep smile. Perfect. “I’ll give you a ride,” I said.
A few hours later I am there, in that place. I don’t see any mermaids but there are several ladies in outlandish goddess outfits. A full band and backing singers are arranged dancing and jamming on a terrace and there is a river and we are by the side of a forest in dappled sunshine and - is that me? Yes, I am standing there in the midst of them, guitar around my neck, singing my heart out, punching the air, singing to the trees, to the river, to my new friends. After each song, they say “it’s a hit! Wow! Do you have another?”."Yes", I would say, panting, "yes I've got another!”. It seemed I had arrived in heaven.
The local medicine woman and her band had ambled down to the river in the afterglow of their ceremony to spend Sunday spinning a web of music and magic. Who they wondered was I? And what was I doing there? I explained I had just got out of a retreat in a nearby town fairly well known for its meditation courses. What are you doing tomorrow they asked? Would I like to be on their radio show? Ha ha. Sure. Of course, I would.
So I am invited to go back and stay at their house, an extraordinary palace of esoterica, llamas in the barn, sunflowers in the garden, and a whole studio set up in the living room. The next day we play music together. It is effortless to carry on all night. By dawn, we are like a small family, incredulous at what we have been part of, ecstatic and buzzing with delight at this unexpected intimacy.
And that is the very beginning of how this album, An Old Innocence, came into being.
We exchanged details and I made my way back to my home in Nova Scotia, loosely arranging a reunion at the same place at the end of the summer. I had been waiting to make this next album for a while. I wanted the thing to lead the thing, not simply my desire to make an album be the reason for making an album. Like the way we always say we will let the love lead things when we are in love and not our desire to be in love. I believed this album had a soul which was now demanding to be born.
When the end of August came I was skint and it was almost kids going back to school week and no time to be scarpering off to jam with my hippy friends. But I knew I’d made a deal and I knew whatever had happened down in Massachusetts after the retreat was a sacred gift. If I turned it down, I might as well just give up.
I barely had enough money for the ferry to get there and even so, I booked it. I let go. I trusted. I don’t know what I’d do, but I would get there and it would be ok. If I had to ask someone to lend me some money for gas then so be it. Bob, the musical director of the band down there had been working on the songs I’d sent him and I just knew I couldn’t back out.
I went to bed at 2 am and at 9 am got up and like normal, checked my email. There was a message from my old friend Albert. I hadn’t heard from him for ages. I wondered what he wanted. It said, “Alberto Grande has sent you $800.00 by Paypal”. I’d never been sent money by Paypal before. What did this mean? And why was Albert sending me money? I read the message - “Thinking of you brother and sending some love your way…”.
If you’re reading this and don’t understand - that’s exactly how I felt. I had never received money from Albert before and hadn’t heard from him for ages and he had just sent me exactly the money I would need for the trip I had just booked to Massachusetts. Tears came to my eyes. I told my daughter’s mom Angela what had happened she couldn’t believe it either. I guess something or some force really wanted me to get to Massachusetts….
Bob. Sometimes it seems that that name is the most spoken name during this whole record. Bob. Bob was way more than just a drummer on this record. He found the bass player John Mills. He made the pre-production demos so that we could flesh out the arrangements for the 20 songs we brought to the studio in Montreal ahead of time. And then as the project reached year two he even stepped into master one of the initial versions of the record, add keyboards and synth parts to new mixes etc. He writes longer and more ecstatic emails than me and cannot be praised highly enough. Robert Sherwood. Bob. Bob. Bob. Thank you, Bob.
So Bob and John came up from Massachusetts. And I came down from Halifax and we met in Montreal in December of 2014 for a 4-day session at a spacious and legendary studio called Hotel 2 Tango. Local Keyboard player Max Henry wandered a couple of blocks from his apartment to join us.
I had been corresponding for over a year with the producer Howard Bilerman (most famous for being the drummer and one of the main producers on Arcade Fire’s “Funeral” album). I was excited to work with him. Howard loves coffee. He has a Gaggia Espresso machine like you would have in an actual cafe, in his studio. He also has a comforting and friendly presence and gave us countless good bits of advice and feedback as the session wore on.
The session wasn’t without drama. I had borrowed a bunch of money to make the record and a large amount of it would be spent in these 4 days so we didn’t have much room for error if we were going to stay within the budget. But this focus made it a very special time. We added Jacques Mindreau’s luscious string arrangements later back in Halifax and various friends around the world added their expertise and sent it in to be edited into the tracks (Sharon Lewis and DW Hunter’s vocals, Nigel Hoyle’s Moog parts). But the essence and lifeblood of the album are in the live takes we put down, with no click, and basic separation in those days in Montreal in December 2014.
That was just the beginning. It took a while to bring it all together and all the while I kept on trying to maintain the belief I had in these songs as I heard them in the monitors just after we had got the takes down. Several times I’ve thought we had the album as good as it could sound only to come back to it and realize there was still work to do. Such is the magic of this work we are part of. Who’d have known that it would be my great friend Tom Aitkenhead, who at the last minute would do such a heart-felt mix of Supernatural that it would lead to the whole album being remixed? But that’s exactly what happened. Thank you, Tom, for your tireless work and commitment to this album.
It is now two years after that initial sunny Sunday in Massachusetts when I stepped out of my van, put the guitar on my back, open to the infinite possibility. The thing was allowed to be the thing. Suddenly nothing can touch me! I’m floating high over your city, back to an old innocence… If you see me, holler. I’ll come sing you a song.
Such joy and fun we had working with everyone who was a part of this album:
Thank you Amanda and Mariam for enlivening the end of Keep On and bringing part of the source to its conclusion; Thank you DW Hunter, Sharon Lewis and Alana Yorke for adding the much needed divine feminine to the mix; Thank you Shelder Footz for the same with your trumpet; Thank you Thomas Stajcer for being incredibly helpful and great to work with throughout this record and likewise thank you Joel Plaskett for all the editing wisdom and top notch guitar you brought to the recordings. Thank you, Max Henry (keyboards), John Mills (bass), Bob Sherwood (drums, keys) for being the team in the room who made it, along of course with Howard Bilerman (Recorded by…) who made sure Tom Aitkenhead (Mixed by…) could make it sound so sweet.
“Waiting To Bloom” was actually mixed by Adam Fuest and is an outtake from an older album, “Set It Free” (2010) but sounded perfect alongside these tunes so I realised this was the moment it had been waiting for. It is a Sharon Lewis song called Waiting Game which I have written a new second verse for and made a little more Jont-like (with her blessing).
Thank you, Dave Scholten, for various editing. Thank you, George Hoyle, for the game-changing colours you added to the album with your Moog inventions. We would await your emails in January 2015 with much excitement, waiting to see how you had transformed the next track. Allan Evans plays the guitar figure on Someone To Love Me. Bob Sherwood created the amazing intro to This Windshield and the subsequent synth beauty that accompanies the whole track. Max Henry played the gorgeous pads in the intro to An Old Innocence. Then the strings! Jacques Mindreau wrote the arrangements and pulled in a great bunch of players to record them. They were recorded by Thomas Stajcer at New Scotland Yard Studios in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
Finally, thank you so much to David and Caroline Clasen, Sheila Goldman, Christopher Whittington and Harry and Kate Chetwood. Without their belief, none of this would have been possible.