In early December I spent a few days in Europe — in Vienna and Berlin specifically. I was there as part of a documentary film which at this point is known as “An Impossible Project” though I’m not sure if that’s what the film will ultimately be called when it’s released.
I was there representing the Analog Lab along with Florian “Doc” Kaps, who founded the Impossible Project, now Polaroid Originals. Although Doc is no longer involved, he’s moved on to new ventures under the Supersense name including rescuing a Linotype machine and giving a second chance to peel-apart pack film and a lot more. He’s an inspiring guy and I’m very lucky to call him a friend now after working with him and director Jens Meurer for the better part of a year to make possible the reason I was there in Vienna.
Although I could go on about the details of that weekend, instead, I want to share a bit of an unexpected result of the trip: a music video.
The song, an original by American singer/songwriter Haley Reinhart, was one of several recorded for the film’s soundtrack at Südbahnhotel about 45 minutes outside Vienna in Semmering. Hayley is backed by a 42-piece orchestra conducted by Sascha Peres. The songs were recorded live to vinyl and tape and the footage in the video was all captured to 35mm film. It’s a real analog affair, hence one clue to our involvement.
For nearly all of my American friends, the passing of Gord Downie this past Tuesday, was something that barely registered. But for Canada it feels like a truly crushing blow, the monumental loss of a man who embodied the best of what it means to be Canadian. And while we all knew that dreaded day was coming — Gord was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in late 2015 after suffering a seizure — we secretly hoped he would outlive us all.
Perhaps strangely, there doesn’t seem to be any single American who could fill the same shoes for the US that Gord filled for Canada. And that could be part of why my American friends don’t entirely get the significance of Gord and The Tragically Hip. The New York Times gets close — “Imagine Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Michael Stipe combined into one sensitive, oblique poet-philosopher, and you’re getting close.”
His passing geniunely made the leader of the country cry. On camera.
I never met Gord. I had the opportunity one time when both our families happened to be attending the Milford Fair. Milford is a tiny, tiny town in the municipality of Prince Edward County where my in-laws life. I knew he was often seen in the area, but I never expected to actually run into him myself. Gord was there at the Fair, at the playgroud with his wife and kids. But my own sense of respect for his privacy kicked in and I chose to not do the awkward fan thing.
Gord and the Hip’s songs — his poetic, unabashedly Canadian lyrics, kinetic dancing, and unmatched stage presence — have been part of the sountrack of my life for 20 some-odd years. I’ve seen the band perform many, many times, and it was always a powerful experience. That I was able to see them in person one last time a couple years ago in San Francisco is now all the more meaningful.
Way back in September (it feels like eons ago to me) I put together a digital mix tape of cover songs. It went over pretty well and there was a big pile of songs that didn’t make the cut. More importantly though, there was enough demand (though it might just be because Luke told me to) to warrant a sequel — so here it is.
I think there’s perhaps a bit more range in this one than the first, but I’m pretty close to these songs so it’s hard for me to say without feeling somewhat biased about it.
Rocking Chair - Death Cab for Cutie (original by The Band) - There was a reason they were called The Band and Death Cab does them proud here. The addition of horns to the mix adds a little something new to the band’s already well-honed sound.
Supernatural - Live (original by Vic Chesnutt) - Live never proved to be a great live band (IMO) but this was a solid, stirring highlight from their 1995 MTV Unplugged performance. It was also my introduction to the songs of Vic Chesnutt which I immediately began to search out.
Reason to Believe - Aimee Mann & Michael Penn (original by Bruce Springsteen) - A great cover from one of indie-rock’s favourite husband and wife duos. From the tribute to Springsteen’s 1982 “Nebraska” record.
Between the Bars - Metric (original by Elliott Smith) - Acoustic Metric + Elliott Smith = awesome. What else is there to say?
She Said, She Said - Matthew Sweet (original by The Beatles) - One of the rockier tunes from The Beatles’ 1966 “Revolver” record, this version gives a good taste of what seeing Matthew Sweet live is like.
Will He Be Waiting for Me - Sarah Harmer (original by Dolly Parton) - I don’t care for Dolly Parton herself but there’s some good songs in her back catalogue as the White Stripes and Sarah Harmer have proven.
If You Tolerate This - David Usher with My Brilliant Beast (original by the Manic Street Preachers) - I’m of two minds about David Usher in general - he can be either hit or miss, but this cover with My Brilliant Beast falls in the ‘hit’ category for me.
Fasinating - Fischerspooner (original by R.E.M.) - A highlight from R.E.M.’s “Up” album that didn’t make the cut and that most people have never even heard. This is obviously very different.
The Spirit of Radio - Catherine Wheel (original by Rush) - For Greg Hoy. This might be as close to a simple rock version of a Rush tune you might ever hear, especially missing Geddy Lee’s vocal stamp.
Hyperballad - Glen Phillips (original by Bjork) - I’ve always thought Bjork’s music presented an interesting opportunity to do something a bit different since her songs tend to be unlike just about anything in popular music. Glen unearths a simple ballad in this particular case.
Guilty by Association - Joe Henry with Madonna (original by Vic Chesnutt) - From the second (and last) Sweet Relief album and yes, featuring that Madonna, who apparently happens to be Joe’s sister-in-law. The original features Vic and Michael Stipe of R.E.M. who produced Vic’s first two records.
Paranoid Android - Steven Page (original by Radiohead) - Sufficiently weird and unlike anything the Barenaked Ladies ever produced.
She Don’t Use Jelly - Ben Folds Five (original by The Flaming Lips) - The crazy, fun version. Features the vocal talents of all three members of the band along with help from multi-instrumentalist John Mark Painter and his wife, singer Fleming McWilliams.
Wall of Death - R.E.M. (original by Richard Thompson) - Probably one of Richard Thompson’s most upbeat songs. Originally from the tribute album “Beat the Retreat”, this particular song reappeared a few years later as a B-side from the single for “E-Bow the Letter”.
All the Young Dudes - Travis (original by David Bowie/Mott the Hoople) - A pretty straight-up cover but Fran and the boys never disappoint. This particular B-side comes from the single for “Side” off their album “The Invisible Band”.
That’s All - Clare and The Reasons (original by Genesis) - This is one of those cases where the cover is massively better than the original. Still… needs more tuba.
The death of singer/songwriter Vic Chesnutt on Christmas day prompted my revisiting this so it’s fitting that he’s well represented with two songs. Although there’s still more on the cutting room floor, I’ll likely move on to something new the next time the urge strikes to do another of these.
I’ve always been a sucker for good cover songs. It might be that it’s a great way to learn about writing songs since it forces you to think about structure and how the nuances of a song sometimes really hold it together. They’re also just fun.
Most of the time covers follow the originals pretty closely, but on occasion they end up barely recognizable. It was with that in mind that I tossed together another digitalmixedtape.
Power To The People - The Minus 5 (original by John Lennon) - A beefy, bouncy feedback-laden cover featuring R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck.
Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head - Ben Folds Five (original by Burt Bacharach) - Still as catchy as you remember — just wait for the fuzz bass and the crazy ending!
Cortez The Killer - Matthew Sweet (original by Neil Young and Crazy Horse) - A resonably obscure live cover which I’ve had kicking around for years and that I still prefer over the original.
I Want a New Drug - Apostle of Hustle (original by Huey Lewis and the News) - Probably the most oddball pick of the lot. A weird, groovy ride. The bridge solo guitar lick is worth the price of admission alone.
Sister I’m a Poet - Colin Meloy (original by Morrissey) - Acoustic studio version from a rare 5 song EP released as part of a solo tour by the Decemberists frontman.
Gouge Away - Hayden (original by The Pixies) - A very raw, growly 1996 B-side.
Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis - Neko Case (original by Tom Waits) - I think the first time I heard this was in an extra curricular philosophy class I took in high school. The teacher had a thing for existentialism and Tom Waits.
Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want - She & Him (original by The Smiths) - A Smiths tunes plus indie darlings Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward is a combination that can’t go wrong.
A Forest - Josh Rouse (original by The Cure) - A very odd song but a good one nonetheless. There’s at least one recording of my old band covering this floating around the internet too.
Bad Time To Be Poor - The Weakerthans (original by The Rheostatics) - Let’s just call this my attempt at squeezing in a double shot of Canadian rock.
One More Dollar - Glen Phillips (original by Gillian Welch) - A stripped down solo acoustic cover of a little folk tune by Gillian Welch and her partner David Rawlings.
For What Reason - Emm Gryner (original by Death Cab for Cutie) - I forget when I clued in to what song this was but there’s something gripping about the sparseness of hearing it with a female voice and played entirely on piano.
History Never Repeats - Eddie Vedder (original by Split Enz) - Lucky number 13. I suppose this is really only half a cover since both Neil and Tim Finn who wrote the song sing on it along with Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam. It’s from a Pearl Jam fan club single in case you were wondering.
Bonus points if you can identify all the songs in medley of track 14 (unlisted — it’s a surprise).
Left on the cutting room floor were covers of David Bowie, Dolly Parton, Vic Chesnutt, The Beach Boys, The Flaming Lips, Rush, The Beatles, The Band, Richard Thompson and more — which perhaps suggests a Part Deux?
I started feeling like my Summer of George was blowing by a while back and so I started thinking about putting together another digital mix tape, this time comprising some of my favourite album closers.
Narrowing down a list of around 50 songs to a more reasonable 12 proved to be surprisingly difficult but I think this is a fair representation of that larger collection.
It’s All Gonna Break - Broken Social Scene. Let’s just get the hipster quotient out of the way first, shall we? But seriously… Start with the rock, end with the rock.
Thunderstorm - Matthew Sweet. Clocking in at over 9 minutes and taking a page from Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” methodology, this song covers a lot of musical ground and has been a personal musical staple for a long time.
Find The River - R.E.M. A desert island pick and arguably the best rock record released in 1992.
It’s Not - Aimee Mann. Gets my vote for saddest song ever. I don’t think it would have worked nearly as well if it weren’t the closing track on her “Lost in Space” album.
Words (Between the Lines of Age) - Neil Young. The rawness and immediateness of the lead guitar tone and the underlying shuffle feel still gets me after so many years.
Reservations - Wilco. A beautiful ending to their “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” album.
Satisfied Mind - Jeff Buckley. As much as I like him, Buckley can be a bit hit or miss but I think this track from his posthumous “Sketches for my Sweetheart the Drunk” sums up the way he lived his life. We all could be so lucky.
Impossibilium - The Tragically Hip. This for me is a bit of an odd pick but The Hip have had a special place in my music collection for such a long time that it would be wrong for me to exclude them. Besides, there’s few lyricists I can think of as brilliantly weird as Gord Downie.
Utilities - The Weakerthans. The lone band so far to make the cut in allthree mix tapes I’ve put together, and as always they remind me that great lyrics and great melodies will always win.
Together Alone - Crowded House. Neil Finn is incapable of writing a bad song.
It - Genesis. The closing track from the band’s 1974 double album “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” with then lead singer Peter Gabriel. This is not the Genesis you know - trust me.
I Shall Be Released - The Band. A true classic and deservedly on any best of list.
It’s amazing how long it can take to put out a record. It’s amazing how long it took to get this one out considering it was in the can (to use some old school industry lingo) months ago. We’ve been quietly sitting on it since while artwork was created, manufacturing was sourced, distribution was discussed, small details clarified and the final products finally arrived at our door. Oh, and building a little website to allow the band to sell the darn things too!
Did We Mention It’s an Actual Record?
Even if the quality of digital audio is technically better, there’s something magical and innately satisfying about the vinyl medium, particularly 180g (heavy duty) vinyl. The larger canvas for artwork is more impressive and simply more “fun”. Ultimately, The band (of which I happen to also be a member) decided to go the vinyl route for this recording for two main reasons:
The characteristics of the medium fit well with the songs themselves. They’re loose, a little raw and were largely recorded live off the floor in the studio
It was a challenge — it was a totally different experience than producing a CD
To put it another way and to take a page from Radiohead’s playbook, the band wanted a real artifact despite the recognition that most people would experience the music in a digital format such as on an iPod or their computer. Analog simply has more character than digital in pretty much every respect.
About the Packaging
The sleeve was illustrated by our good friend and exceptionally talented illustrator John Martz under direction from the band and Wishingline. The fine details in John’s illustrations, such as the subtle textures and hand lettering that might otherwise be lost if printed at CD size shine through and are further enhanced by the “reverse board” process suggested by our new friends at Vinyl Record Guru who were fantastic in guiding us through the entire production process.
Tidbits Learned Along the Way
This was a good learning project for us and even if it wasn’t all practical learning, we certainly picked up a few tidbits of vinyl trivia. For example — there are no vinyl pressing plants in Canada anymore. The last one closed down in early 2008. Now everything is handled out of a few locations in the US or Europe.
We also learned that vinyl sales roughly doubled in 2008 over 2007 (1.88 million vs 990,000 units) in Canada whereas CD sales slid a further 20%. Although still a niche market, that tidbit validated the band’s decision to produce the record on vinyl only.
Where Can I Get One?
Limited to a mere 300 copies, you can pick up one direct from the band at ournameisgeorge.com for the low, low price of $20 + shipping. Each copy will be individually numbered and will include a special code that can be used to download a digital version of the record in lossless AAC format. Sorry — no MP3s, but anyone who purchases a copy will of course be free to convert the AAC files to MP3 or any other audio format they want.
So, what are you waiting for — get ‘em while they’re hot!
Regularly scheduled publishing will return here sometime soon (there’s a lot to catch up on when that does happen), but until then, enjoy some new tunes courtesy of the first, as-yet unfinished mixes from the band kinda-sorta formerly known as The Darns, now going under the moniker “George”.
We spent two days at Sleepytown Sound in the east-end of Toronto this past weekend to begin recording an EP which will eventually be released in some form or another, possibly a limited run of vinyl.
It’s been nearly a month since I put together the last mix tape and a new tape felt like a good way to start the year off; this time under the guise of celebrating music and/or artists from my home and native land. Yup, this one’s all Canada.
These tracks comprise, for me, either quintessential Canadian artists or in maybe one case, that artist’s quintessential song - the one they may be most well-known for. In a few cases, I just picked oddball songs that I happen to really like. Bear in mind it’s not intended to be the essential Canadian artists or songs, but rather just some that speak to me for various reasons.
Far Too Canadian - Spirit of the West. What some might describe as a typical Canadian conscience.
Of Montreal - The Stills. While I have no idea whether this song really has anything to do with the city of Montreal or not, it does have a great rhythm and even after a few years this track still sounds fresh to me.
Tournament of Hearts - The Weakerthans. What can possibly be more Canadian than a band from Winnipeg and a song about curling?
Bass Song - Hayden. A slightly twisted story about being murdered while recording a song.
Seventeen Seconds - Cowboy Junkies. Although outside of the country, the Junkies are probably best known for their version of “Sweet Jane”, this has got them covering The Cure; and a really old Cure track at that.
Execution Day (Live) - The New Pornographers. Dan Bejar. Neko Case. Live. The counterpoint melodies between Neko, Dan and Carl that start about halfway through this track are killer.
Fifty Mission Cap - The Tragically Hip. A song about our national sport — hockey, Bill Barilko, the Leafs and the Stanley Cup. Pure Canadiana.
Metaphor - The Pursuit of Happiness. Singer Moe Berg and TPOH are a true Canadian classic. An older incarnation of the guys I write and play music with opened for them back in the mid-to-late nineties which was a real treat and a lot of fun.
10th Grade Love - Treble Charger. Treble Charger, a band that started out with a true DIY indie spirit sadly slowly faded away but left us with a few real gems like this track which brings me back to my university days in the early 90’s.
Silver Road - Sarah Harmer with The Tragically Hip. The better version of this particular track, featuring The Hip as her backing band. This song fits in beautifully with the movie and soundtrack from which this version came.
The Tigers Have Spoken - Neko Case. Recorded in Toronto at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern with the Sadies. Oh, to have been there for this show…
The Tower of Learning - Rufus Wainwright. A favourite track featuring one of my favourite melodies. It’s big, full of pomp and just plain gorgeous.
The tape, as with the previous one has been assembled as a bookmarkable m4a file with chapter tracks (and album art) making it easy to jump between songs.
The idea of mixed tapes seem to be all the rage again among a number of my interwebfriends, so in the spirit of the season and because I remember how much fun I used to have making them years ago, I’m tossing my hat into the mix tape ring too.
Although this one doesn’t really have an obvious theme throughout aside from being songs and artists that I enjoy, I do have a second one lined up (if there’s sufficient interest) which does have a stronger musical thread throughout. But enough yammering… here’s what’s on the (virtual) tape.
You Remind me of Home - Ben Gibbard. A simple, catchy acoustic tune from a split album he did with Andrew Kenny of the American Analog Set. I love the guitar lick throughout the last bit of the song.
Please Read the Letter - Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. A track from the unexpected and surprisingly well matched duo. One of my favourite albums from this past year.
Virtute the cat Explains her Departure - The Weakerthans. Quite possibly the best and most poetic Canadian band to come out of Winnipeg. This song is both funny and yet incredibly sad. To fully appreciate it you also need to hear “Plea from a cat name Virtute” from their previous album called “Reconstruction Site”.
Midnight Coward - Stars. Gotta make sure Montreal is representing! One of my fave tracks from their latest and possibly best album.
White Lightning - Danny Michel. Probably not known outside of Canada, but Danny’s a phenomenal songwriter, inventive guitar player and captivating to watch perform. And he did an entire album of David Bowie covers which is really cool.
Debaser - Rogue Wave. Go indie rock! This is a great take on one of the more well known Pixies tracks and has a great groove and really cool drum parts and multiple harmonies happening throughout.
Rise Up - Glen Phillips. Performed live with his Mutual Admiration Society partners otherwise known as Nickel Creek. You likely know Glen not from his great solo work, but from his past work as the lead singer in Toad the Wet Sprocket.
Johnny Rouke - Elliott Brood. Yet another Canuck export. Guitarist Casey used to work with a few friends of mine and even helped out as guitar tech at a few [Darns][thedarns] shows. A great live act if you ever get a chance to see them. It’s not often you see a drummer who uses an old suitcase for a bass drum.
Second Chance - Liam Finn. Son of Neil (of Crowded House). He looks and sounds remarkably like his father and clearly has many of the same songwriting sensibilities so he’ll definitely be someone to watch over the next few years.
Drunk Teenagers - Joel Plaskett. Ok, one more Canadian. This song has rawk written all over it.
Shadow Falls - Hello, Blue Roses. Otherwise known as a Dan Bejar (he, of Destroyer and The New Pornographers) collaboration, but something a little different. Based on this, I’m looking forward to hearing the rest of the album when it’s released.
The Thief - Jeremy Larson. I don’t really know anything about this guy other than I came across this track ages ago and really loved the production.
If I Live or If I Die - Cuff The Duke. I don’t really know where these guys would fall categorically (maybe a little country, some rock, a bit bluesy), but it doesn’t matter because they’re just plain good. Great counterpoint melodies happening in this particular track.
Oh, and I even included some artwork to go along with it. Nothing fancy, but better than nothing!
Last week after a bit of a slow patch, a stint of writers block perhaps, The Darns decided to call it a day. Yep, the band is no more; well, sort of.
You can still buy all 3 releases from the band on iTunes or can order a physical CD copy of the band’s last full release, “What It All Turns Into” from thedarns.com. We sold more than enough to cover manufacturing and marketing expenses so, for the foreseeable future they’ll be on sale at a discounted price for anyone that wants one.
SXSW attendees can request one in the comments and I’ll bring some along with me next month.
Now, back to the earlier sort of comment. Ed, Kevin, Tom and I are continuing on as a unit but shifting musical gears. We’re simplifying and refocusing. It may be 4 of 5 members, but it will not be the same band. It’s a fresh start.
Although we’re debating what to do about a singer long-term, Ed has currently taken up the challenge while we focus on the task of songwriting. Starting fresh means leaving behind years of material, but that, ultimately will be a good thing for us.