It’s time to take a moment and reflect on what a year it has been. 2017 saw some major changes in my life, mainly the recording of a brand-new solo album (with many people contributing their talents, it wasn’t entirely “solo”), Songs of Serenity(you can buy it here!). We’ve played a bunch of shows to support the new record, and had some great times, especially at the CD release party at LanaLou’s – a celebration we will be repeating in a couple of months for the official release of the 12″ vinyl record (with bonus track! so excited!)
I owe so much to my awesome collaborators: above all, my bandmates Derek Macdonald on keyboards and vocals, Eric Lefebvre on bass and vocals, Adrian Buckley on drums, vocals and mixing. Beyond the band, we have to thank Matt DiPomponio, who recorded everything out at Echoplant Studios; Steven Drake, who mixed the lead single Say I Do, which featured some blazing steel guitar work from him as well; Graham Myrfield who added his backup vocals to many of the songs in one long and memorable studio day; Scott Fletcher who helped out with some additional recording, as well as laying down a great slide part for the song Trigger; and Meghan Engel for her sweet fiddle part on Todays – one day, we’ll meet in person!
And it doesn’t end with just the musical creation, I had an incredible group of people contributing their particular talents to every aspect of this project. Where would I be without Brandy, who helped in a million ways, primarily creating this website and our smooth-running business operation; the fabulous Wendy D who took all the pictures and helped us create a visual look to go along with the sounds; and Exploding Haggis, who designed the album and helped define the overall look of everything with his keen eye for colours, fonts, etc.
Which brings us to Robert Riendeau, who truly makes visual what our ears receive as music, a longtime collaborator who I love working with for his unique vision – which always comes entirely from the song as he hears it. Robert and I went to Las Vegas for the first video that launched all this (Say I Do), but the latest one he put his cinemagical touch to was shot a lot closer to home. It was shot AT home, my home, true to the central message of the song Serenity.
So, I would like to close out this amazing and fruitful year with this little video that comes from the heart and sums up what making music means to me. I hope you all enjoy it! From our home straight to yours, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year! 2018 will bring much more, and I can’t wait (I’ll get back to you later!)
There have been some serious delays putting together the vinyl edition of Songs of Serenity – something I’ve been looking forward to so long, I feel like a kid tortured by a big wrapped present under the tree long before Christmas. Originally, I planned to have this ready for that magical date, but now it is going to be into the new year before the 12″ vinyl record is delivered.
Naturally, we will do another release show here in Vancouver when we have confirmed dates, likely in early February.
Meanwhile, we’ve been slowly spreading the word to promote the album online beyond the old hometown, hoping to break through the avalanche of music constantly streaming out there in the wide world. Touring is not in the cards right now for a number of reasons, so it’s all good old-fashioned hustle. That’s the hard part of this whole independent enterprise, taking care of the business when all I really want to do is play and record music.
With that never-dying urge pressing us on, we are headed back into the studio TOMORROW to start work on what will eventually be the follow up album, coming later in 2018. We have 10 songs ready to go, and are excited to get back in Echoplant with Matt DiPomponio for two full days of recording.
But not to get ahead of ourselves, we still need to give Songs of Serenity its best chance of being heard (TCOB). We have one more local show coming up to cap off this amazing year of 2017 — Dec 30th at the Fairview Pub with Danny Echo and the Shittalkers. If you’ve missed our other shows, this is your chance to see what this band can bring live (hint: I’ve got some great players on board!). Come and ring out the old year with us and some awesome local musical friends!
Watch this space for an announcement of the vinyl pre-order and album release show!
Vancouver’s largest daily newspaper, the Vancouver Sun has just published their review of Songs of Serenity, by one of the city’s foremost music writers, Stuart Derdeyn.
Singling out the album’s “really tasty vocal harmonies,” the review offers up adjectives like “catchy” and “hooky” to describe the songs, as well as one which could apply to the whole project and persona of this particular singer-songwriter: “easygoing.” Yup. I’ll take that as a compliment!
We are thrilled to get our first major review on the books! It is certainly easier to get the word out to more publications, blogs and music reviewers once that seal is broken. So thanks to the Sun and Stuart for writing about this new Vancouver band composed of four veterans of the local music scene. That kind of local support is crucial if you hope to reach a wider audience at the national or international level.
Again, you can read the full review here. And if you haven’t got the album for yourself yet, you are almost there! Just head to the shop on this very site to instantly get your digital download or order a CD to be shipped to you (while supplies last, all CDs ordered through the website will be signed copies from the initial run). If you are a vinyl aficionado, a proper 12″ record is definitely on the way as soon as a few details are sorted (including a brand-new bonus track). Stay tuned for news on pre-ordering that and another special event vinyl release show in January.
We’ll leave you with this video clip for one of the songs mentioned in Stuart’s review, as a bit of a departure from the rest of the album’s more personal tone, “gunsun.” Don’t be fooled by the fakeout at the beginning! It’s a bit of a cheeky video for an admittedly simplistic song on a serious subject.
After completing Songs of Serenity, publishing the book I put together to go with it, and playing the big show on my birthday, I’ve gone through some deflation in energy, perhaps inevitably. You build up to something so long and when it’s finally done and out there, you’re not only drained, but in my case, a little unsure of what to do next (other than record another album – which is going to happen very quickly).
I know what I did right after the show, which is coming up below, but after this quick trip to Vegas I let the foot off the gas, and lost some momentum when I should’ve been pushing and promoting this album with all my energy and enthusiasm. By month’s end I was finally ready to update with some pics and stories from that trip when suddenly October 1st hit and the city I’ve felt a growing connection to was in tatters, innocence shattered, a nation and world mourning — again.
In the immediate aftermath of that tragedy I didn’t feel my tribute to Vegas and its status as wedding destination was appropriate or timely. I shut down a little, lost my will to promote, and went through a period of depression that I’ve dealt with by jumping ahead to work on songs for my next album. But now it is time to pick up the threads of this musical journey again and return to the city of Las Vegas in sunny September when all was golden.
The main reason I wanted to return here was to revisit the location of my video for Say I Do, shot by Robert Riendeau in a whirlwind 24 hours in early 2017. I was already there (thanks to a reward trip for my team at Got Junk), so decided to fly him down and take advantage of being in the World’s Wedding Capital. My first challenge was getting a guitar to film with, as I wasn’t flying one of my precious babies down just for this. Renting one proved difficult so I ended up walking into the fabled Cowtown Guitars hoping to find something cheap that looked cool enough. Lucky me, they had one for $200 that fit the bill.
Robert and I shot some street scenes walking around with that guitar, but our plan to capture all the craziness of the strip at night fizzled and we ended up getting a lot more footage of me playing in the hotel room, an introspective mood suggesting a musician on the road, missing the love of his life. But early the next day we headed up the strip to the wedding chapels to at least get some footage in front of one. That turned out better than hoped as we immediately found the Little Vegas Chapel who were thrilled to have us shooting there as long as we gave them credit (here it is: they’re GREAT!)
After we’d filmed as long as we could, and had to get to the airport, I realized I didn’t want to spend extra money just to fly or ship another guitar I didn’t really need. I asked the Chapel if they wanted to keep it and they were thrilled with that too, as long as I signed it – see how great they are? So everything worked out perfectly, we got a video out of it, the Little Vegas Chapel got a little PR and a memento to display with all their Elvis photos and records.
Walking back in with Brandy, who had never been to the city, felt like a homecoming. The chapel owner Mike was in full Elvis mode and welcomed us with open arms. I gave him a copy of the finished CD, and played the guitar again (it looks better than it sounds, folks!). I was eager to finish signing it, as I’d realized after leaving I should’ve added the words “Say I Do!” to mark the connection more clearly (and of course, promote the song).
After signing it up, jamming and posing with the guitar and Elvis, the nice folks at the chapel offered to take a set of photos of us as newlyweds (though we are neither ‘new’ nor ‘wed’).
This is something you can do there if you’re already married: they renew vows, and also take pretend wedding photos for those who want to freak someone out back home!
I won’t pretend we really got married there, because to my mind we already are; 11 years in, we’re as in love as ever, and enjoying growing old together. But the photos were a fun way to wrap up our visit (see a gallery with more here), the folks at this chapel are lifelong friends, and all of this will form great memories we look back on fondly in years to come – not to mention a little backstory to this video:
After some local airplay of a couple of songs (“Say I Do” and “gunsun” were both spun on CFRO’s Radio Bandcouver by tireless champion of indie music, Mark Bignell), today marked the international radio debut of the new album, Songs of Serenity! (You can still buy the album here – head on over and throw down a few bucks, why don’tcha!)
Big thanks to DJ Michael McCartney, a fixture of the Maui radio scene and host (along with Tanya Teal and Summer Blue) of the long-running Time Machine Radio Show heard all over the island and beyond. In a broadcast mainly dedicated to the recently departed — and dearly missed — Tom Petty, they gave us a double spin! After all those Petty songs, and right before two new ones from Lisa Loeb, they played two songs from our album as well: “Onboard” and the lead-off single, “Say I Do“.
It was certainly a thrill to hear a couple of my own songs sandwiched in with those of the great Tom Petty’s, and other notable acts like Lisa Loeb, Queen, and Vince Gill. I almost got even more of a thrill imagining my music wafting out across one of my favorite places in the world, Maui — especially Lahaina town on the west coast, where Brandy and I have spent some memorable times.
The livestream was only live for so long of course (three hours) but I did record a bit of the broadcast on my phone, just for posterity. So, here’s a clip covering the end of “Onboard” with Michael’s sonorous radio voice breaking in at about :45 to talk about the album a bit before spinning “Say I Do”
It was a long slow build-up to this date – my birthday as it happened! – but the show we booked to release the brand-new album Songs of Serenity went by in a flash so that I can already barely remember all of it. That’s what momentous occasions are like, they’re so huge in the moment you can’t really take it all in.
Good thing for pictures!
Great thing to know someone like Wendy D, who snapped all through the big occasion (go here for a gallery of some of the best shots summing up the whole night). I want to thank everyone who came out, especially my sister Rae, who drove all the way from Williams Lake (that’s in theCariboo, folks!) after work, to make it there just in time for the show. That’s pretty amazing, and was surely a birthday surprise for me.
Wendy also did all the photography on the album itself (available here!)
We had Gold Stars Are For Suckers open the night (great band, check them out if you haven’t been fortunate enough to see them before), and my good friend and comedian extraordinaire Ben Mills hosted and gave us a great intro. We returned the favor by serenading him with his own song – “What Would Ben Mills Do”, which isn’t on the album we just unleashed on CD and digital but WILL be the bonus track on the vinyl record (coming soon).
All in all, we had just an amazing night, Ben Mills working the crowd, Gold Stars more than warming them up, a super-fun set for me, Derek, Adrian, and Eric playing the whole album, and there was even cake after all that! It was a busy Friday night in Vancouver all around so quite a few people who wanted to attend had other things going on – that’s the challenge hosting a show on the last nice weekend in the city. But the good news is there will be more, and in fact a whole other release party for the real treat – my very first actual record, in the format of my early youth, 12″ vinyl, baby!
So, do yourself a favor and pick up this album (did I mention?BUY HERE!) and we would absolutely love to see you out at our next show. Because music really comes to life when it is played live – that’s why we call it that!
The finale to Songs of Serenity returns us to the key of A (the key in which “Say I Do” kicked everything off), and also to the realm of the pure love song. Sequencing the album I saw that it had to be ordered this way, bookended by these two love songs, embracing “Cariboo” and “Trigger,” both in the key of C from poems of my father’s – it makes the whole album a circular journey returning to where it started.
The photo that goes with this song is full of circles too (many of the pieces on that table: glasses, watch, ring, buttons), but the main one showing in both this and the shot for “Say I Do,” which it closely recalls, is my father’s wedding ring. It is hanging on one wing of a ceramic owl owned by my mother (who collected owls, wise woman that she was) while the other wing is broken (ceramic: so fragile!). That broken-winged owl stands for my mother, and if you like to think of it that way, represents her in Heaven. My father joined her there 13 months later, the longest separation of their 55-year marriage, and it’s hard not to imagine him joyfully rejoining the love of his life.
The oldest song on the album, I’ve had this kicking around for over 22 years now, occasionally bringing it back in to some project (over the years I’ve worked on it with both Todd Fancey and Jamie from the Orchid Highway), though it never broke through to be recorded. Maybe partly because I really wanted it to be done right – it’s a lush, complex arrangement that demands a lot of attention and work to realize.
The origin of “Above” was an interesting image related to me by a friend I went to UBC with, who was dating my roommate at the time. It was early in their relationship, still pretty casual, and she felt more serious about it than he did so she was trying to basically get him to the same place. One night she told me that after he’d fallen asleep she would lean in close to his ear and whisper “I love you” to sort of implant the emotion, let it sink in subconsciously. I absolutely loved that idea, and felt the image was a powerful one for a love song.
I already had the simple two-chord progression that makes up the chorus, and I can’t recall if I even had the lines “Oh God, I’m in heaven above / Heaven, I’m in love” – quite possibly I did; if so I realized it would be the perfect starting point for this new song. The verse starts in the same key as the chorus, moving on to a G and D, and all the words are from what I heard that night: whispering in a lover’s ear, wondering if it’s getting through, imagining the effect. My favorite moment is the line “Saying I love you just above / Sub-con-scious-ly…” which breaks the song into new territory, drifting off to a dream section where the sleeper seems to be subconsciously “picking it up”. We can never turn our ears off, even asleep they are constantly picking up sounds.
The imagery is simple: one lover above, awake, actively whispering words into the passive partner’s sleeping ear below – both in physical space, and in the sense of consciousness (subconscious). Thus the singer of the chorus is the waking lover, above, almost like being in heaven, which is how we have so often expressed the idea of being in love (see: “When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek”).
Having this song around for so long, I had to let go of some preconceptions about how it would sound, as much as I tenaciously clung to the overall vision for it. As with every other song on this album, once we got the band working on it, everything sounded better, they truly brought it to life. Adrian’s drums are exactly right; Eric finds a defining bassline that carries throughout and ties it all together. And Derek again came up with some hauntingly beautiful melody lines on the keyboard that added a totally new fresh feel to this song I’ve known for half my life. I played 12-string electric to start the piece off, quickly bringing in acoustic (my Gibson Hummingbird, natch – which appears on every song here except the first, “Say I Do”).
The band did a particularly good job of executing my vision for a dream section in the middle, with only vague directions from me to make it somehow dreamy or ethereal. Adrian backs right off and adds tasteful hits, and Derek finds the crazy keyboard/synth sounds I knew he would to bring out this part. It all pays off when that section comes to an end and the whole band transitions smoothly, inevitably, back to the waking world with that final chorus. For the ending, the band plays on, starting to fade out while a late guitar part I wrote only a few years back fades in to take over. Over this (or under, as it’s the lowest note I’ve ever sung on record!) I sing the simple refrain of “Heav-en.”
The most complex arrangement though is in the vocals, which help give different feelings to the various sections of the song. I kept coming up with new parts that I couldn’t resist adding to the mix. Due to time limitations and the fact that I had all these parts floating around in my own head, I sang most of them. But Derek and Adrian add a couple parts, and the beautiful thick choral harmonies underpinning the chorus are again all four of us around one microphone in the live room at Echoplant B doing what we love to do most of all in this world. Real people making real music together.
Sometimes it’s the instrument itself that can spark a song. I had bought a hundred-year-old Mexican folk guitar – El Kabong, as it became known – which I used to get just the right sound on “Serenity” (see my entry for that song). This tune came out solely because I was picking around on the guitar and found a nice pattern that sounded great with its unique tones. Nothing special about the progression, a simple A-minor into C, down to G and back to A-minor, but the sound of clean picking and swept arpeggios on those tuned-down aging steel strings definitely stood out to me. I worked out a couple of variations and between them had virtually everything the song was going to end up needing.
Those two sections added up to a decent verse, and repeating them three times basically made up a song, if a little short on variety. When I had that main part down on tape (well, not really tape, but you know), I played along with El Kabong and came up with an even simpler counterpoint, a two-note picked pattern following the chords but offsetting the main guitar phrases. Honestly, I really like the sound this guitar has especially when you put those two parts together, bouncing off each other, so comfortingly repetitive, almost hypnotic.
I’m not sure what sparked the first lines, “All that passes / Is not unmade,” but I sang into the spaces around the picking and those words popped out. We can speculate that George Harrison’s epic breakout solo album, All Things Must Pass had an influence, though I never consciously thought of it. The words that followed came fairly quickly and all sink right into the song’s reflective feel – it’s another repetitive piece where the variation comes in more subtle forms. That first verse culminated in the lines that would form a refrain (closest thing to a chorus, of which there really isn’t one), “Long ago / Right up till today / More than you know / The way has been paved.”
The rest of the song fell into place around this concept. The core truth I was exploring is that we live at the apex of human history, and everything around us, everything that makes up our modern life is the cumulative result of many many people blazing trails long ago, paving the way for what we have now. People often forget just how much they owe to their ancestors, to everyone who came before: not just the roads and infrastructure and inventions, but the very thoughts, ideas, and language we take for granted were painfully built up at great cost over huge stretches of time.
This idea leads to a certain humility and gratitude for pioneers past, but also can be a comfort or reminder that older generations live on, nothing is ever completely “unmade,” but extends out through time like a ripple through water. As Faulkner said, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” The still life shots of all my mementoes and photographs bring this concept to the fore, and help keep the past in front of me as I go through life. Where would I be without these immediate ancestors whose continuing story set the stage for, if not led me to where I am now? My grandmother left Yorkshire and my grandfather left the US to move to western Canada; he fought in a war that changed the world; they pioneered a land that provided for my family, who provided for me, so fortunate to be born into a plentiful and nurturing environment. We are all standing on the shoulders of giants.
My father’s watch was not an expensive one, but all our time is worth the same – priceless – and he at least lived a good long life. He passed away in 2016 at the age of 81, and it was hard losing the father I loved so much, who had such an impact on who I am, but I recognize that is the natural order of life. This song is about someone taken well before their time, and the tragedy of parents having to outlive a child. The blurred photos on the upper left of this shot are of dad’s dad Hugh Henry Perry, who knew loss very well, two children taken at 5 and 9 in accidents, and a couple more stillborn – the hard life on the frontier. And he was a tough old man by all accounts (my uncles used stronger words than this to describe him!), who probably took everything in stride and got on with what had to be done.
Still you have to wonder how he felt about these deaths, how it affected him in ways he likely wouldn’t admit or couldn’t see. Even my grandmother seemed a very stoic hardened frontier woman (though she was absolutely lovely in her later years when I knew her, she was still very direct and not afraid to call it like she saw it), so I don’t know exactly how she took these tragedies at the time. Of course it must’ve broken her heart but such things just weren’t spoken of. The family in this song does not take it well, as I know many do not. The premature death of your offspring would cause strain on any relationship I think, but must really have a terrible effect on any existing strains a couple might already be experiencing.
“All Seas” started with that opening riff played on guitar, and I needed to sing something over it to start to build a verse or something. A phrase came to me, “I broke it to her,” and I thought what comes after that, deciding on “…could it ever be gently?” as a play on the common phrase (and getting a little nod in to Burton Cummings). But they were really just random words that sounded good, without any plan or idea whatsoever. I had to go from there, and imagination took over, painting a picture of a couple getting the worst news possible and going through that process.
Empathy is important, it’s how we truly connect as human beings, that ability to see things from another person’s perspective, walk in their shoes, understand what about them is different from ourselves, and what is the same (much more, usually, the more you look). So this was an exercise in empathy for me, fully giving in to the situation and pouring out what I felt I would feel if it happened to me. I have to admit I was conscious while writing this of not having experienced any major loss in my life, let alone the horrific one of losing a son or daughter.
Days after I wrote this song, generously extending my empathy to all those who’ve gone through such tragic loss, I learned my mother had cancer. It’s tempting to think things happen to you for reasons, or that what I was doing somehow affected the world outside me and led to my first major loss (as my mother died a year later in May 2015, followed by dad in June 2016), but I resisted those thoughts. Despite the awful coincidence, I never cursed my imagination for stirring up the darkness.
A quick note on the title phrase: I have no idea what it means. It popped out as these words that made that melody work, and I know I was generally going for the feeling of being trapped, or lost (like “at sea”), but I recognized it’s not an existing phrase or saying. I even tried to change it (“high seas”? “and at sea”?) but nothing worked except what I originally sang, so it stands as is. Maybe the uncertainty of its meaning even suggests the life-shattering confusion such a death brings.
When Brandy and I bought our home – which if you didn’t know floats on the Pacific Ocean over here at the edge of North America – we immediately named it Serenity. There are a few reasons for this, or maybe I should say, a few connotations to the word that made it the perfect choice for us. I’ll give the best one first, and yes, it is an homage to our favorite tragically-cut-short TV show of all time: Joss Whedon’s cult hit, Firefly. The ship in that show (as well as the movie that followed) is named Serenity, and it’s more than just a spaceship, it’s a home for the series’ nine characters (or as Whedon put it, Serenity IS the tenth character in the story). We were buying our first home, so this was the perfect name for it. The picture shows a prop engine sticker from the show, with detailed fictional manufacturer’s specs for the Firefly Serenity (note the “J. Whedon Proprietor”).
The next reference is equally nerdy, yet still relating to the theme of home: in Sailor Moon, the title character really turns out to be Princess Serenity, the name she had in her true home on the moon. Then there is the famous shouted phrase of George’s dad in Seinfeld, “Serenity Now!” which we at least acknowledged as a funny coincidence. Less a factor in our naming decision, but I’d be remiss not to mention as it is even more well known, is the Serenity Prayer (“grant me the serenity to accept…” etc.). But all of those references together still don’t stack up to the real reason this name applies to our home: it is truly serene here, floating just off the shore on our little corner of the Pacific. Serene; tranquil; peaceful (which is exactly what “pacific” means).
After a stressful day at work, I would completely lose myself floating serenely on our back deck, facing away from the city, and just let the whole day wash off me (the source of “strips the whole world bare”). Times like that nothing could get through to me, and I might find myself thinking to the world at large: “I’ll get back to you later.” For now, I’m in my happy place, and you’ll just have to get along without me. That became the general tone and theme of Serenity. Specifically the final verse is all about our home on the water, where the word is brought in (“Serenity erasing all our cares”) that named our house, this song, and indeed the whole album, Songs of Serenity. The lyrics trace back from there to other general situations where the phrase “I’ll get back to you” could apply, like the third verse about my original home in Quesnel, musing about all the friends you mean to stay in touch with, “though time flows on.” Even the image of spawning salmon swimming back upriver to their birthplace played a role here too, though thankfully I won’t expire if I go back there!
Interestingly the song didn’t come about sitting on that back floating deck, or in a dream like others of mine, but just suddenly popped into my head late one night as I was getting ready for bed. I heard it as a sort of droning refrain with a didgeridoo going through it all, which morphed into the words of the chorus. Those words occur over and over, but in an ever-shortening refrain…
I’ll get back to you later
I’ll get back to you
I’ll get back
…as the feeling of serenity “strips the whole world bare.”