Published Nov 10, 2014Until recently, Jenn Grant and her husband, award-winning producer and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Ledwell, lived in a small house in Halifax that doubled as a recording studio — that is when they weren't carting recording gear to a rented cottage (for Grant's 2011 pop album Honeymoon Punch) or his mom's place in PEI (for her 2012's ECMA-winning The Beautiful Wild).
"Our bedroom was a recording studio; our living room was a recording studio; every room was constantly in flux," says Grant. "When Danny would make a project, I would be in the house with him; I would hear every moment of the record being made. That's why I wrote all the songs for The Beautiful Wild in ten days — because I couldn't write with all the other music happening at the same time."
That all changed when the couple, who married in 2011, bought a property in Lake Echo, a 25-minute drive east of Halifax. They moved in 2012, and last summer, with the help of Ledwell's former In-Flight Safety bandmate Brad Goodsell and Grant's drummer, Michael Belyea, built Echo Lake — a dedicated studio space.
"We all wanted to be musicians and half ended up carpenters and half ended up musicians," says Ledwell. "When I first moved to Halifax, I worked with Brad building decks and painting houses; I started producing albums a couple years after that and he went in the carpentry direction."
Echo Lake sits in the woods facing the lake, a little bit uphill from Grant and Ledwell's house. "It echoes the shape of our house, because our house was built in 1973 and it's got this chalet-style vibe; it's wooden and angled with lots of long windows so you can see the trees and the lake," says Grant.
Grant's new psychedelic-folk-inspired fifth album, Compostela, was Echo Lake's first project. "It was exactly a year ago," says Ledwell. "The first thing we did in the studio was rehearsals for Jenn's fall tour. The power wasn't even turned on in September — it took Power Nova Scotia two months to connect one cable."
Written over the course of a month in an old trailer parked on the property, Compostela came out of a period of grieving for Grant — her mother passed away in May 2012 from breast cancer, and she went on a journey to Spain right after. "I was listening to the classical guitar being played inside of churches," she says. "It really resonated with me and I wanted to create something beautiful like that."
In addition to Grant's new record, Ledwell — who won producer of the year last year at the ECMAs, and from Music Nova Scotia and The Coast's readers poll — has been busy this past year with other projects, including new albums by Gianna Lauren, Gabrielle Papillon and a band from Newfoundland called Fortunate Ones; a song on the new Rich Aucoin album; mixing Quiet Parade; and scoring a film called KHOYA.
"I have a lot of repeat offenders," says Ledwell, who is mostly self-taught. After people heard his 2008 solo EP Two Over Seven, recorded on an old Toshiba laptop handed down by the couple's close friend Rose Cousins, they started asking him to produce for them. He credits In-Flight Safety producer and engineer Laurence Currie with mentoring him on sound engineering during the recording of 2009's We Are An Empire My Dear at an old schoolhouse in Fox River.
Now running Cubase on an iMac, Ledwell says he's "not a gear head" — he's been using mostly $100 pieces of gear found on Kijiji — yet he has a healthy (and growing) collection of stuff, including a pedal steel, weird toy keyboards, synths, a Nord, ten guitars and various amps (including a 1960s Fender Vibro Champ and a little Silvertone) and a recently-purchased API 3124 preamp — which might be his first piece of professional-quality gear.
"After you've made 20 or 30 records your ears start to be more attuned to fidelity things," says Ledwell. "I used to say, 'if you're interested in that polished sound, I can't do that,' but the more I do it, I would like to be able to do that but not have to do that."
"I work with [Ledwell], not because he's my husband, but because I think he's the best," says Grant. "Danny dreams of gear but we're very limited, so we've been slowly accumulating things and he has a way of making them sound good, when maybe someone else without super high-end stuff wouldn't. I think he's got some sort of special gift."