Published Sep 19, 2007Old Reliable entertain with their gritty party brand of country rock. Mark Davis tells us dramatic tales of fiction and personal experience via his double-disc release. And Shuyler Jansen? What sort of country crooning can we expect from his current solo work? From Jansens latest album, Todays Remains, its clear that yet another facet of country music is being explored in all its gritty, teary nostalgia. Jansens astute and seasoned sound props up the entire album, specifically through the wall-of-sound effect thats created by repetitive harmonies and proud instrumentals. "Todays Remains and "Windswept are sophisticated, crisp and incisive, and couldnt be performed in a nobler manner, while "Pegasus is the records most prized accomplishment, epitomising Jansens storytelling skills within the tracks tragic lyrics. If you can picture Shuyler Jansen dressed in a suit and tie, a beaten banjo in one hand and his lifes dreams in another, transfer that into notes and chords and youve got Todays Remains. This is a record that lives up to, and possibly surpasses, the previous discs released by Old Reliable, et al., although we should probably admit that Todays Remains isnt the last well see of this prairie quintet.
Why did you record the album in the first place?
Id been talking to Steve Dawson about doing a follow-up to Hobotron for more than a year. I wouldve liked to have put out a record quicker than I did there were a couple of years between the two but it was scheduling and having enough good songs to make it that held me back.
Mark Davis just released two CDs and now youve released a record. Are solo projects something the Old Reliable crew are aiming towards now rather than group projects?
Yeah, I think Old Reliable will always be making records but I doubt well be much of a touring band. Im sort of focused on my solo career as a full-time gig, and then were going to try to get together every couple of years and make a record, because were still good friends and like making music. Its the touring logistics of Old Reliable that are more complicated, considering everybodys involved in a bunch of other musical projects, jobs, journalism and all that kind of stuff.
One of the things I noticed with Todays Remains is the full-bodied instrumental accompaniment. Its almost like a wall of sound. Is this something you were consciously aiming for?
Steve Dawson produced the record, so a lot of it is his vision. This is actually one of the only records Ive worked on where I havent been in control of the whole project, and I kind of wanted it that way. The record was sort of Steves baby. We recorded it in about five or six days together, then I went back home to Saskatoon and he finished it off in Vancouver. There was no conceptualising really before we did it. We talked a bit about records and labels we liked and stuff like that but hes got a sound already established through the other 20 or 30 records hes produced.
Why did you choose to hand over the reins to Dawson?
Im a fan of the records hes produced with other people. He works with a lot of unique musicians and people who are multi-instrumentalists. We did a little tour together about ten years ago and talked about [making a record] then, but mostly it was because Im a fan of his and Im on his label, which promotes a sort of family-type atmosphere. Theyre trying to run the label the way that maybe Motown was, where youve got a house band that play on everybodys record and everything gets done from home that way. It produces great records and as long as youve got good songs, its going to work.
How might Todays Remains be a reflection of your life until now?
Some of the songs are a few years old and some are newer. I think mood-wise, it might have some consistency there, but I dont know if the songs really reflect the past five or six years. Its not really about personal things either sometimes I like to write stories that are made up. Typically, because youre a songwriter, people think its about your life but it isnt; its just my imagination. When you write a lot of songs, they cant all be about things in your life. I dont think my lifes that exciting anyway. I dont think Bob Dylans life was that exciting, either. But thats the job of a good songwriter: to write something that has an emotional quality to it. It doesnt really matter what its about or where it came from. It just has to be about something thats real.
Near the end of "Pegasus, the lyrics talk about a girl placing all her money on a horse. What sort of significance do these lyrics hold for you?
Oh, I dont know! That song is one of those classic story songs. Im a fan of listening to songs that are like that by Guy Clark, Steve Earle, Bob Dylan and Neil Young but I dont know if "Pegasus has any significance for me. It does for the girl, though. In the song, she gets to the point where shes sort of giving up on everything and then she wins the money.
If "Pegasus is more of a story song, which songs on the album relate to your life?
Theyre all about different people and things, and there are aspects of me in those songs for sure. But I dont want to pinpoint things because songs change night after night. I might write a song that I dont relate to at all, and then a few years down the road Im playing it and I know what it means. Ive played "Pegasus over the years with Old Reliable and stuff but a lot of other songs I havent played before. I havent really gone out there and experienced them on the stage yet. (Black Hen Music)