Doug Paisley Recorded Many Versions of 'Starter Home'

Photo: Yuula Benivolski

BY Sarah GreenePublished Nov 5, 2018

"I thought it was kind of a joke song or a novelty song," Doug Paisley tells Exclaim! of "Starter Home," the title track from his fourth album. "Like a lot of people who like country music and bluegrass, I'm a little bit self-conscious about liking it. If I hear a George Jones song that's extremely maudlin, to me it's just straight-forward, it's literal, but most people that aren't comfortable with that genre will laugh at it or recoil from it."
"'Starter Home' is about leading into something and then kinda looking back at it and looking at what the expectations were and what the experiences were and kind of being resigned," Paisley says. It's an appropriate starting point for an album that glances back-and-forth over decades, to alternate presents and transient tomorrows.
"It's a lot of people on the other side of things," Paisley says of Starter Home's overarching theme. In his own life, Paisley has come through the first few years of parenthood (his son was born a few weeks before 2014's Strong Feelings came out and is now in kindergarten, a process he says was almost like a second puberty), as well as a period of time where he was navigating a newly higher profile as a songwriter, and says he got caught up in, and then released himself from some "totally misguided, superficial expectations" about music.
Four years in the making, Starter Home is Paisley's first full-length since the more lavishly produced Strong Feelings, which followed 2010 fan-favourite Constant Companion. Starter Home falls somewhere between the two production-wise; recording it turned out to be a lengthy process, but the finished product sounds closer to the gorgeously austere Constant Companion.
Paisley recorded Starter Home at four different Toronto studios, two of them home studios (dobro player and leader of the Henrys Don Rooke's place, and Ken Whiteley's home studio, where he recorded half of the album). The Rooke sessions were recorded jams — they recorded between 60 and 70 songs together, including some covers. Then Paisley recorded an entire album's worth of material at the studio of Peter Moore (Cowboy Junkies), which he later scrapped before recording at Blue Rodeo's the Woodshed, then with Whiteley, and finally returning to Moore's studio to record Jennifer Castle's backup vocals.
Paisley could have released the version of the album he recorded with Peter Moore — "It was a complete album and really quite beautiful," he says — but he didn't feel like he was finished. "I think the process ended up overwhelming the product," he says. "In terms of production it was much more like Strong Feelings."
The only song to make it on the album from the Don Rooke sessions is "Drinking With a Friend," which Paisley re-recorded a few times before deciding to go with the unbeatable demo. Rooke and Chuck Erlichman, who played resonator guitar and organ on the song, were just figuring it out during the recording. "They had never heard the song or seen a chart," Paisley says. "There's something so pure about that."
So when Paisley was recording bass parts for the song with Ben Whiteley and Bazil Donovan, who both play bass on it, he told them, "try not to come in as though you know the song, because the rest of the band doesn't at this point."
Starter Home is out now on No Quarter.

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