Emm Gryner

Emm Gryner
Multitasking is Emm Gryner’s middle name. The busy musician isn’t just a singer and songwriter, she also heads up her own label, Dead Daisy Records (home to such acts as Andrew Spice, Royal Wood, and In-Flight Safety), and produces her own records in her home studio in St. Mary’s, Ontario. So it should probably come as no surprise that she’s at ease playing three different instruments — piano, guitar, and bass — both onstage and on record.

"Piano is a bit of a safe haven for me,” says Gryner, who plays a Yamaha P-90 digital piano. "Bass is also fun to play because you’re completing the sonic picture with that low end,” she adds, acknowledging that it’s unusual for singer-songwriter types to pick up the bass. But given that Gryner grew up near Sarnia with two older brothers who listened to hard rock, it begins to make sense. "I like that people would miss you if you dropped out, but you’re not on your knees soloing in the spotlight like some nimrod. Though, get me some knee pads and a six-string bass, and I might go that route now that I’m in my limber 30s looking to make it into the pages of Bass Player,” she quips, noting her affection for her vintage basses, a 1966 Hagstrom I and a 1975 Fender Musicmaster.

Gryner also strums Seagull acoustic guitars, and all her many instrumental talents are well showcased on her new album, The Summer of High Hopes, which nicely brings together her trademark piano ballads and more upbeat, infectious guitar-pop anthems. The album’s songs were recorded over the past three years
both at home in Gryner’s studio and also in Sweden with producer Nathan Larson (Shudder to Think).

A firm believer in the do-it-yourself ethic, Gryner has made most of her albums almost single-handedly since leaving a major-label deal behind in the late ’90s. Though she studied recording in college, she admits to not really having paid attention in class and so has built up her home studio and recording techniques through trial and error. Her small studio, in the basement of her cottage-style home, centres around a Yamaha AW16G digital workstation and Apple iBook.

"Recording at home is cheap and comfortable, there’s an endless supply of food, and your bed is never too far away. The disadvantages are that everything — from the outside noise of trucks driving by to the telephone ringing inside — bleeds into the microphones. Oh, and did I mention that the bed is never far away?”
Switching gears from simply playing her instruments to also recording them when she dons her producer’s hat comes easy, Gryner says — it’s recording her own voice that’s a bit trickier.

"I get better every year at recording vocals, but it’s still my one big challenge,” Gryner explains. "Technically, it’s fine, but just learning to sing without reserve is something I’m slowly trying to rid myself of. I was so shy growing up that I never sang at home. Any recording I did at home was whispery and under the radar. So slowly over the years, I’m learning to be loud and brave and do what those Hallmark journals encourage you to do: Sing like there’s no one listening!

"Recording instruments I find to be no problem — I just started recording drums and I realised you only need a few mics here and there to make it sound good. God forbid you start mic-ing every nut and bolt.

"Playing and recording solo often means that you have to be your own worst critic, but that doesn’t mean you have to do a million takes or load up on the latest equipment to make a good record. I’m still looking to learn how to truly capture a performance while recording, instead of getting caught up in the technical aspect of it. There’s too much emphasis on gear these days. My gear list is small and I always try to tell people that you don’t need loads of gear to make a record, just a way to record tracks well and be able to work with them later.

"Even if I record on a digital multi-track, I still like to press the ol’ Play and Record, see a real red light, and take in my surroundings — Christmas lights and musical instruments and all my nostalgic junk — instead of waveforms and coloured bars and numbers flying by. I also buy into the notion that having limitations helps you focus on making something intimate and personal, and right now I can’t get enough of that. Maybe next album I’ll record on a wax cylinder with my body encased in plaster. Someone did say I’m into self-torture. But just watch, that’ll be the record to sweep the Junos!”