Published Oct 01, 2006Multitasking is Emm Gryners middle name. The busy musician isnt 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. Marys, Ontario. So it should probably come as no surprise that shes 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 youre completing the sonic picture with that low end, she adds, acknowledging that its 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 youre 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 Im 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 albums songs were recorded over the past three years
both at home in Gryners 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, theres 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 producers hat comes easy, Gryner says its recording her own voice thats a bit trickier.
"I get better every year at recording vocals, but its still my one big challenge, Gryner explains. "Technically, its fine, but just learning to sing without reserve is something Im 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, Im learning to be loud and brave and do what those Hallmark journals encourage you to do: Sing like theres 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 doesnt mean you have to do a million takes or load up on the latest equipment to make a good record. Im still looking to learn how to truly capture a performance while recording, instead of getting caught up in the technical aspect of it. Theres too much emphasis on gear these days. My gear list is small and I always try to tell people that you dont 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 cant get enough of that. Maybe next album Ill record on a wax cylinder with my body encased in plaster. Someone did say Im into self-torture. But just watch, thatll be the record to sweep the Junos!