Published Aug 22, 2011For most bands, recording a debut album is a breeze; small budgets and a lifetime of planning tend to make the process move quickly and efficiently. Not so for Regina's Library Voices. Riding a wave of praise for their debut EP, the band found themselves wracked with indecision as they went about recording what would become their debut, last year's Denim on Denim.
"We sort of dragged it out and were scared to commit to it," admits the band's lyricist and synth player Mike Dawson now. "We tracked all the songs right off the bat and then kept going back and making changes and adding parts and deleting parts. In the end I think we lost a little bit of focus. You start to second-guess your intuition."
The group grew in leaps and bounds both as musicians and artists thanks to the 189 shows played between starting and finishing the album. Although happy with the results, "we were eager to follow it up and regain our focus for what we wanted to do as a band."
Determined not to repeat this prolonged process the second time out, Dawson and Library Voices' six other members ― fellow synth player Amanda Scandrett, singer-guitarists Carl Johnson and Brennan Ross, bass player Eoin Hickey, saxophone player Paul Gutheil and drummer Mike Thievin ― decamped to an old town hall in Kronau, Saskatchewan last November. "We'd been kicking around ideas off and on for a few months. We thought we'd be able to write a lot more on tour but it just didn't really happen."
With a population of 209 souls, Kronau offered few distractions over the three weeks the group spent writing and arranging the ten songs that became their sophomore album, Summer of Lust. "It's not that far out of the city," explains Dawson. "But we found that if we got out there we could lock ourselves away for eight hours a day. There was no cell-phone reception. [We could] lure ourselves away from our normal lives and get to work."
In spite of the harsh prairie winter, what emerged were sunny harmonies and tight arrangements that eschewed the more-is-better philosophy that pervaded their debut. Feeding this vibe was a newfound interest in Motown. "We all saw [documentary] Standing in the Shadows of Motown and started digging deeper into the music. They have this capacity to bust out this great pop song in two or three minutes and somehow it has a bridge and four choruses. [We were] just studying that philosophy of songwriting."
As a lyricist, Dawson works from already established vocal melodies, a function of his writing habits. "I wish I was writing all the time but I'm not. I sort of have to get myself into a state of stress, knowing that I have to wrap up the lyrics going in to writing the songs. I wish the songs were all about the lyrics, but in reality I find myself walking around, counting syllables on my fingers trying to fit a whole bunch of words into a melody we've already come up with." Generally, he starts with a song title, or focused idea then expands on it. "I'll have 12 lines [to work with] and I'll come up with 24 and have to cut them down to what the bulk of that narrative is."
Several of Summer of Lust's tracks reflect the dichotomy that accompanies life in the creative arts. "Most of our peers and closest friends are artists, whether visual, or filmmakers or musicians and I think these people have the same frustrations," he says. "Something they loved about creating art became futile and it ends up making them frustrated or angry rather than finding any sense of fulfilment. A lot of them abandon it for other things."
On the other end of the spectrum, the members of Library Voices have managed to prevail even as governments cut funding to arts programs and they watch friends settle down. "A lot of people at the start ― friends and family ― didn't understand what we were doing and wondered when we were going to grow up and get real jobs are now looking at us through jealous eyes."
Working into the wee hours on their final day in Kronau, the septet packed up the van the next morning and headed to Montreal for ten days at Break Glass Studio with the Besnard Lakes' Jace Lasek, himself a Regina transplant. His recording style proved to be a perfect match with the band's newfound writing philosophy. "He's so sincerely interested in studio gear in a capacity that doesn't really exist, now that everything is so accessible in your bedroom. He doesn't live in the world of laptops and plug-ins. It becomes about the performance and the tone you put into the record going in."
Two factors ensured that the band wouldn't repeat the months of tweaking and remixing that accompanied the Denim on Denim sessions. With Lasek's analog process, if changes were to be made after a track was mixed, he would have to go back to the board and reset each EQ, one by one, a tedious process no one was keen to go through. The second factor concerned the band's self-imposed rule about drinking while in the studio. "We decided that no one was allowed to drink until they'd 100 percent finished their parts. Jace's studio is about a block away from a service station. When someone would finish, they'd disappear into the night and come back with a bottle of wine and a handful of beer. It started with Mike the drummer finishing first and having to sit in the corner and drink alone, waiting for Eoin to finish the bass parts." With the band members sufficiently lubricated at the end of each night, there was little room for nitpicking.
The finishing touch was the inclusion of audio-book reader Simon Vance at the beginning and end of the album. Everyone was fans of his reading of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. "The way he delivers Bryson's humour, is so dry," say Dawson. The band tracked him down in California and he agreed to record the script they sent him. The results bookend the album. "It ties in well with the Library Voices thing," he says. "We can't seem to escape the literary lean of our band."