Oct. 31, 2012 - Issue #889-Human Trafficking Problem
All in the family
To record Spectral Dusk, Evening Hymns hunkered down in a log cabin in Northern Ontario, a process that was punctuated by impromptu games of pond hockey with old friends from the group the Wooden Sky, who acted as Evening Hymns' backing band. The album pays homage to lead singer and songwriter Jonas Bonnetta's father, who passed away in 2009, as well as his brother. Prior to a show in Edmonton, Bonnetta took some time to tell Vue about the process.
Vue Weekly: How long did it take to make Spectral Dusk from the initial songwriting through to the end of the recording?
Jonas Bonnetta: Well, Spectral Dusk is a record I wrote about my father passing away in early 2009, so it pretty much started then. I began writing about him then and wrote steady for months. We began recording the album in the winter of 2010, starting in January and working intensely on it for a couple months before I burnt out on it and had to put some distance between myself and those songs as I was depressed. I'd come back to it and work on it for a couple weeks and then have to disappear again. We finished this past spring—finally—after a long battle and I am really happy with it.
VW: When you were writing the songs, did you come at them in a particular way? Lyrics first? Music first?
JB: When I was writing I'd make these long lists of memories of Dad and then incorporate them into the songs. In a lot of ways I wasn't making a record, but a documentation of our relationship so I could do that without guitar. When it came time to start shaping things into an actual record then I started putting stuff to music. I usually get some lyrics written down first before I add music, or I do both at the same time, but never the music first. I'm trying to create little environments to exist in, so I write with imagery and then try and create music that suits that environment.
VW: What were the recording sessions like for this album? Is this the kind of thing you recorded live or did you piece it together one track at a time? Why?
JB: We recorded in a house in the woods near Perth, Ontario. We set up a studio there and rehearsed with the band and then recorded big chunks of the songs. Most of the tracks on the album were recorded there. When we got back to Toronto, we spent months in the studio adding layers, drones, etc. That part is pretty collage-y for me, but the bulk of the performances were live-off-the-floor in the cabin. We needed to get away to make this record. It was important that we all be together in the woods and playing music without distractions.
VW: Were there any other songs written that were left off the album? Why?
JB: We actually did record a song called "Quiet Energies" that we cut as it didn't fit the feel of the record. I'm sure we'll release it at some point. It's more of a Traveling Wilburys kind of song. I actually almost called the record "Quiet Energies." I like this idea of something being small and quiet, yet full of energy. I try to perform these songs with quiet energy and it's the way I always try and explain to the people playing in the band how to treat the songs live. Put the energy of a shout into a whisper.
VW: How did you decide which songs to include on the album? Did you have an idea of what you wanted Spectral Dusk to be when you started, or did the finished shape emerge as the writing and recording went along?
JB: Yeah, we didn't make a big list of songs and then cull it down into an album. Some of the songs were written to give the record a certain shape. I knew that I wanted to have this long, droning, string piece in the middle of the album and segue into it with this other non-song, and so we'd leave space for all these things to happen. It really felt like a drawing when we started. Open with a drone, pull the listener into this environment, a big release, meditation in the middle of the album and a lonesome solo performance at the end with room noises. Tie all the songs together with overlapping sounds and repeated lyrics. The whole thing was designed to have a certain feel.
VW: You co-produced the album with James Bunton. What drew you to him and what did he bring to the process?
JB: I worked with James on the last record and it was a great match. He was able to help me do everything I wanted to do and he was really excited about it. We'd spend afternoons fiddling around in the studio. I'd hook my iPhone up through a bunch of pedals and he'd be routing sounds all over the place and we'd be having a blast just making weird sounds. It was super organic and fun, and then next time I'd show up he'd play me one of the songs that would have this cool sound happening in the background and I'd be like, “That sounds amazing. What is that?” He'd be like “Oh it's that weird phone sound running through delays that you were doing two weeks ago here.” He had this incredible sense of what we'd captured and where it could live on the record. It was really fun. On top of that, he's a close friend. While we were making the record we'd spend half the time in the studio working on sounds and the other half talking about life. He was incredibly helpful both as an engineer and a friend.
VW: If you were to trace the musical map that led you to Spectral Dusk what would it look like?
JB: I spent a long time after Dad passed wondering if I had the energy to tackle his loss through my music. As I started writing music it was all about him and I had no choice. When I realized that, it just became this quest to get it all out there and try to accurately and honestly write about our relationship. It wasn't till the very end of the recording process that I was finally able to accept it. It felt like a complete snapshot of our relationship. It's not really a record to me, but a documentation of all of that. There are field recordings from where he used to hunt embedded in there, references to my upbringing, all this imagery for me that brings him back to life. It's a real trip for me to listen to it. V
Mon, Nov 5
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