Sep. 12, 2012 - Issue #882: Down On The Farm
Four on the Floor
Old Ugly brings a quadruple bill to the Garneau Theatre
Sat, Sep 15 (doors 6:30pm)
Featuring Field + Stream, Renny Wilson, Jon Mick, Whitey Houston
Metro Cinema at the Garneau, $10
Even in a scene as prolific as Edmonton's is, one show acting as an album-release party for three acts plus a one-night-only reunion of a legendary duo seems an unusually massive culmination of the city's talent. But The Special, occupying the spacious Garneau Theatre, is looking to give the weight of that the ol' Atlas try, shouldering four acts that occupy their own particular spaces and styles. Jon Mick's standup set, heralding the release of his second live comedy album, Beardmilk—featuring some finely unsettling cover art courtesy of Jill Stanton—will take aim at funnybones as it walks the edges of good taste, while the disco-tinged stylings of Renny Wilson's live show herald the release of his long-time-coming Sugarglider, and Field + Stream's album has been even longer coming: close to a decade, at this point.
Only bass-drum-rawk duo Whitey Houston, on the bill for a one-off show, doesn't have any new offerings to share—anything in the pipe, guys?—save a set of its own indellibly rawkous brand of loud. In advance of the show, Vue talked to Renny Wilson (or René, if you will), and Field + Stream's Nickelas Johnson about their respective releases. Turns out albums are tricky beasts to tame.
Last spring, for the first time in a couple of years, René Wilson put a recording online. Under the name Sugarglider, it followed a few years after his high-school punk rock act the Subatomics called it quits in 2007 and its follow-up act, the Horses, didn't quite pan out; since then, Wilson had been playing with other bands but doing little for himself.
Wilson liked the stats he was seeing on his Bandcamp page, of how many people were listening to his new stuff. In quick succession, three more songs followed. All of them occupied a timewarp zone of '70s radio, finding balanced between funky and chilled out, soft blizzards of disco-tinged pop with the resonant haze of Phil Spector-style production and an irrepressible groove to give the whole thing a throughline.
"I was like, these demos are good, I'm writing music, it's working out for me—I'm going to make a perfect album," Wilson explains, a boyish intensity in his eyes and grin spread across his face. But perfection turned out to be a difficult pursuit: manning a recording room at Riverdale Recordings, he booked himself a (mostly) exclusive six-month studio stint, spending countless hours trying to tweak drums and riffs and every little thing on 10 songs about love. The more he laboured, the less satisfied he was with his output.
"It was really hard to actually get what I was envisioning," he says. "The demos I had made at my parent's house were better. They had the soul. All the spirit was in them. They were a lot more perfect than these so called perfect things I was trying to make at Riverdale."
On stress breaks, Wilson would noodle away on synths, writing tiny, structureless songs—as he says, "Weird, disco-y Arthur Russel-y demo-type things." Once he left Riverdale and returned to his home recording set up, it was those that eventually congealed into the tracklist that comprises most of the Sugarglider LP (there were a couple of tracks he'd managed to polish off in Riverdale). Back at home, after so much painstaking tinkering, Wilson found that music just started pouring out.
"The workflow was awesome. I would wake up in the morning, eat my breakfast—which was like a big British fry-up: bacon, sausages, eggs, everything. This was my regular routine at the time—and then I would go into this big room in my parent's house and start working on this electronic disco-y record which I have now."
It may not be the album he'd envisioned, but, if anything, the task of pursing a perfect album has given Wilson a further appreciation of the nuance that goes into good pop music.
"To anyone who appreciates pop, they understand that it's a real craft. It's not just the song itself, it's the way it's recorded," he says. "There's so much that plays into a perfect pop recording. If you take a perfect pop song like 'Love Fool' by the Cardigans—that's a weird example, but it's a great pop song. And so, if the song was recorded differently, it may or may not have that same effect. That song as an identity, with all its parts, is what makes it what it is. It's not the song necessarily, though the song is great."
Field & Stream
'We've started a full-length album ... five times?" Nickelas Johnson determines after a moment of thought. "At least."
That's five attempts in the decade that Field + Stream has existed, a span in which setting an album's worth of songs to tape has seemed a sisyphean task: attempts at recording plagued by faltering equipment, lineup changes and stolen computers. But the task of pushing that stone up the hill is over. Field + Stream finished its album.
Johnson recalls the nightmares he had during the lead-up, of wandering into a record store as an old man, and the working hipster ("He wasn't young, he was like 50 years old, a Lester Bangs-type guy") showing him to the Edmonton section where all of his friends' albums were. There was no Field + Stream release nestled within it.
"I was like [old man voice], 'Oh god-damn, I ruined my life, I failed.'" he recalls. "And then just slowly hobbled out of the store.
"But that's just something that happens to people when they're not accomplishing what they're trying to accomplish," he says. "Now the album's done and I'm grateful for the time it took."
Getting there didn't happen without setbacks. Most of Field + Stream was recorded last summer, and was nearing completion when the tech they were using faltered.
"We played it all live, did it really fast, two days, had it all tracked—'Hallelujah, we're gonna finish this goddamn album finally,'" Johnson recalls. "Then the tape machine broke."
It took a year to get it fixed up and eventually finish everything off—during that time, longtime Field + Stream member Bradley Sime left the band, only to rejoin in time for this release.
Fittingly, the finished album culls its blend of lo-fi, darkly edged folk songs from across the band's entire existence: there are some present that survived from Field + Stream's first live shows, or had seven-inch releases years ago, and have since been gutted and revamped in the interim. Others were written within a year of the recording.
"It's totally the album I wanted to make," Johnson says. "And we made it in a way that it still ... , " he pauses. "It took 10 years to do it, but it wasn't 10 years of picking away at something until it's sterile and shitty.
"Not to discount labouring over something, or adding paint over a period of time, or whatever," he adds, "but it's the way we had to make an album, to make the album that we wanted to make."
Vue respects your privacy. We will not forward your personal information to any other organization except as required by law, and will use your e-mail address only to respond to your comments. We reserve the right to edit and remove comments for length, clarity and/or if they are illegal or inappropriate. Your email address is never shown to visitors to vueweekly.com. Read the whole policy at: http://vueweekly.com/privacy