Jan. 10, 2013 - Issue #899: The games we play
Taking the lead
Five years of hard work lead Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra to Follow
The Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra is setting off for icy Western Canada to promote its latest full-length album Follow My Lead, Lead Me to Follow, a disc rooted in folk, bluegrass and cultural rhythms. Prior to the band's show in Edmonton, Ian Griffiths and Kurt Loewen shared the Orchestra's experience getting the album together with Vue.
Vue Weekly: How long did it take to make Follow My Lead, Lead Me to Follow from the initial songwriting through to the end of the recording?
Ian Griffiths & Kurt Loewen: The short answer is as long as three years. There are a lot of songs that were on the back burner for years at a time. The song "25 Years," for example, was written when Ian was 25, and now he's 28. The song most recently added to the record was "What We See," and really only made the cut two months before we started tracking it. We trimmed the repertoire down during the process. In fact, we were working on songs in studio the day before we started recording and decided they weren't ready.
VW: When you were writing the songs, did you come at them in a particular way? Lyrics first? Music first?
IG & KL: It really depends on the track. In most cases songs were brought in an unfinished but somewhat structured form. "NSK" for example, was a song that was complete, but needed the band to make it a cohesive work. "Canoe Song" on the other hand had all the song elements (theme, chords, verse, chorus), but in a gobbledygoop kind of arrangement, and after relentless pre-production became a very intricately arranged tune. We were definitely consensus driven for the majority of the work and took real conscious steps to allow everyone's voice to be heard.
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?
IG & KL: The bed tracks were done all together, but in isolation from one another, with the majority of communication happening through headphones and mics as well as an intricate system of mirrors for sight lines. We put in four 12-hour days at Canterbury Music Company in Toronto to get all the beds down. These days were exhausting, but very rewarding. Afterwards, we did 10 days of overdubs at David Travers-Smith's Found Sound Studio, where we added all the vocals, solos and redos of parts that we didn't get at Canterbury. These days really proved to us that a record doesn't necessarily get finished, but that time runs out. We could easily have spent another three weeks working on takes. We felt like we needed to do the beds together because we are a live band, but also understood that the best takes don't always happen the first or 20th time. That's why the sessions at Found Sound were so important.
VW: Were there any other songs written that were left off the album? Why?
IG & KL: Our collaboration with Avril Lavigne, Michael Bublé and Celine Dion to remake a steam-polka version of the Titanic theme unfortunately lost its legs when all three refused to collaborate with us. But honestly, yes, there were several with names and several without names that because of time constraints didn't make it onto the album. Some songs take a lot longer to get into the repertoire than others for a myriad of reasons. At the time of Follow My Lead, we were still processing three years of backlogged creative material, so narrowing it down to only 11 tunes was an incredible challenge. In the end, we chose songs that came together in a timely fashion, fit the sentiment of the album and jams that 50 Cent could throw down on.
VW: How did you decide which songs to include on the album? Did you have an idea of what you wanted Follow My Lead, Lead Me to Follow to be when you started, or did the finished shape emerge as the writing and recording went along?
IG & KL: We wanted it to be representative of our sound and energy, and for it to be a professional record. There weren't really solid creative goals, more so our repertoire dictated the theme of the album, which honestly is a representation of the life we've lived together for the last three years.
VW: You worked with David Travers-Smith to produce the album. What drew you to him and what did he bring to the process?
IG & KL: We got the feeling he had a soft spot for bands with clever pun names (The Wailin' Jennys). In addition he has impeccable taste in footwear (Fluevogs).
Really, we were drawn to him on the recommendation by a mentor of ours, Derek Andrews, who thought that we would be a good fit. Once we saw his impressive resumé, and spoke with him, we realized his enthusiasm, calm and experience would be an incredible asset to us. David brought both technical and creative maturity, as well as an immense amount of patience to the table. He really facilitated us in saying what we wanted and needed to say and acted as a creative editor.
VW: If you were to trace the musical map that led you to Follow My Lead, Lead Me to Follow, what would it look like?
IG & KL: It would be a lot of complex, seemingly erratic lines coming from different worlds converging at initially Victoria, but eventually branching out to all over BC, Alberta and Boston. We worked through five years of writing, rehearsing and touring and trying our damnedest to make it cohesive. V
Fri, Jan 11 (7 pm)
Full Moon Folk Club, $18 (advance),
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