Feb. 06, 2013 - Issue #903: Moment by moment
Taking the reins
Cara Luft steps into the producer's chair
The road to Cara Luft's latest album Darlingford was not a smooth one. The Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter endured numerous personal hardships, but spun them into material for her record. Prior to her performance in Edmonton, Luft spoke with Vue about the process of making Darlingford, and stepping into the role of producer.
Vue Weekly: How long did it take to make Darlingford from the initial songwriting through to the end of the recording?
Cara Luft: It took a good year and a half from the initial writing to when the album was manufactured. In large part this was due to my intense touring schedule and the fact that I produced the album myself—we had to find times to record between tours, and I needed to be able get out of "performer" mode and into "producer" mode. One of the benefits was that I could try out many of the new songs in a live setting, to see if they would fly (so to speak) and to see what needed tweaking.
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?
CL: We did a little bit of everything. For the bed tracks, we recorded live off the floor. By doing that we created a solid foundation that had a great live feel, which helped other players when laying their own parts over top. We also recorded the string quartet live off the floor. There is one song that was recorded off the floor in front of a live audience, with no edits or punch-ins. For the other parts, we pieced things together. This was due to past experience and comfort level and also due to circumstances: I had a lot of guest musicians, many of whom lived great distances away, and it wasn't feasible to fly them to where we were. It was the first time where we incorporated distance recording —we would email tracks to various players (based in Liverpool, London, Nashville, Vancouver and Toronto), they would then use their home studios or a local studio to record their parts, then email them back to us. Sometimes this meant lots of phone conversations about what I was looking for, sending examples back and forth, but I chose musicians who I trusted and whose own creativity I loved, and I wanted them to bring their own ideas to the songs, to stamp them with their own unique flavours and sounds. There was one harmony singer based in the UK whose voice I absolutely loved and I really wanted him to sing on one of the Traditionals. We would have these hilarious Skype sessions, where we'd sing harmony lines back and forth to each other until we had it nailed. It was a first for me, a truly modern approach to tracking a record.
VW: How did you decide which songs to include on the album? Did you have an idea of what you wanted Darlingford to be when you started, or did the finished shape emerge as the writing and recording went along?
CL: Initially when I met up with Lewis to write, I just wanted to write songs, regardless of what they were about. I had gone through a rough personal time and knew that I would probably end up writing about that experience, but I wasn't quite sure what shape the writing would take, and I was a bit nervous as I'm not a very prolific writer and hadn't written a lot since my last album (The Light Fantastic). I felt like I needed someone to help unplug the cork to get the creativity flowing (so to speak). As we started talking, it became clear that the songs would have similar themes—love, loss, faith and recovery, of fighting our demons and the cards we've been dealt, of new beginnings and finding hope in life again. Our goal was to write about these themes and somehow balance the personal with the universal, to express raw emotion, but frame it in terms anyone could relate to and understand. I think we accomplished that.
VW: If you were to trace the musical map that led you to Darlingford, what would it look like?
CL: Oh my ... how's this?
VW: You ended up producing the album yourself. What was that experience like?
CL: In all honesty, it was perhaps the most difficult and most rewarding thing I've done in my career. I've recorded a lot of albums, and I was very hands-on with my last album (TLF). I know I have great musical instincts, as well as having an understanding of and great appreciation for the recording process, but I wasn't quite sure how I'd do wearing the producer hat. I initially wanted to co-produce with someone else, but ended up taking the reins myself after receiving a lot of encouragement from others. What helped is I surrounded myself with people I trusted, people who could act as sounding boards and help guide me through the process. For instance, Lloyd (my engineer) has worked on most of my albums and knows me very well. When we were recording my vocals he helped me capture the best performance possible for each song, as I just couldn't step back enough to tell myself. The hardest part about producing your own project is keeping perspective. It's often very hard to step back from the intensity of one's own project and see the entire picture. The stress can be—and is—overwhelming, but I'm glad I did it and had that experience. I received a lot of positive feedback from everyone involved with the project, and have been encouraged to spread my wings and produce other projects. I'm definitely interested in honing those skills and working with other artists (there aren't a lot of female producers out there), but for my next project I think I'd like to take a co-producer role and bring alongside someone who can offer another perspective.
VW: To record, you teamed up with Lloyd Peterson and set up in remote locations. What did this lend to the recording and creative process? Why did you forgo the traditional route of recording in one studio?
CL: After the songs were written, I realized how much I longed to record in a non-traditional space, away from bells and whistles and anything "clinical." The songs dealt with many personal things, with matters of the heart, and the idea of recording in a standard studio seemed to be the wrong way to capture the essence of the songs. I had heard about people recording in remote locations and thought I'd explore the idea. Lloyd had been doing a lot of location recording and was more than happy to pack his studio up and bring it to wherever I wanted. I loved the idea of being in a remote space where we wouldn't be worried about emails or phones or daily home life, where we could just focus our energies on the songs and the recording. All the pre-production was done in an old church in Rosebud, AB, and most of the guitar tracking was done in a remote chapel in the Foothills outside Cochrane, AB. We recorded these parts in Alberta because I was offered the use of 10 vintage Martin guitars that were in Calgary. So my engineer flew out with all his gear, we borrowed a huge van, packed it full of guitars and gear, and headed to the Foothills. The rest of the project was recorded in a 100-year-old wooden church in Darlingford, MB.
Fri, Feb 8 (8 pm
With Ariane Mahrÿke Lemire
Haven Social Club, $12
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