Mar. 21, 2012 - Issue #857: Ben Folds
The world by rail
Steve Coffey talks about his Bovine World Rail
Fri, Mar 23 (8 pm)
Blue Chair Cafe, $15
Singer, songwriter and painter Steve Coffey and his band The Lokels are back with a fifth all-original album, Bovine World Rail. Coffey took some time out prior to the group's show in Edmonton to talk about the recording process.
Vue Weekly: How long did it take to make Bovine World Rail from the initial songwriting through to the end of the recording?
Steve Coffey: Well, a few of the songs have been in my catalogue for years, but the overall project started approximately two years ago with most of the material written between that time and this past summer. We went into the studio in March 2011 and again in July 2011, with other important bits added along the way right up the end of January 2012.
VW: When you were writing the songs, did you come at them in a particular way? Lyrics first? Music first?
SC: I have written the same way for years and years. Either the melody gets into my head incrementally, and as that happens words and verses begin climbing on the bus, or vice versa. The story begins presenting itself and needs to be expressed with a suitable musical vehicle. It's similar to my approach when painting, but I have to be willing to instigate the process with a brush stroke, which in turn begins informing the rest of the canvas. As with song, the key is to simply open the door wide enough to let it happen.
VW: Did the songs come from one person fully formed, or were they sketches that were then filled out as a group?
SC: Three of the songs we collaborated on directly, pen to paper, music to ear. The majority of the songs came from my pen and I like to think of those as 'fully formed' as composition goes. It's as complete with a guitar and voice as it is with an orchestra. As the Lokels go, the band: Russ Baker, Lance Loree, Dave Bauer & Ray McAndrew along with myself have chosen to collaborate and bring musical ideas to the table to 'build' the songs from their foundation.
We've been texturizing tunes for 10 years as a group. This part of the creative process would occasionally take place as the finger nears the record button and other times over years of performing it live and living with it. These ideas are then 'completed' and brought to their true fruition in the mix stage when the brush tweaks those all important final colours, and that task for this particular project was Russ Baker's.
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?
SC: A great deal of this was recorded live off the floor. We believe in this approach wholeheartedly. We've known each other for a long time and we have a sense of each others direction on any particular tune. It's the room and the 'raw' performance that we're after but we'd add or re-do a few things here and there and bring in select guests such as Tami Cooper or Toby Malloy to elevate and refine the piece.
VW: Were there any other songs written that were left off the album?
SC: Yes, there were a few that didn't fit the overall complexion of Bovine World Rail but that's OK. We'll use them to springboard us into the next project.
VW: How did you decide which songs to include on the album? Did you have an idea of what you wanted Bovine World Rail to be when you started, or did the finished shape emerge as the writing and recording went along?
SC: Ya, I had a loose idea. There was a much larger list of songs originally, but that's always a great thing in that it gives us the ability to edit. A couple of the songs helped direct us thematically and once that process began, we were much clearer as to how to get there. We edited right up to the last minute really. Tone, mood, all that shit. In many ways we handled it much like a set list with all the dynamics necessary to hopefully 'hold' the audience. And then there is the lyrical thread of what we're 'getting at' left to the listener's interpretation. So to answer your question in one word: both.
VW: You worked with Russ Baker to produce the album. What drew you to him and what did he bring to the process?
SC: Russ and I go back to TalkLIKEJoe days in '96, '97. My then musical partner Jay Bigam & I [The Kitchen Boys] were looking for a bass player to come in for a recording session and our drummer at the time [Trevor Bigam] suggested Russ Baker. He was a quick read to say the least, and we hit it off musically even though he was light years ahead of me academically in regards. I was self-taught and completely uninterested in learning how to read music. I just wanted to write songs.
Russ had a strong musical background but still seemed OK with me, this 'musical schmoe.' We became quick friends and have worked together ever since. He engineered four out of the five Lokel records, helped produce 2004's 32 Below Sessions and engineered and produced Bovine World Rail. Russ brings 'ears' to any given tune or project. He has an ability to create atmosphere and has a keen understanding of dynamics. For this project he understood what I was after and was a natural choice to produce it. Bottom line, Russ is a sound wizard, a killer guitar player with a great sense of humor and he puts up with a lot of my bullshit. Not all of it, but most of it.
VW: If you were to trace the musical map that led you to Bovine World Rail, what would it look like?
SC: Like a rumbling graffiti train on a blustery prairie day. V
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