I’m listening back to mixes for the album I’ve just recorded over the last two weeks in Montreal and I have trouble keeping the smile off my face. Everything sounds better than I could have imagined.
I’m reflecting on the road that led me out to the strange and wonderful city of Montreal for this latest musical adventure. How, just under a year ago, I was embarking on what would be a ‘life-altering’ experience at the Banff Centre to take part in a singer/songwriter residency.
It was at this residency where I would meet the mysterious producer and recording engineer, Howard Bilerman. I have to admit that in advance of my sojourn to Banff in March 2017 I had little to no idea who Howard Bilerman was. I was more interested in the songwriting mentors I knew were going to be involved such as Jeff Hanna and Kevin Welch. The recording component of the residency was sort of a foot note for me at the time.
My attitude about the recording changed dramatically once I got into studio at the Banff Centre. I loved working with Howard. He was assertive and efficient without being dictatorial, creative but never controlling and he approached my music with a very different set of lenses. My demo recording session at the Banff Centre immediately had me thinking about the next full length recording, I caught a great vibe off of working with Howard and wanted to pursue that, see if maybe I could potentially make a record with him.
I started to do a bit more digging about who this Howard Bilerman guy really was but his online presence was equally mysterious. From what I could ascertain he had drummed for Arcade Fire and produced the acclaimed Funeral album, and he had worked on countless records with some big names from Basia Bulat to Leonard Cohen but again there weren’t many specifics around this.
The Banff Centre residency came and went and Howard and I corresponded about doing a record together and eventually I jumped in. I would go to Howard’s studio, Hotel2Tango, in Montreal in February 2018, Howard would assemble a band of Montreal players to play on the session and we would track, overdub and mix the recording in 10 days.
As the days drew closer for my departure to Montreal, my anxiety levels were definitely rising around all the unknowns approaching recording, new players, new city, new studio, new producer, lots of changes and no guarantee that things were going to work out.
I arrived in Montreal on a Thursday evening and scheduled a rehearsal with the band on the Friday night. The first tune we ran was, Long Highway, an uptempo roots/rock thing…it smoked, and after that I knew we were going to be just fine.
When it came time to record, we seemed to lock in quickly again. The band brought great instincts and ideas to each tune and if we were ever headed in the wrong direction, the mysterious Howard Bilerman would offer an alternative suggestion or calmly steer the ship back on course.
On Sunday, Howard was taking a break from mixing and he told a story about a chance meeting with legendary producer Bob Johnston (Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, Simon & Garfunkel) at a Leonard Cohen concert in New York City. He would later bring Bob up to Montreal for a Q&A at McGill University and a production workshop run out of Howard’s studio. In this conversation I began to figure out a bit more about Howard, and how his reverence for Bob Johnston has informed his own approach to recording/producing; working quickly to get a recording that captures the essence of skilled musicians listening to each other. The whole recording process felt very natural and enjoyable from day one. Just a bunch of quality musicians and people making a record together and I think this positivity is reflected in the songs for this album.
As I reflect on this past year, I think about how fortunate I've been to have an incredible support network. Tim and Derek from T. Buckley Trio have been really encouraging of me trying out something new with this solo project, and I can’t wait to start bringing this album to life... I’m excited to share this album with all of you in the fall of 2018. Stay tuned!