A surprising call from Bruce Allen started it all. On his advice, I scheduled a meeting with Gord. I believe it was the summer of 2005. It was agreed that Gord would make the very long trip from Toronto to the little town of Paia, on the north shore of Maui, where I live. We met for lunch at The Fish Market for one of their famous fish burgers and had a great conversation about life, kids, surfing and The Hip. He gave me the first book (always a good sign) and a cd of some ideas the hip had been throwing around. He had asked me about "Jaws", the famous tow-in surfbreak, so we took a drive to Huelo to stare out at the famous wave that really gets big, maybe 6 times a year (the north swells don't come til the winter).
Later that evening, I visited the ohana he was staying at, on the east side of Paia Bay. Gord sang and played some other ideas and we continued our conversation. It became clear that this was going to be a very different record for The Hip. The songs were very personal and one in particular, "Fly", got to me right away. I had never heard a song like that from The Hip, It was so direct and pop-like. Visions of making "The Great Canadian Record" (a secret goal of mine, that I had been ranting to Gord about) seemed all laid in front of me. We agreed that a trial session, in the fall, would be in order, to see if we could work as a team.
In September 2005, we all assembled, in Vancouver, at the Warehouse Studio and cut the first four songs. On the first day, we rehearsed in the vast main studio with a monitor system, just throwing around ideas, trying to find the first tracks to cut. We were also in the process of feeling each other out. Was I the metal head as rumoured? Were they stubborn and fixed in their musical ways? The first thing you notice about The Hip is that remarkable trait that all great bands have; the bands music is not carried by one persons individual talent. Like The Stones, Led Zep, the Beatles and the Who, it is the collective that gives the band it's sound and feel. This is my best case scenario for making a record; a band that is open to ideas but is also entrenched in it's sound. You can go anywhere and it sounds like them. We settled on the songs to try the next day.
"Family Band", I believe, was cut first. "Last Night I Dreamed", "Kids" and "Fly" followed. All came with ease. I really tried to get to know the boys in the first session and was constantly surprised by their surfacing influences; The Clash, Bowie, Pink Floyd, Gang Of Four. (they even said they listened to and enjoyed the 'Dr.Feelgood' album, that I had done in the 80's with Motley Crue! Wow!!!!) But, once again, like all great bands; they have influences but they never impersonate. Gord's ability to, constantly, perform keep-able performances, while cutting tracks, kept Jamey Koch (the engineer) and myself in disbelief. This was an extraordinary session. One that I will always remember, as the beginning of a very special musical and personal friendship. The sessions, that fall, led us to try and make a new hip record together.
The new year (February of 2006) brought us to Toronto and Phase One Studios. As crazy as it may seem, Toronto in the winter sounded like a great adventure to me; a chance to re-live my Canadian winter childhood (I grew up in Winnipeg). Man, it was cold! Looking back on it, the songs we cut; "Ocean", "Drop-Off", "Luv(sic)" and "Rink", all seem like they were the rock(!!!) tracks.
"Yer Not The Ocean" was first. It had all the elements of a classic, The Who-type, rock song. It took a bit to get every one to hear where I wanted to take it, but then, it, finally, just fell into place when Johnny took charge and beat the crap out of his drums. When I hear the track today, I smile, thinking about him, flailing away at the back of the studio, taking off into rock and roll bliss.
"The Rink" was a challenge for me, feel-wise. I was trying to get the choruses (with their driving, modern feel) and the verses (with their reggae, calypso feel) to flow. I was trying to find the song's 'home. It turned out to be one of my favorite tracks. The standout vocal, by Gord, tied it together. I think it matches the power they have live.
"The Drop-Off", is a classic Hip track with that 'band feel' I was talking about earlier. The bass is badass(!!!!) on that one.
The band played me, "Luv(sic)", a song they had cut before, but never used. We ran it down a couple of times, added the hook line supplied by Robbie, added a bridge - bingo - done. I was freaking out!!!!! This song was a bomb. It showed me The Hip in a new light. "Luv(sic)" is as current as anything out there. They were reborn.
In March, we had a couple of songs to go and I thought we could use a bit of an 'ambience change'. We went back to Vancouver, this time, setting up at Armoury Studios. These would be the last tracks; the ones that really 'finished' the record. To really try and get to their core, I brought in Jamie Edwards on piano.
The song,"World Container", probably, has the most production. It is a song that, really, could be just an acoustic guitar track and a vocal. I thought it could be something much bigger sounding. We built the track around a piano performance by Jamie that really inspired some great playing and a vocal performance that is a journey in itself. Dig those guitars!!!!!
"Pretend" was just a magical track that was cut live, in the evening, after dinner. You can just feel the night in that one.
The first single; "In View" was cut last. Going into it, I don't think anyone really expected it to be a single, but the bass and drum tracks, along with a mini moog part by Jamie, really drove it to another place. After cutting it we couldn't stop listening to it.
We knew there was something special there.
All that was left to do, were the finishing musical touches and a few vocals - oh yes - we had to mix it as well. In April, we went back to the north shore, to the little town of Paia, where my studio is, to finish the record. My very good, Icelandic friend, JENS, came in from Winnipeg to mix it. My engineer, Eric Helmkamp and I, with the band and Gord's son, Tarzan, spent a month, singing and playing the rest of the album and enjoying everything the north shore offers for vibe.
I am very proud of this record. I hope I get the chance to work with them again.
Now, did I record "The Great Canadian Album"? Time will tell.
Me? I will always call it 'my great canadian album'