That’s How I Walk (2002)
- Like The Way That You Said [lyrics]
- The Finest Kind [lyrics]
- Town Called Jesus [lyrics]
- Showbiz [lyrics]
- On The Great Divide [lyrics]
- Me And Mr. Blue [lyrics]
- Rave On Captain [lyrics]
- When My Baby Calls My Name [lyrics]
- That’s How I Walk [lyrics]
- Glory Train [lyrics]
- Wailing Wall [lyrics]
- Black Silk Gown [lyrics]
- Meghan Haydon
- Parting Glass [lyrics]
The sixth solo album for this 4 time JUNO nominee was recorded both in Toronto and Nashville and includes guests such as Richard Bell(The Band & Janis Joplin), Ian Thornley(Big Wreck), and Shawn Colvin.
Stephen’s Thoughts on “That’s How I Walk” July 17th, 2001
Colin Linden and I head down into the cool basement environs of HallaMusic (Toronto) to record bed tracks for the new album. We’d been talking about the upcoming sessions for several months, planning and plotting, sketching out arrangements and making lists of potential players. With the deadline fast approaching, I’d been sequestered in my office/studio/shed writing like a fiend to get t e songs in shape and ready to print to tape.
I walked down those steps from Peter St. for the first time, giddy with anticipation, determined to savour every moment of what I knew would be over in a flash. Time flies when you’re having fun and it gets on the Concorde with an overnight bag when you’re in the studio. Colin is a graduate of the school of spontaneous recording. He likes to work quickly and ‘fun’ is a very big part of the process. Every time I’ve walked into a recording studio I’ve been excited, but this time I knew I was in for an exhilarating ride. Over the course of that short week, we managed to flesh out all of the 14 songs. Some of them were still a little naked and some had three piece suits on, but all of them were walking and talking and demanding attention.
Players included the usual suspects (Gary Craig – drums/percussion, John Dymond – bass/tractor sounds, Richard Bell – organ/keyboards and sardonic commentary) plus some players I hadn’t worked with before – Ben Riley – drums/percussion and Roberto Ochipinti – upright bass. A stellar cast to be sure, and a nicer bunch of characters you’re not likely to meet. This record features a higher ratio of co-writes than previous albums I’ve done. After writing and playing ‘solo’ for most of my career, I’ve discovered the joys of working with other writers and players including the likes of Tom Wilson, Colin Cripps, Ian Thornley, Brian denHertog and Glen Stace. Happily we were able to invite several of these pals into the studio to contribute to the tracks. Colin Cripps came in one humid afternoon and added some very beautiful, atmospheric guitar to the track “Wailing Wall” which he and I had written in early 2000, Ian Thornley overdubbed his signature guitar sound and some very Pink Floyd-esque vocal warbles on our co-write “Me and Mr. Blue” and wee Tommy Wilson (the all-Canadian-rounder) arrived one evening late in the week with his trusty DJX keyboard to unleash a deeply groovalicious loop on “That’s How I Walk”. Other guests included my friend of many years Leonard Podolak ( I met Len when he was a mouthy 11 year old and somehow in the intervening years he has become a righteous banjo player and now fronts the band Scruj MacDuk), whose beautiful instrumental piece “Meghan Heydon’s” seemed perfect as a tag for my tune “Black Silk Gown”. Towards the end of this session, Colin and I had a brain wave and immediately phoned Richard Underhill and Kevin Turcotte. Next day, they cooly shuffled into the studio with their horns and laid down some gorgeous and totally spontaneous alto sax and trumpet parts on “Black Silk Gown and “Town Called Jesus”. As ever, it was a treat to watch all these players cajole and wrestle the magic out of their instruments. By the end of the week we had rough mixes of everything in our hot little hands and were already looking forward to September when we would reconvene for overdubbing and final mixes in Nashville.
August was wall to wall festivals, many late nights and much laughter. The summer festival circuit is often very grueling, but the slog and lost baggage is made easier by the sheer fun of the events themselves. I’ve been playing Canadian festivals since 1985, so I know many of the volunteers, organisers and players as friends. Every summer I feel like I’m running off to join the circus again.
September blasted hot and smoggy on Guelph’s wilted gardens with a full watering ban in effect. After all the time away from the recording, and having spent the last month broiling myself on workshop stages across the country, I eagerly anticipated my long drive down to Nashville to finish the overdubbing and start mixing in air conditioned Tennessee. In the intervening weeks, Colin and I had many phone conversations about where we wanted the mixes to go and what more needed to be added to the tunes. That sense of anticipation is hard to put into words…
One of the ideas we had been bandying about from the start was the addition of a string quartet. Colin (who, with his wife Janice Powers, had recently moved to Nashville) knew of an arranger, a woman named Kris Wilkerson (check out her work on “Valentines Day” Steve Earle’s – Feel Alright). Kris had worked up an arrangement for my tune “When My Baby Calls My Name” and we had also asked John Whynot (a multitalented gent) to write charts for “Showbiz” and “Glory Train”. So on September 10th, I got in my car and drove down through the afternoon and into the dusk, arriving on Colin and Janice’s doorstep at about 11pm, disheveled and bent out of shape. I was knackered, stiff, and badly in need of some 12 year old Scottish essential oil (preferably the peaty kind). Glasses were raised, jokes were told and after a tumbler or two I headed for the couch with plans to hit the Pancake Pantry and Gruhn’s Guitar Store before starting overdubs later the next day
Of course, like everyone else within a mile of a TV, I awoke to the unfathomable cruelty of Sept. 11th. Colin, Janice and I spent much of the day glued to the networks… ‘America Under Attack’… live from New York… people covered in ash… The Twin Towers falling to the ground again and again and again… America’s New War. When we stepped outside to try to get away from those pictures, the streets of Nashville were deserted and Music Row was silent… TVs propped up on crates of Coca Cola at the local Chevron station… a short order cook at the Mojo Grill huddling with two waitresses as they watched that plane fly into a fireball over and over, over and over… Will any of us forget those images? Guitar overdubs seemed impossible, maybe even obscene… That whole day is a bit of a blur for me. I remember little things: like trying to reach my Mother in Ireland to tell her that I was OK (she knew I was in The States working on this record) or talking to my wife and hearing the stories of Canadians in Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax who drove out to the airports and opened their homes to strangers; the Muslim guy who drove to Pearson Airport in Toronto with his car full of Pizzas to give to any hungry travelers who had been stranded… everybody trying to find something meaningful to do, to come to grips with the reality and the awful truth of that morning.
The next day we were stuck in that place of grief and horror, looking for a little bit of blue sky. We finally found some respite at Kris Wilkerson’s house. We had driven over there to listen to a keyboard mockup of the final string charts for ‘When My Baby Calls My Name’. Kris played us the parts she had written and I was moved to tears. Everything was so ‘loaded’ if you know what I mean, and the beauty of her arrangement loosened those knots. Thanks Kris. Colin and I headed back to his house feeling a little less choked and over the next day or two we worked hard to get the rest of the overdubbing finished including some beautifully subtle keyboard work from Janice.
Finally the mixing sessions arrived and we headed into New Reflections to unpack the tapes and set up the gear. John Whynot who was scheduled to conduct his string charts AND mix the record with us, was grounded in LA… no flights… no Greyhounds…
After debating for the past three days, he had decided, at the last minute, to rent a car and drive it straight through – LA to Nashville – in one shot. He arrived at the studio grinning and goofy with wheel fatigue and a migraine, over 36 hours of driving under his belt. We’d already mixed one tune but he downed two Tylenol, sat down at the board and bettered our mix… bastard!
Next day we recorded all three string charts in one three hour session… fabulous players. I was pretty much gob smacked for the whole thing. John, Colin, Janice and I sat behind the control room glass, grinning like idiots, as Kris and her quartet (two violins, viola and cello ) draped those arrangements over my songs like fine, clean linen . I can’t describe the feeling of peace and beauty that the music created amidst the televised carnage of that week… a profound feeling of joy I will never forget.
Mixing is mixing is mixing, it’s a bit like a game of lawn bowling… excruciating, tedious and frustrating to the uninvolved observer – utterly impossible to tear yourself away from if you’re playing. Listening to all the parts coalesce, mistakes become serendipitous treasures, and painstakingly laboured over ideas are tossed overboard in a heartbeat. It’s intense and emotionally demanding, but there are few things I’d rather do when I’m in the thick of it. Colin and John are magicians, or maybe studio alchemists and the shared humour gets hysterical and weird. We spent a lot of time talking backwards into the computer and laughing our guts out over some really stupid shit. Hours fly by. Minutes crawl… like insects. See if you can picture this: Paper bags full of gnawed ribs and coleslaw lying around in the lounge next to a tray of warm Krispy Kremes (my spell check suggests Crispy Crimes! Hah!) – Endless cups of thick foamed mud from Bongo Java and The Evil Empire…. stepping outside into the warm Nashville night to phone home… “yeah it’s going well darlin”…. jumping back inside…. “That sounds FAAAHKIN’ COOL!!!!”… “what time is it? Are you guys hungry?”… “Wow, the bass rocks now… Johnny’s driving the tractor!” “That organ part is spooky, that’s why we call him Diiiiiiiiick!” “Should we put the snare through Amp Farm?” “Make me sound like Cher….Ooooooh my Gawd” …
Get the picture? It goes on like this for days, then it’s over and you crash into bed (or a couch) at some ungodly hour, completely bereft of energy and objectivity. This is where the highs get very high and the lows are bottom of the barrel. With the lions share of the mixing done, I left Nashville on the 21st, headed north to Bloomington Indiana and my last festival of the summer. Amazingly, The Lotus Festival was going ahead despite many overseas-artist cancellations. I was glad of the chance to climb out of my head and do some live playing and determined not to listen to the mixes for at least 24 hours… I lasted about two, before nervously shoving the CD into the slot and cranking the volume… over the road noise, everything sounded terrible… so much for willpower… so much for objectivity!
On Sept. 25th I flew back to Nashville and then on to Austin (Texas) with Colin and Janice, for the last bit of recording. Shawn Colvin, a songwriter I’d met a few times over the years and someone I admire a great deal, had graciously agreed to sing on a tune. So we flew out to her turf for the session. After some smoked brisket at The Iron Works the night before, Colin and I headed to Cedar Creek Studios – an ancient ranch house sitting alone on 7acres of scrub in the heart of South Austin’s suburbs. Train tracks roll by a hundred yards from the control room and a low rumble occasionally permeates the thick stone walls (a good rumble!). The old Neve recording console used to reside in Graceland and I’m told that Elvis recorded his last three albums through those same pots and wires. Heavy! The studio walls are lined with old vinyl and CDs from past projects and there, smack dab in the middle, are three Bill Hicks recordings… I’m a huge fan of Bill Hicks, (a brilliant comedian who died of cancer in the early 90′s, way ahead of his time). Having echoes of Elvis and Hicks in the studio gives me goose bumps. I’m itching to hear Shawn sing over my tune, pacing about the studio, too wired to sit still. She arrives and we roll tape. She’s relaxed, delightful and funny. My anxiety dissolves and Shawn sings like a bird. Two hours later, were done, having spent the last hour laughing, telling stories and listening to playback. I’m thrilled with the result, and certain that the song had risen several notches. Happy and full of Stubbs BBQ (Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m a cook!) Colin, Janice and I board the flight back to Nashville.
That final day of mixing is a bit of a blur. After transferring Shawn’s parts from the slave tapes, we quickly get a great mix for “Finest Kind” before moving on to remixes of “Showbiz” and “Town Called Jesus”. More silliness and hilarity… Colin’s face gets all red when he laughs… I drink so much coffee I start shivering and sweating at the same time… more Crispy Crimes… everybody’s completely exhausted… the assistant engineer snores softly out in the lounge and suddenly it’s 7.30 am. We’ve been mixing for 20 hours… our last dinner break is ancient history… John’s bummed because the Yankees lost and it’s definitely time to pack it in. We stumble out under a milky blue sky and the sun just coming up, pile into the rental and head off to The Pantry for one last breakfast (cornmeal pancakes please!).
One of the last stages of making a record is deciding on the final song sequence. This task has become easier now that we can all burn CDs on home computers, so as soon as I get back to Guelph, I load the final mixes into my wife’s iMac and begin trying out different sequences. Just like every other part of the process, the perfect sequence is very subjective . The only real guide is your gut and, of course, everybody involved has strong opinions. More long conversations back and forth between Guelph, Nashville and Toronto. What kind of a vibe do I want to start the record with? How can I pull the listener in? Am I telling a story here and is there a thread linking the songs? Gradually a promising sequence starts to take shape. Once we’re all convinced that this is the one, John Whynot gets the go ahead to start mastering. Mastering is the stage of recording that I know the least about. I understand the basic concept of putting the songs together as one piece, making final decisions on fade-outs, gaps between songs, overall equalisation, levels etc… It is perhaps the subtlest part of the process and arguably one of the most crucial. Poorly recorded records can be salvaged in mastering and vice versa. John’s first pass is more of a warm up than a final master. A test CD arrives by courier, I jump in the car and drive around Guelph for the next few days listening intently. Several e-mails later and John’s next pass is right on the money. The recording is essentially done and now all that’s left is to agonise over all the decisions that were made (hindsight is always 20/20) and start to turn my focus to the artwork.
As usual, Michael Wrycraft is my first and only choice for art director. Michael is one of those people who like to get into the job as early on in the process as possible. I’d been feeding him little bits, rough mixes, early bed tracks etc. at each stage of the recording process so when we were ready for him to start working on the artwork, he was very familiar with the material and eager to get at it. I love working with Michael, he’s a very good friend and one of the most creative people I know. Funny as all get out, (off the wall does not really capture the essence of the man) and a real music lover, who approaches his work in much the same way that I approach song writing. Michael’s work is a mixture of pure instinct/inspiration coupled with vast experience, a high level of graphic skills and some freaky computer shit. We met several times, over coffee, over the phone and over at his place, pulling out old album covers, looking at photographs, discussing colours, fonts, and blah, blah, blah. Some of this I find fascinating whilst some of it bores me to sleep, but all of it matters and you ignore the small details at your peril. I’ve spent hours looking for typos and agonising over which friends I forgot to thank in the credits… it takes forever it seems.
Once we began discussing photographers for the booklet, Michael suggested Margaret Malandruccolo, a Toronto photgrapher, who has done some stunning work. Her ‘book’ (examples of her photographs) was breathtaking, and in particular her use of shadows/light and weird focusing (technical term!) really knocked me out and made me think that she’d be perfect for the ‘look’ of this record. I spent a day with Margaret and her assistants posing my ass off, perfecting my own version of the ‘Blue Steel’ look (see the film Zoolander!). I’m not the most comfortable photographic subject and so I often end up with photographs of a guy who looks vaguely uncomfortable, but Margaret seemed to get something out of me that I found refreshingly different, comfortable, even confident. After all the clothing changes, fussing with my hair and wandering around the alleys of Toronto trying desperately to look nonchalant whilst the shutter clicked, I was really happy with the results. Even better, the cover shot was immediately obvious. I handed everything to Michael and waited for his computer to start spewing out the booklet, the final piece of the puzzle.
So there it is, ‘That’s How I Walk’, another recording, another kick at the can, another chance to capture something special on tape.
And when it’s all said and done? You just let go and move on to the next thing.