My new album, Evin On Earth, has been out for just over a month. Thank you to everyone who’s shared their appreciation of the record with me so far. If you haven’t yet checked it out, here’s where you can listen, download and order a vinyl copy:
With the last bunch of shows and touring, I haven’t yet had the chance to share much about these songs as a collection or the process of writing and recording them. So, better late than never!
These songs kind of crept up on me. After my last album, Life As A Lover, I was feeling a bit hesitant to get back into songwriting and recording again. I thought, “maybe I don’t have anything new to say”. But I pushed through those thoughts and showed up to the page and piano to put down whatever I was feeling at the moment. In my mind, I wasn’t yet writing for a proposed “new album”. I was just getting into the groove of writing again and not being too precious about any one song. I sometimes forgot about the songs after I wrote them. Towards the end of 2016, some people encouraged me to record a new song, “Everybody’s Breaking Up”. I thought, “if I do this, it’s got to be as good, if not better, than my best work up until now.” How’s that for pressure and injecting unnecessary ego into creativity? I guess I just wanted to feel like I was bringing something new to my work and moving forward. I knew I wanted to make something timeless and have it sound like real musicians playing together in a room.
Anyway, I got a team of close friends and collaborators together and we recorded “Everybody’s Breaking Up” as a one-off at Union Sound Company in Toronto. It went splendidly and I felt as if I had tapped into something timeless and classic with the song. Now I had the itch to get some more songs together and do more recording.
By the way, this team of friends and collaborators was:
Howie Beck (producer and mixer, multi-instrumentalist), who I worked with on my last album
Ian MacKay (drummer), who I toured with as a duo from 2014-2017
Jim Creeggan (bassist), who co-produced my 2005 album I’ll Bring The Stereo and has been in my life since 2002
Joining the team for this song were:
Chris Stringer (engineer)
Drew Jurecka (strings and arrangement)
The next goal was to write more songs and sort through all the songs I wrote in 2016. We planned to record three more songs in Spring 2017. I still had no idea if there was going to be any thematic elements to the collection of songs. I just wanted to have the best songs I could at the moment, and I wanted to give myself time over the Summer to write a new batch of songs to choose from for the remainder of the album.
The three songs we chose to record in the Spring were:
“Girl With A Ghetto Blaster”
“Hard To Give In” (almost didn’t make the cut, but thanks to an “A&R” session with my dad, I was encouraged to give it another chance)
Now the diversity of the song selection was starting to show itself. I just had to embrace it. But despite their different vibes, the songs all shared a lyrical theme of yearning for connection. The same core team was involved, only this time we recorded at Revolution Recording in Toronto because they had a grand piano. Joining the team was engineer Stephen Koszler. Trombonist Tom Richards cooked up a horn arrangement for “Little Screen” and brought on Rebecca Hennessy (trumpet) and Roslyn Black (french horn).
Around this time I remembered a potential album title that my old friend Ezra Soiferman had suggested many years ago in Montreal - Evin On Earth. I dismissed it at the time, because I thought it was too cheeky. Somehow it resonated with me in the Spring of 2017, and I ran it by the rest of the team. Jim especially loved it, and during the recording sessions he secretly wrote it with dusty chalk on the wall of the studio control room. I don’t think there was any going back after that.
When I told Ezra that I was calling the album Evin On Earth, he challenged me to write a super catchy and short intro song to the album with that same title. I envisioned it as a sort of mission statement and wrote it pretty fast.
Now I had the Summer to get the remaining songs together. I wanted to get fully out of my comfort zone, do some traveling and see what kind of creative juices that stirred up. I spent June volunteering with Debajehmujig Creation Centre, a First Nations arts centre up on Manitoulin Island. I worked in their organic garden, cooked for them and did other assorted things. I ended up making wonderful new friendships there and they brought me to pow-wows and ceremonies, and I also learned a bit about the spiritual and cultural heritage of the Anishinaabe.
The only song I wrote while I was on Manitoulin Island was “Stronger Apart”. This was one of the few days I had off and I felt I needed to write something. I quickly forgot about it, but when I listened to it a month later I loved it.
At the end of June, I drove from Manitoulin Island down to New Orleans. I rented a room in a house with other musicians and made my intent to write songs regularly for a month, but how could I avoid going out and taking in all the music and culture that New Orleans and Louisiana offered?
My time in New Orleans and Cajun country turned into an extension of the journey I started in Manitoulin Island - new friendships with people from different cultural backgrounds, learning about the efforts of other cultural groups to keep their traditions alive while at the same time trying to make sense of their place in the wider world.
The songs I wrote in New Orleans that made it onto the album were:
“Wide Wide World”
When I got back to Canada, I wrote “Boring World” after a long conversation with my dad as I was trying to make sense of my experiences that Summer. I continued to write songs in Toronto during August and September.
The recording sessions to finish the basic tracking for the album were scheduled for October. To round out the collection of songs, I chose a co-write I did in 2016 with Ian Alexander Smith Production called “I Miss The Congas”.
Jim Creeggan was unavailable for these recording sessions, so Dennis Mohammed joined the team on bass and we were back at Revolution Recording. Over the next few months, we sweetened the songs with guest appearances from Dean Drouillard (guitar), Tom Moffatt (trumpet) and Lori Cullen, Stacey Kaniuk and Mike Celia (harmony vocals).
By January 2018, we still had a few keyboard overdubs to do, but things got delayed while I was recovering from frostbite in my fingertips after a cross-country skiing accident.
Finishing a record can sometimes be challenging for me. It’s hard to let go. It can be so tempting to keep “making it better”. This time was no exception. I want to thank Howie and my good friend Joan Besen for encouraging me to call it done.
Thanks to all the musicians and engineers who brought so much heart to this album.
There you have a long-winded and rambling account of the making of my sixth full-length album, Evin On Earth. I’m super proud of these songs and recordings and how they fit together. So far they’ve been a real joy to discover and reinvent in concert. It’s also been a joy to rediscover my older songs in concert, now that I have newer songs and I’m not so close to the older ones anymore. It feels so good to step back and appreciate all of the work I’ve done up until now. But I’m just getting started. I have lots more songs to write, records to make and concerts to play.
Thanks everyone for engaging with my music up until now! See you all at a show down the road.
PS - the album cover photo was taken by Jen Squires - Photographer in Christie Pits, Toronto.