On Work and Love, Elliot BROOD’s new album, the Canadian band broke with past traditions by hiring a producer for the first time and expanding its own musical palette. The band’s new album deals with themes of growing up and leaving adolescence behind. In so doing, the group also left more familiar ways of recording behind, opting to record in more controlled environments and taking on less of a DIY approach. The new album sees the Juno-award winning act bringing a sharper, musically richer sound to its unique alt-country blend. Pro Sound News spoke with drummer Stephen Pitkin on leaving (most of) the familiar behind.
The band Elliot BROOD recorded its latest album at Bathouse Recording Studio on Lake Ontario.ON MOVING ON:
Thematically, the new record is about maturing—we are all balancing families, relationships and our music careers, and at the same time, leaving stuff behind. The song “Nothing Left,” for example, is about knowing when a relationship is over and leaving that behind.
We had done several records in a DIY kind of fashion. A lot of the times, I engineered, and we recorded everywhere from townhouses to cabins in the woods, to trucks, to outdoors in rainforests and everywhere else we possibly could. I guess we hit a maturity level where we decided to hone the sounds a little more, and in doing that, we ended up hiring a new producer, Ian Blurton (Weakerthans, Skydiggers, Cursed).
ON WORKING WITH IAN BLURTON:
Ian came to the table and was our first choice. In particular for us, he had produced The Weakerthans’ Reconstruction Site album, which was a go-to record for all of us. To hear what he’d done with them, we realized that he wasn’t just going to try to make a heavy rock album with us and I think we found that sweet spot and struck that balance.
Before we got with Ian, we spent a lot of time on self-produced preproduction where we recorded rehearsals and discussed song forms and arrangements. Ian came for three days at the end of our preproduction and helped with this phase as well. When we finally got to the studio, it was great working with Ian because he would challenge all of us to do things with a little more creativity than we might normally do.
ON THE BATHOUSE RECORDING STUDIO:
We ended up working at the Bathouse Recording Studio, located on Lake Ontario between Toronto and Montreal. It is The Tragically Hip’s studio—a wonderful facility with classic gear including an API desk and tons of outboard. It is also a residential facility with a kitchen and all the amenities. So it just worked out really well for us, especially considering the resources we had already spent on preproduction in LA.
Nyles Spencer at the Bathhouse is kind of a genius. Typically, you don’t really know what you are getting when you rent a studio with a house engineer. You kind of expect a transparent, quiet individual. But Nyles would be doing like 16-hour days and just never stopped. His main thing was how efficient and creative he was with the outboard gear. He has all this equipment he could grab in a pinch—plate reverbs, Leslie speakers, Eventides and other equipment. He would be doing creative things with tape machines, manipulating the audio and sending it back while we were recording. We’ve always enjoyed studio fun, and I think he had that— which was great.
ON THE PAPER BAG SESSIONS:
These sessions were recorded by Mitch Fillion, whose thing is to go in with one camera along with a bunch of live microphones he brings along. This particular session for us was done at University of Toronto’s Hart House, which is a beautiful, ambient room that kind of looks like a church. There were no mics on the drums; it’s just ambient sounds coming off of the live mics. Mitch put together a decent mix and gave us the tracks. We embellished them a little bit and decided to include them as bonus tracks on the album. It is what it is; it has that immediate and spontaneous feel of a one-camera performance.
ON COMMANDO RECORDING:
Our early recordings were partly dictated by budget, because we started with nothing. At the time of our first EP, I had some engineering experience and was really champing at the bit to produce stuff when I met these guys. I convinced them to record with me and we did what I call “commando recording.” You take the bare bones out of everything and just do it. I think we learned from all those processes and I wouldn’t give up any of that experience.
We had many great moments discovering the nature of recording in different environments, using each to our benefit. We used to record at a place called Avening Hall in Ontario which just had this awesome tone to it. But as we spent more time recording there, we also discovered there was a bird’s nest up in the corner of the room. When you are tracking, a couple of bird chirps might be OK, but if you are doing overdubs, it gets to be a bit much, so working in a professional environment was a nice change on this record.
ON EXPANDING THEIR SOUND:
It’s amazing because our sound feels more expansive now. It was a challenge to get these particular songs up and running live—it took a bit of brainstorming. Our past stuff was just ‘get up and go’ since we were almost like a skiffle, busking type of group when we started. Now we are a lot more full—Casey plays bass pedals, Mark plays several instruments, I play keyboards and drums at the same time on about 10 songs. Once we finished the record, we had it all in our head, but getting it together live definitely took a few rehearsals.