Earlier this year we put out Midnight Shine’s third album, High Road, and it’s the first time in my music career I set out to purposely write an entire album.
Since there are no recording studios in my home community of Attawapiskat, I’ve had to create my own. It’s situated in my front porch, and ‘rustic’ to say the least. I spent four solid months writing songs here, sometimes up to 12 hrs per day. I didn’t know where this writing journey was going to take me, and working all alone with the music, it was difficult to know how well the songs were taking shape. It felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. Like I was writing a grueling final exam without knowing if I had the right knowledge to even pass the test.
Will it be well received by peers? By the industry? By Midnight Shine fans? Thoughts and doubts ran through my mind. At some point, I had to stop thinking about all of that, though, and just go with what felt right in my heart.
Once we started talking to producers and sending out demos, it was reassuring to know there were some amazing people interested in working with us. This lead to many exciting moments in the recording studio, and great relationships with people I’ve since grown very fond of.
John-Angus MacDonald from The Trews produced seven songs on High Road, at Jukasa Studios in Ohsweken, Ontario. We first came across Jukasa in 2016 when we were looking for a place to record the single Sister Love. Jukasa had a wonderful atmosphere, and in-house engineers Darren Magierowski and Jill Zimmermann were stellar. They worked extremely hard to pull off tight timelines, and made our time there feel special.
Darren ultimately lead us to John-Angus as a producer, and we found him to be down to earth, focused, and friendly. He brought so much to the recording process, and just when you thought he had run out of ideas, he’d pull something more out of his bag of tricks. It was an unbelievable experience working with him, and I learned a great deal.
John-Angus also brought some incredible musicians into the studio sessions, like drummer Chris Gormley (Daylight for Dead Eyes, The Trews). Chris had so much energy, the ideas were spilling out of him unlike anything I’ve ever seen. One quirky thing I noticed about him is that his socks didn’t match. When I finally mustered up the courage to ask what was up with his socks, he replied, “I never match my socks!” For no particular reason at all. Must be a drummer thing.
Jesse O’Brien came into the studio to lay down keys, and I was so impressed with the ideas he brought. It turns out that Jesse is one of the best keyboardists/pianists in the business, and tours with artists like Colin James and Tom Wilson. He’s in big demand, and we’re grateful he lent his talents to the album.
We recorded two tracks at a second studio – The WoodShed in Toronto, which is owned by Blue Rodeo. Tim Veseley of the Rheostatics is the in-house producer and engineer over there, and he encouraged us to noodle around to find sounds and embellishments. Zach Sutton sat in on drums, bringing his positive presence and energy to the recording. Once the songs began to take shape I knew we were in very capable hands. I believe we ended up capturing something very special in Leather Skin, one of my favourites.
The Woodshed itself has a warm family presence, and was a fantastic place to record. I’ve been a long-time fan of Blue Rodeo, but never in a million years did I think I would ever be in their studio. Yet, there I was – coming all the way from the remote James Bay, to Blue Rodeo’s studio in the heart of Toronto. Thinking about that was quite surreal.
When it came time to record vocals, Tim gave me a choice of microphones. I chose the one that felt best, and it ended up being the same mic that Jim Cuddy sings on. Maybe that explains now why the session felt so magical at the time, and why the vocals we laid down for Leather Skin and Words I Could Have Said ended up being some of the best vocals on the album.
Last, but not least… my Midnight Shine bandmates Zach Tomatuk and Stan Louttit both brought their A-game – and more – to High Road. The album would not be nearly as cool without Zach’s slick licks on guitar, and Stan’s deep bass tones and whole lotta sexy. And Midnight Shine’s sound would not be what it is without these two.
In the end, I couldn’t be more pleased with how High Road turned out. It was a long road to get here, and in many ways, a tough test. But it’s one I think I passed.