Session Diary

To bring you inside the recording session for The Lost Love Letter to a Small Town, I wanted to share a few of the photos we took and passed around along with the story of how the session came to be.

Thanks to my Producer and friend Ken Friesen's longstanding connection to The Tragically Hip, we secured their historic Bathouse residential recording studio for three extraordinary days and nights in April of 2022.

And thanks to the pandemic not quite being over and all concert tours still on hold, Ken was able to call on some of Canada's finest studio musicians. We recruited band members from Blue Rodeo (Jimmy Bowskill, guitars), Blackie and Rodeo Kings (John Dymond, bass), The Jim Cuddy Band (Steve O’Connor, keyboards) and Red Rider (Davide Di Renzo, drums).

My son Gabe, who's a TO-based audio pro, joined us to help Ken on engineering alongside the studio's live-in curator and Studio Manager Nyles Spencer. As he does with many family get-togethers, Gabe gave me a very specific grocery list to keep us all fueled. More important, he later mixed all of the recorded tracks with mentoring from Ken.

We knew it was a singer-songwriter collection of story songs. We knew the southeastern Ontario music tradition we came out of alongside bands like Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, The Trews, the Arkells and artists like Bruce Cockburn, Sarah Harmer, and Fred Eaglesmith, who had all recorded inside the same walls with the same gear. What we didn't know was the magic that would happen during our three days together.

By end of day one, we had three tunes pretty much done and Ken figured why wait for another session, so called Jimmy who was up the road in Cobourg. The next day, also at Ken’s invitation,  Jimmy brought along his neighbour Steve. The fact is, no one had made a record inside the same room with other humans in just about two years. These superb musicians were like racehorses who'd been kept off the track. By day three, the guts of the entire album were done like one of Gabe's fabulous studio dinners.

The session was this songwriter’s recording trip of a lifetime. It was pure joy to work up the songs, benefit from John's martini mixology, watch Davide and John (who'd never played together) turn into a fabulous rhythm unit as well as our in-house comedy team, marvel at Jimmy's prowess on all things stringed and see Steve flow through the rooms from Hammond to Wurlitzer to piano and back again.

And we had SO. MUCH. FUN. After I gave a briefing on what each song was about, Ken consulted with the guys on instrumentation, and we captured the core of just about everything live off the floor in two or three takes, adjusting tempo and tweaking arrangements as we went.

Because the Bathouse is The Tragically Hip's studio legacy, there were keyboards, percussion instruments, guitars and amps lying around all over the place (not to mention the band’s life-size original album artwork adorning the walls) we couldn't resist adding tracks. With Ken guiding us, Gabe and Nyles hooked up wires, adjusted stands, placed amps and mics then manned the console screens while the rest of us splashed paints on the sonic canvas.

Throughout 2023 we added backup vocals with Gabe in Toronto and more of Jimmy's stringed spices with Ken in Almonte. Then over Christmas Philip Shaw Bova, Toronto's Grammy-nominated mastering ace, skillfully prepped the tracks for today's dizzying array of digital and physical formats, and guided the pacing between songs. Gabe came up with the track list, which I only made one change to with a mind to an A-side and B-side of an old-school long-playing record, should we ever decide to press some of those.

I hope you enjoy the results of our three days in studio paradise.