The Deep Dark Woods Cabin Time
Published Oct 14, 2013Jubilee, the fifth Deep Dark Woods album, promises to keep the career trajectory of the Saskatoon-based roots rockers on the ascent. It is already drawing attention via the presence of California wunderkind psychedelic folk producer Jonathan Wilson (Father John Misty, Roy Harper, the Dawes) at the console. He and the band holed up for two weeks in a cabin near Bragg Creek, Alberta, to make the album, primarily live off the floor. Deep Dark Woods have just commenced an extensive North American tour. On the eve of Jubilee's unveiling, chief songwriter and vocalist Ryan Boldt chatted with Exclaim!
I see you are about to begin a big North American tour in California, including the Hardly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco. I hear it's an amazing festival.
I have always wanted to see Ralph Stanley. I thought I never would, as this is his last tour, so I'm pretty excited he's playing there. And Richard Thompson. They're two of my favourites, so I'm really looking forward to that.
The last album was self-produced. Did you want an outside ear this time or just keen to use Jonathan Wilson for Jubilee?
We definitely wanted to get someone else to work with us. Especially when there are five of you in the studio, all giving ideas, I think it's best to have someone outside the band saying what's good or bad. Jonathan did the Roy Harper and Father John Misty albums. I liked their sound, so he was a perfect fit. I knew he was really into the English-style folk rock, like Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span.
Had you thought about going to his studio in Los Angeles to do it?
We thought about it, but I thought it'd be nice to get him out of his element and have us trapped in a cabin rather than going to L.A. and having all these distractions, like having the option of going anywhere to eat. Here, we had to make our own food and live in a spot where there was really nothing to do. That added to the record I think. He's an incredible guy and we just had a ton of fun hanging out in the studio.
Did Jonathan bring up a lot of equipment and instruments with him?
Well, Chris, the bass player, has a bunch of recording gear and really good mics. We used his gear. Geoff [Hilhorst] played the B3 and the L102 on the bed tracks, then for the synths we went to a guy in Calgary who owns a mellotron with a guy from Sweden. He has a studio with instruments I hadn't heard of before.
Those keyboards really add atmosphere.
I am not a huge synth-pop guy, but I do love things like Pink Floyd. I do love synthesizers, but not in a Corey Hart kind of way.
I gather a lot was recorded live off the floor?
We did the bed tracks of guitars, bass and drums and the Hammond organ, all live off the floor. Then the odd guitar solo here and there and then some of the keyboards were overdubbed. Not a whole lot of overdubbing though.
Was there an analog approach?
We did it to Pro Tools, but Jonathan mixed it analog. It is kind of hard last-minute in a cabin where you don't have access to record to tape.
To me, it sounds warm though.
That is because Jonathan is really amazing at making things sound good. If you are recording digitally, you need someone like that to make it sound good on the ears. Not hurt your ears like most digital things do.
It seems there are many different writing configurations and credits this time. Is this the most collaborative Deep Dark Woods record?
I guess I'd say that. I wrote about nine of them on the album, and three were with Clayton [Linthicum], the new guitarist. He and I started writing together over the past two years. He's a young guy, but has a really good sense of traditional music, from Martin Carthy to Howling Wolf and Henry Thomas through to Pink Floyd and psychedelic bands like the Seeds. He kind of grew up on traditional and country music, which I'm really into. He has a really good sense of lyrics, how to write in that style. I wrote the music to those three tunes, but Clayton and I came up with the lyrics together.
I gather he's quite young still?
Yes, he's 19 [laughs]. I hope they don't ID him in American bars.
Is it pleasing to build an audience in Europe and the U.S.. over last few years?
It's nice, especially Europe. For the last eight years in this band, we have been touring constantly in Canada and the U.S.. It has taken a long time to get to this point. We went over to Europe for the first time about 18 months ago and it was just instant. Our shows were selling out and it keeps getting better. We had an amazing show in Denmark, England and Ireland are great. It's amazing to me that a bunch of guys from Saskatoon can go over and people will come out. I think that constant touring for eight years is paying off. We're still working really hard. It gets tiring, especially as we have girlfriends at home. It's not very easy for them, us being on the road all the time. But it's worth it.
Did the last album come out on Sugar Hill internationally too?
Yes, and on Six Shooter here too. I remember growing up and seeing Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark records on Sugar Hill, so its pretty incredible to be able to be on a label with those guys.
And the link with Jonathan might help now.
It is definitely to our benefit to have someone like that produce the record, but most of all he knows how to get exactly what we were looking for. That is really all that matters. He's an incredible guy and a lot of fun to hang out with. We just had a ton of fun hanging out in the studio.
Was it dead of winter then?
No, but it felt like it. The start of March, and for Alberta that can still be the dead of winter.
Do you get inspired by wilderness and solitude?
Oh yes. I have trouble writing in any city. I have to get out of town. I often go up to Christopher Lake or my parents house on Vancouver Island. I do a lot of writing here. I need to get away from my bunch of friends in Saskatoon. Otherwise it's too tempting to go out for a pint.
Over the years there have been a few personnel changes, but the group sound and identity has been pretty consistent.
We have all been friends since were kids. It is hard to break up a friendship going on that long. We get annoyed with each other being on the road, but you can't really break something up when you've been friends that long.
I've seen a reference to a solo album. That under way?
I kind of finished that, but we've been so busy over the last two or three years that I never got a chance to put it out. I'd like to get it out eventually, just because I do a bunch of solo shows all around and I don't have a solo album to sell at those shows. That's the most important thing. Yes we recorded it at a friend's house in Swift Current. Before he joined the band, Clayton was on it, playing guitar all over it. He also has a band, Kacy & Clayton, and I produced their new album. It will hopefully come out by the end of the year, and I highly recommend it.