It’s A Dream (The Making of an album …)

A new album is almost finished, but the last few pieces have been the hardest to complete …

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The recording process began in February of 2013 at The Narrows Recording Studios in Buckhorn, Ontario, just north of Peterborough. It’s a small, one-room cottage-style house set on a hill overlooking a forest with coyote howls in the air, the night sky as dark as your closed-eyes and a solitude that lends itself to making music. With uber-engineer James McKenty at the wheel (James engineered the new Blue Rodeo album and has worked with Matt Barber, Cuff the Duke, The Sadies and more), I knew I was in good hands and set out to record a handful of tunes. I ended up being my own band, playing drums, guitars, synth and bass, with McKenty adding some guitar touches. After two weekends, I ended up with four songs that sound killer.

As I let those tunes sit for close to a year and bide their time in my CD player, I wanted to record more material. I had been in touch with Don Kerr (owner of Rooster Studios in Toronto), so we set up some recording time in December. His studio is a handmade hub of creativity and love, with old doors used as a drum booth, hanging curtains as sound barriers and a natural reverberation in the space that lends itself to an honest sound. I love that place, the walls drip with creative vibes.

I went in guns-a-blazing with close to twenty songs that we banged out over a week’s time, LIVE off the floor, very few overdubs. No tricks, no auto-tuning vocals, no chopping up parts of songs to make one final cut. Music played by humans. Some of the mistakes made for the BEST takes! Very lucky and grateful to have such great musicians on the project including Don’s magical drumming (Ron Sexsmith, The Rheostatics, Communism; his musicianship is hard to beat), Rob Isabella’s lyrical guitar-playing (Rob and I have been doing gigs together for years, his playing is GOLD), and Chris Banks on stellar bass (a jazzman at heart, his soul and concentration to music is crazy good). They took the songs to a new level and the musical experience was unrivaled.

So now I sit with all these tunes, and continue to write more songs, write write write write …I recently went back to see James McKenty to fix a few things from previous recordings and to lay down a few more tracks, one of which will be on the new album. I’m also going back into Don Kerr’s studio to finalize a few more tunes. By then, I will have enough recorded material for TWO albums.

Lately I’ve been finding my creative well swimming with ideas. That’s not a bad thing, as it gives me more flexibility to decide what the album can be. It’s nice to have that option.

Part of the process is artwork. I’ve narrowed down a few album cover ideas …(please post and let me know your favourite picture for a possible album cover!)

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No idea who these people are. My grandmother, Isabella Robertson, took this picture eons ago. I love the natural poses, the hairdos, the clothes, the beer and her glare. So much character in this pic.
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This pic was taken in Nova Scotia in 2013. It’s so alive, yet so alone.
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Mars? Nope. My wife Crystal looking out to the Bay of Fundy.

A pleasure to have you here reading this. Thanks for being a part of this album-making journey. I’ll post some tunes shortly.

See you next time.

Craig

http://www.craigrobertson.ca

 

Down By The River

I just finished reading a great bio about one of the giants in music.

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There’s a new book about Johnny Cash called “The Life”, written by Robert Hilburn. I’m generally skeptical about bios because they can seem glossy and edited. I find them to be advertisements, rather than a true glimpse into what the subject was really like. This book does the opposite. It reveals the warts, the worries, the anxiety, the fear, the mistakes, the redemption. It makes you connect with Johnny Cash as the man he was, with no gloss, no edits. It gets under his, and your, skin.

He was imperfect – infidelities, drugs, jail time, missed concert dates, a distant father, troubled friendships, troubled business. But he was also a man of great caring and kindness, of deep faith and conviction. He hated confrontation, but always pushed to do things his way; made mistakes as an artist, but always persevered with more work; loved the ones in his life with all his heart, but hurt them along the way.

Here is a man who layed down some of the greatest tracks of all time – Folsom Prison Blues, I Walk the Line, Hurt – but he still felt lost and alone, in a constant state of doubt and worry about himself as an artist, himself as a human and even about money. In between the lines of the book, you can feel this pain, sense his trepidation and delve into the mental state of Johnny Cash:  a paradox in many ways, in a constant state of finding and re-creating himself.

This is what I found so invigorating about the story, his growth as a person, as an artist and his evolution of being. It’s bloody inspiring and downright cool.

His life reads like one of his songs, marching like a freight train carrying a load. It’s well worth the journey.

Thanks for reading, see you next time.

http://www.craigrobertson.ca

Long Walk Home

I recently got to know my family a bit better …

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I’ve always been a bit of a ‘family-tree’ buff, researching where my family came from. I find it interesting to discover the stories behind the people who paved the way for us. Most recently I dug up the tale of how my family came to be in Canada.

The first Robertson from my family tree to come to Canada was Duncan Robertson. He was a captain with the 42nd Black Watch from the Highlands of Scotland. He battled on Long Island in the American Revolution. In return for his loyalty to the motherland he was offered a free boat ride home or a parcel of property in the colonies. He accepted a piece of land in northeast New Brunswick, in a little town called Tabusintac.

From all accounts, all of the original settlers in this community fished, farmed and hunted. They did what they could to get by and survive in a new land.

Duncan married a woman named Elizabeth Williams, whose story was not very traditional for the times …Elizabeth was born out of wedlock to my grandmother – 8 generations removed – Charlotte Taylor (a trailblazing woman’s rights advocate back in the early 1800’s). Charlotte Taylor was from England and fell in love with the family butler, Pad Williams. Their love affair was frowned upon by her family, so they eloped and boarded a ship heading to the Caribbean with hopes of a new life with their new baby. He died on the journey, disease running rampant among the passengers. Charlotte survived, and found herself in the West Indies with nothing to her name, giving birth to her first baby. She eventually got assistance from a ship captain, who took her to the colonies to raise her newborn. She settled in Tabusinatc.

Elizabeth and Duncan had up to sixteen children (some records say fourteen, others say as little as four). Some of the children stayed in New Brunswick, while others ventured to small communities in Quebec with place names like Malbaie, Bridgeville and Matapedia. A couple of brothers even built a ship called the Gaspe Trader that traveled to and from Barbados with supplies. It stayed in business for twenty years!

Amazing stuff, this lineage research. Not only had I discovered that Duncan Robertson is my grandfather, seven generations removed, but I also found the names of my grandfathers since – John, Sylvanus, John, George and Walter (my dad’s father).

Years ago I traveled to Tabusintac. Even though the place is real and is thriving, for me it has a mythical quality and seems surreal, magical. While there I visited Duncan Robertson’s grave. Just recently I found out that he died young, drowning in the nearby river. A life gone too soon.

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There are millions of stories like this. I’m lucky and grateful to have found my founding family. I wrote a song about it called “Tabusintac (The Duncan Robertson Story)”. Hope I can share it with you someday.

Thanks for reading, see you next time.

http://www.craigrobertson.ca

Country Home

Recently I discovered a great new (or maybe old?), Canadian music talent …

David Francey

His name is David Francey. His story is very cool.

He lived the bulk of his adult life working as a carpenter, tradesman and general labourer. All the while, he was writing songs about his life. But these songs never saw the light of day as he would hide them away for only himself and his wife to see.

He was finally convinced by his family and friends to perform. He did so, catching the eye of a CBC producer who went on the produce his first album which slowly won him fans across the country. His second album won him a Juno Award for Top Folk Artist. Upon winning, he decided to pursue music full-time and quit his job as a carpenter.

I happened upon this story from the documentary called ‘Burning Bright‘. It’s a great tale of later-in-life success. You get to hear his songs too, which are honest and real.

Here’s a link to his website – http://www.davidfrancey.com

Well worth checking out.

Thanks for reading, see you next time.

http://www.craigrobertson.ca

What Happened Yesterday

They say it’s your birthday …

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This week marks Paul McCartney’s 71st birthday. Maybe the most famous musician on planet earth …

My first memory of a Beatles song is listening to ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and being SCARED. Yup, actually getting frightened of the loneliness and the tragedy in the song. I can also vividly remember being fairly freaked out by ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ (and this was long before I started to ‘experiment’). Their music was, for me, something out of this world, something I had never heard before and it intrigued me.

Soon after I found out that Paul McCartney used to be in this little band called The Beatles. Prior to this discovery, I thought he was a solo artist who had a few cool tunes like ‘Band On The Run’ and ‘Jet’. I never knew he was a Beatle !?

And then I found out that John Lennon was a Beatle too? I was floored. The guy who wrote ‘Imagine’ was the same guy who wrote ‘Help!’? Seems weird now, but I was 9 years old or so, and was discovering on my own.

I love them both for their unique twists on songs – McCartney for his sweet melodies, old-fashioned charm and a voice that can sing anything. Lennon for his dark, introspective lyrics and a voice that felt hurt and lonely.

Mustn’t forget George Harrison, who, for my money, may have written one of the classiest tunes of all time – ‘Something’.

Oh yeah, Ringo as well. Some will argue, some will say I’m nuts, but his drumming kills me. Awesome player, who innovated the way drummers play to this day.

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I still listen to The Beatles. It’s hard not to admire what they did for music and their brilliance. At times, it takes me back to the days when I would listen to a Beatles record in my bedroom, completely engulfed in the sounds and the images conveyed with the words. Even if it still scares me …

… back to McCartney being so famous. I saw him in concert a few years ago. The guy is so well known, has so many hits and fans – young and old – that he opened up for HIMSELF. The show started with a half-hour video/music montage of Beatles, Wings and solo stuff with photos of him throughout the years. Paul McCartney, opening for Paul McCartney. Too good.

Thanks for reading. See you next time.

http://www.craigrobertson.ca

Here We Are In The Years

It’s been six months since I left my secure, full-time job to pursue other opportunities in life …

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… and I’ve never been happier.

It hasn’t all been roses and sunshine, as I had my doubts and reservations early on (and still do at times …), but in the end it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.

The act of quitting my radio career to pursue music was, and will be, one of those milestone moments. I had a great run in radio, met some amazing people and had a ton of fun, but it had it’s time in my life and what I’m doing now feels more true to who I am. I still get lots of people asking me “Do you miss being on the radio?”. I actually thought I would, I really thought there would be times of really wanting to get back on the air. But I don’t …

These past six months have been a whirlwind – I’ve written lots of songs, done a swhack of gigs, met some great industry people, recorded some new music, travelled, taught a few classes, rehearsed for future shows, etc etc — but the one thing I’ve done the most of is learning about life, and that enjoying our time here is so important. We are here for one shot, one round, one life, so we should make the most of it.

Amazing thing about this journey is meeting others who have done the same! They are coming out of the woodwork – old friends who quit secure gigs to pursue their dreams. It’s been very cool to randomly run into them, to get their phone calls or to find their emails in my in-box. It’s nice to know that we’re not alone.

I’ll tell you one thing, this whole process would not have been possible without the support of an amazing person – my wife Crystal. I can’t think of doing anything as crazy as quitting your job to pursue something that notoriously makes people POOR!, but she has not only supported it, she has been my spark and my biggest fan. To her I owe more than thanks, I owe a part of me, as this is my life pursuit and without her, it would not have happened.

In closing I want to thank you for reading my blog, my little journal of life. It’s nice to know people are on the other side of these words, so thank you.

See you next time.

http://www.craigrobertson.ca

Natural Beauty

The Canadian east coast. Best vacation ever.

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Incredible scenery, down-to-earth people and a new appreciation for how beautiful our country is. Not to mention meeting some great musicians along the way. Every turn was a highlight, but here are a few to share;

*Peggy’s Cove. It’s a real-life postcard. Spent a Saturday night in Peggy’s Cove at the Sou’ Wester restaurant enjoying ‘The Saunders Brothers Show’, a true east coast kitchen party band. With a pint of Clancy’s in hand and a plate of fish cakes I enjoyed some great maritime music with sing-a-longs, spoons, mandolin and tons of laughs.  The guys in the band are super friendly and they gained a new fan (they play Toronto on June 19th!)

*Cabot Trail. I can cross it off my bucket list. Stunning coastline, rugged cliffs, twisty turns and deep canyons. The place is surreal.

*Deron Donovan at the Keltic Lodge in Ingonish. Deron is a Cape Breton songwriter and I had the chance to catch two of his shows : honest, heartfelt songs about his life. ‘Capers’ are very proud of their heritage and it shows up in a lot of their music.

*The Celidh Trail. This is a scenic drive along the coast of the Gulf of St. Lawrence where The Rankin Family and Natalie McMaster hail from. There is the Celtic Music Museum where you can learn to fiddle and jig, and at every turn a community centre that features music. TONS of musicians in the area, very cool.

*The cities – Halifax, Quebec City, Charlottetown. Halifax for it’s lay-out of the steep hill in the city, the Citadel and the views of the harbour. Quebec City for Old Quebec which, for my money, is the coolest part of any Canadian city. Charlottetown for it’s friendliness, small-town charm and Cows ice cream.

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There were so many memories along the way – driving through the rolling scenery of P.E.I., the Acadians in Cheticamp, N.S., a Lobster Supper, the stormy ferry ride from P.E.I. to Nova Scotia, the stories from the locals about lobster fishing, artifacts from the Titanic at the Maritime Museum in Halifax, the Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick and even the St. Hubert chicken dinner outside of Montreal!

We live in an amazing country – beautiful scenery, diverse cultures and a rich heritage that is evident – especially the Acadians –  strong people, very proud of their french heritage and are still keeping their culture alive.

The one thing that sticks with me the most though is the friendliness of maritime Canadians – down-to-earth, laid back, easy going, funny and great musicians to boot. I can’t wait to go back again.

Thanks for reading, see you next time.

http://www.craigrobertson.ca

Just Singing A Song

You ever get lost in something so good, that it takes you to another place?

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I love performing live. What a buzz it is.

This past Friday night I played the Free Times Cafe in Toronto. It’s one of those timeless clubs that has hosted so many amazing artists, has a great vibe and is still cooking after all these years (when so many other Toronto clubs have come and gone …). A great crowd turned up and I, along with Rob Isabella who plays guitar me, were primed to play.

We nailed it  —  Rob’s guitar solos were soaring and beautiful. His feel for the emotional impact of the songs had me lost in the music (audience ovations after his solos attest to that!!). My vocals haven’t felt this good in a long time and the buzz from the room was heartfelt and joyous. Could not have asked for better.

It was another reminder why I love music so much  and why performing is in my blood. I get lost in it by closing my eyes, feeling the lyric, sensing the guitar interaction and taking in the vibe from the audience. It can, at times, be an out-of-body experience and there’s no better feeling.

To be able to play music, write these songs and experience moments like this, I am truly grateful. I’ve worked very hard for it and still work at it, but I also know that it’s a gift to enjoy and fully realize these moments. So to the music gods I lift a glass of thanks.

And hey, not all gigs are as cozy and cool as this. I’ve played some bummer shows when it can all go wrong :: guitar doesn’t stay in tune, vocal mics go dead, nobody claps, the band isn’t in sync, nerves get the best of your performance. So when it does go right, it feels so right …

More gigs to come, more songs to write, working on a new album (actually working towards 2 new releases and a bunch of singles …) and hopefully the music gods will offer up more of those inspiring on-stage moments. It’s too good to not do it again.

** A special shout out to Matt Holtby and Robbie Patterson who shared the bill. They were, as they always are, awesome. **

Thanks for reading, see you next time.

http://www.craigrobertson.ca

From Hank to Hendrix (…and Buckingham to Nicks)

As my songwriting journey winds it’s path, this week’s travels had me learning about myself and listening to some amazing artistry …

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Monday night my wife and I went to see the Stevie Nicks movie ‘In Your Dreams’. It’s a documentary on the making of her new album and reveals a side of her that is truly inspiring. She has a steely confidence and an unbending conviction of what she wants. Her art is her driving force, her desire to have things her way is her backbone. My wife is a massive fan of hers, and now I know why : Stevie Nicks lives for her music, for her own convictions and does it all with compassion and love. When I left the movie theater I was taken by her story, by her nerve and her belief. Since, I’ve been hell bent on writing more songs and getting them heard.

The following night we went to see Fleetwood Mac at the Air Canada Centre. I didn’t know what to expect from the evening other than what others told me – “They are awesome live”?? And you know what …they are and then some.

Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar playing is unreal. But it was his passion for the music that drew me in. He is ‘in the moment’ and lost in the music (I’ve been there as a performer and there is no better feeling). Plus the band on a whole is so authentic – no flashpods, no big lightshow – just a group of people playing great songs with an infectious energy and passion. I completely and absolutely loved the show.

And now, as I sit and write this blog, and take it all in, I realize how much I’ve learned about myself over the past few nights. Firstly, that believing in yourself and who you are can easily translate into a feel-good energy for those around you. “Power to the positive people”, as my buddy Robbie says. Stay positive, believe, be passionate.

Secondly, that music is what truly moves me and makes me happy.

You know, sometimes things happen for a reason and I believe these past few nights came into my life to restore and inspire. So, with a pen and paper I write my next song and continue onward and upward on this journey called life, learning more about myself and about others along the way.

Thanks for reading, see you next time.

http://www.craigrobertson.ca

Winterlong

Spring snow.

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I know, I know it sucks and driving in it is a pain and after all, it is APRIL.

So what do you do on a snowday? I’m inspired to write music today and I’ve researched some great songs about the seasons. Here are a few to ponder:

‘Song For A Winter’s Night’ by Gordon Lightfoot. Or ‘Winter’ by the Rolling Stones. Or ‘Summertime’ by Janis Joplin. Or ‘From the Morning’ by Nick Drake (an ode to summer). Or ‘Autmun in New York’ by Billie Holiday.

Any song titles come to mind?

Funnily enough, I can’t seem to find anything that strikes me as being very ‘springy’. Maybe that’s because, well it’s NOT springy outside!

But, in it’s own way, it is unique and special. We don’t see it very often and for most of us I guess it would nice not to see it at all! Snowfall in the spring! (that could be a song title ...)

In closing, if it’s not a song to help you through the day, here’s a little something to inspire us to trudge through the snow. It’s a line from one of my favourite poets, e.e. cummings ::

“The snow doesn’t give a soft white damn whom it touches.”

Thanks for reading, see you next time.

http://www.craigrobertson.ca