I first heard the Sons of Granville when they were a duo. I passed by their street performances on numerous occasions, admiring the sound of Matthew Lennox’s 12-string acoustic guitar blending with the viola of Thomas Beckman. They found percussionist Jarrett Plett in 2012, developing their chemistry on Vancouver streets for the last two years. When they approached me about a year ago to produce their sophomore record “Imperative Drive”, I set out trying to capture the excitement of their live performances.
The first album by Sons of Granville was released in 2012, back when they were a duo, consisting of Matthew Lennox on guitar and Thomas Beckman on viola. The addition of Jarrett’s cajon drum on the new album has given the music a healthy dose of brinkmanship, and a relentless forward motion. “Imperative Drive” represents the re-birth of the band as a trio and sheds light on their days as street performers busking for eight to ten hours, rain or shine.
Pre-production for “Imperative Drive” began at the band’s rehearsal space. I usually brought a simple recording setup so I could review the material at home and offer more in-depth suggestions. As we incorporated changes into the music, they would ‘test drive’ these alterations on the street.
The instrumentation was unfamiliar to me at first. After-all, it’s not every day you work on an album project where the main percussionist plays cajon while wearing a shaker on one ankle and a sleigh-bell on the other. The instrumentation became more familiar to me over time. We congegrated several times a week for almost 2 months before we recorded the bed tracks at Vogville.
For the first two days we focused on getting the best cajon tracks, placing Matt and Thomas in the room with Jarrett to capture the energy from everyone’s performance. . Their dynamic and rhythmic sway largely define their sound, as everyone takes turns pushing the tempo to a near-breaking point, so I was never considering using a metronome for any of these recordings. When the full drum kit came out for two songs, the boys were happy to join me on the other side of the glass.
One of the defining moments occurred on the title track. Jarrett was exhausted from a long day, but we forced him to dig deep and play the physically-intensive song one more time. Although we had already captured a great take, this last one would be the keeper.
After drums, we recorded the guitars. Matt alternated between several instruments: a couple of acoustic guitars, and a couple of electric guitars, including an electric 12-string. Matt is a natural performer who likes to move around, so we aimed to capture the entire room rather than just his strings. “La Ville d’Amour” features a solo intro that really benefitted from Vogville’s massive chamber. We also made time for strange methods.
We completed the guitars in just over 2 studio days. We initially planned 3 days for tracking the viola, but soon discovered we would need more time to reach the quality we wanted and capture all of Thomas’ ideas. There are over a dozen violas harmonizing at once through certain passages.
When we completed the main instruments, I added electric bass, painstakingly learning all the transitions to follow the drums precisely, or to follow the guitars precisely… I wanted to support all the music that was already there, and for the bass instrument itself to be felt rather than heard. It was time-consuming and also very rewarding. After going through the intensive production on all the other instruments, I develop a distinct purpose for each bass line.
I continued working with Jarrett at my home studio to add new layers and landscapes to the songs. He would bring his Wavedrum, an electronic drum surface, along with his iPad in order to record rain swells, thunder, wind, chords, pads and whatever else we needed for a given song. I would add my own analog pedals for reverbs and delays while we shaped the sound together.
The album opens cinematically, with Jarrett providing layers of drum-rumbling and storms-a-brewing to support Thomas’s dreary viola whimpers. “Redefining” got perhaps the most post-treatment, with Jarrett filling out the slowed down bridge section with congas, djimbes, taikos, and pads.
For the album’s title track, Matt contributed some sonic craziness of his own. His melody of natural harmonics was drenched in reverb, creating contrast between the ‘soundscape-y’ parts and the ‘punch-you-in-the-face’ parts.
I had a blast putting putting together the storyline: The album intro, the sky-train stroll on “April Song”, the city sounds on “Swagger”, and the voice of Nelson Mandela on “Ashes”. So many feels.
I did a lot of mix prep at home, getting to know the songs and all the files before heading to Vogville again for final mixes. I spent about 3-6 hours mixing each song, depending on the complexity of the arrangement. I printed up to 5 stems for each mix (drums, guitar, viola, bass, extras) which would allow me to make further alterations to the mixes back at home.
For two of the mixes, I relied on my usual partner-in-crime Mike Paton to conjure up some funky sonic transitions. He has a massive collection of analog pedals, and he knows what they do. After I described what I was after, he reached for the MoogerFooger. Whatever he did, it seemed to work!
One of my biggest concerns as a producer is waiting for objectivity to return. After mixing a song, I like to have at least a few days to forget about it, then go back and listen to it, and immediately hear the 2-3 main adjustments that will improve the outcome. The day before mastering, I stayed up all night re-levelling and automating the stems.
I gave the tracks to Brock McFarlane at CPS Mastering. If I was confident about a given song, I only included one mix version. For other songs, I included two or three mix versions although I did not label what the alterations were, simply calling them A, B, and C.
Brock nailed the mastering, bringing a sense of unity to the diverse collection of songs, but I realized a few of my mixes were slightly off-the-mark. I sent alterations for him to reload into his mastering chain…and voila. The album was complete.
There will be a documentary to accompany the album release, thanks to the grassroots support and fan voting that helped the band win a $10,000 grant from The Telus Storyhive Contest.
I am impatient for the October release of this album, but I am thrilled to step back from this project and hear it more like a fan of their music, instead of the producer.