When Vancouver musician Steve Dawson decided to record a new solo album this year, he had a couple of ideas for the overall sound. The first was for a record of roots songs, featuring Dawson’s singing; the second was for an instrumental album tapping into his current fascination with the pedal steel guitar. When Dawson decided to bring drummer Scott Amendola up from San Francisco and bassist Keith Lowe from Seattle, he also made the choice to go with both ideas and record two albums at the same time with the same players.
“I just thought it would be a fun experiment because they’re very different recordings,” he explains. “I thought the one thing that could tie them together would be the time frame in which they were recorded and having similar sounds from the studio—using the same drums and the same mics and stuff—so there’s going to be this one little common thread, but they’re totally different projects.”
The basic tracks for both records—the one with vocals, Waiting for the Lights to Come Up, is out now, while Dawson is looking at a September release for Telescope, the instrumental pedal steel record—were done in five days, but Dawson doesn’t feel that anything was rushed. In fact, he says that there was no doubt in his mind that fast was the way to go with the band he had assembled.
“It was very cool because these guys, most of them come from jazz backgrounds and you get guys like that in the studio playing together and they’re going to sound better fresh out of the gate—they’re not the kind of musicians where you want to sit down and rehearse them for days and days and then do like 20 takes and choose little bits of this and that,” Dawson explains. “It’s going to be a complete thing from beginning to end and that’s what’s going to work and usually it’s within the first two or three takes that that happens. I don’t think we ever did more than three takes of anything.”
Reading personalities and knowing how to get the best performance out of a particular musician, plus a genuine interest in the recording studio, has led Dawson to a second career as a producer alongside his own music.
“I really like both things, so it’s just a matter of trying to find a balance,” he says about his desire to both produce and create. “I don’t really have the desire to just go out on the road and do my own stuff always—I love being a sideman, so I do that as well. The production thing is something I’m really drawn to because I like being in the studio and I love gear and I love experimenting with sounds.
“I think I’m pretty patient, too, in the studio, so it just kind of works out that it’s something that I’m drawn to,” he continues. “I like them both for various reasons. The studio, usually it’s more of a labourious thing than performing live. When you perform you throw it out there and that’s what it is. In the studio there are more options and you can potentially spend a lot more time doing the same kind of work.”