‘We had a wild show last night in Winnipeg,” laughs former Edmontonian Shuyler Jansen over his cell phone as he makes a quick escape from a room reverberating with music, heading for the quiet of the band’s van.
“For some reason this weekend there’s a whole slew of bands from Canada playing in Winnipeg that we know—like The Uncas are playing for two nights, and The Sheepdogs from Saskatoon are playing for two nights, Elliott Brood’s playing tonight—so it’s fun because everybody’s around to jam and hang out.”
It seems that the music is running freely in Winnipeg at the moment; before slipping out of the room, Jansen was in the midst of a jam with the ‘Peg’s own D Rangers, something that is more than a little bit of fun for Jansen, but which also doubles as a rehearsal for the night’s coming show.
“If you can sing all afternoon then by the time you get on stage you’ve kind of worked all that pent-up adrenalin out,” he says, adding, “And then you can just get on stage and relax.”
The number of bands congregating in Winnipeg on this particular weekend might be a little out of the ordinary, but it’s not at all surprising that Jansen knows so many of them. The few bands that he hasn’t met while out on the road either solo or as a member of Old Reliable tend to land right near his front yard when they head out on tour, because, as Jansen chuckles, everybody almost has to stop in Saskatoon when heading across the prairies.
Since leaving Edmonton for Saskatoon a couple of years ago, Jansen has settled into life across the provincial border quite nicely, touring pretty much non-stop for much of the first year and then taking the next one for small things, like repairing old and beaten music gear, and big ones, like the birth of his second daughter. While in Saskatoon, Jansen also befriended the guys in The Deep Dark Woods, and now they’re all out on tour together.
“They’re my back-up band and I’m playing in their band,” Jansen explains. “I’m playing mostly keyboards and baritone guitar, and the odd acoustic and electric part, but they’re already a great band and they don’t need anybody else, so I really try to play sort of sparse kind of spooky parts and stay out of the limelight.”
Of course, Jansen is no slouch in the music department himself, and he’s bringing a new record along with him on tour. Today’s Remains was recorded out in Vancouver with producer Steve Dawson, and the album does an impressive job of capturing the feel of ‘70s country recordings without sounding like a cheap knock-off. A good part of the credit for that rightfully goes to Jansen, who wrote the songs, but the band assembled for the sessions also plays an invaluable role.
Made up of some of Dawson’s regular session players, Jansen laughs that the band hardly had the time to introduce themselves before they were all in the midst of recording. In fact, Jansen barely even spoke to keyboard player Chris Gestrin during the sessions, although not for any overabundance of hostility between them.
“He’s just got so much gear it took him most of the day to set it up,” Jansen recalls with a laugh. “I tried talking to him a couple of times, but he was so busy patching cables and getting sounds that he just muttered a couple of words to me all week.”
When it came down to it, though, those few words were all that the musicians needed as they locked into a groove together. “It really clicked and it really happened fast,” Jansen remembers. “We recorded almost all that music in two days, and then did a couple of overdubs for another two or three days and I was done and then I was gone. Basically, I spent five or six days on the record and then Steve did some work at home on it—he did the strings and harmonies and stuff—texturized it a bit.”
The brisk pace of recording didn’t worry Jansen at all. He was actually pleased with the approach, preferring to make an album that draws from the sound of old-school country records.
“The analogue records that were made in the ‘70s still sound, fidelity-wise, the best,” he admits. “We wanted to capture a record in that sort of sense where we have a tape machine and the board and we just get good sounds out of the amps and just try to play good and sing good.”
- Eden Munro