Saskatoon Star Phoenix
He's 32 years old and has made a half dozen records already, but Shuyler Jansen may only now be hitting his stride. As his new album, Today's Remains, is released this week, the Edmonton-raised, Saskatoon-based country-rocker admits he's a late bloomer. A working musician since the late '80s, Jansen has been around long enough to realize that his best music lay ahead, and he's had the patience to wait for it. "There are guys like the Beatles, who are 22 or 23 and they were just amazing," Jansen says. "I wasn't one of those people." He got his start in music at Edmonton's Parkview High School. There, Jansen was a kid who wrote songs and poems -- he loved Allen Ginsberg -- and when one day he came across a band doing Husker Du and REM covers, he had to be part of it. Jansen begged to be the band's bass player. The group became the Naked and the Dead and would first release a cassette (nearly selling out of 3,000 copies), and in 1993 put out a CD. But the band, which attracted interest from a host of labels, including Sub Pop, was young and dysfunctional -- "totally fried," as Jansen puts it. While working on an ambitious double album, the Naked and the Dead broke up. Jansen and drummer Mike Silverman went on to form country-rock band Old Reliable in the mid-'90s. The band expanded to include co-frontman Mark Davis and a rotating cast of other members as it released four albums in 12 years so far.
In 2004, Jansen released his first solo effort, the electro-tinged folk collection Hobotron, and a year later he moved with his wife, Angie, and family (which now includes three children) to Saskatoon. He has settled down, got married, become a family man and bought a house, all in the last few years, and that has meant giving up the hard partying of his past. "You're turning your back on a cliché, that's what you're turning your back on," said Jansen in a recent interview. "If I'm going to be on this planet for another 50 or 60 years, why shouldn't I pace myself?" "It's nice to have that stuff done with so you can deal with the other things." While Jansen has turned much of his attention to raising the family (he and Angie's youngest is just a few months old), the lifestyle change has also helped his songwriting. "Everyone's so distracted with a million things that are going on in the world . . . your brain gets clouded, and sometimes it's good to just go hide," he said. "If I wander around the yard, or just go on bike rides and hang out with the family, it's a good way to find those moments where you're going to jot down lyrics or pick up the guitar."
The songs on Today's Remains, recorded in Vancouver over just five days and produced by Steve Dawson, confront raw, painful and personal stories of addiction, infidelity and broken trust. The songs are intense, the mood mournful, but the album is ultimately hopeful. The subtly gorgeous instrumentation -- in the form of pedal steel guitar, strings, keyboards and organs -- gives the music a rich, classic feel. Jansen's songs are rarely slick, but Today's Remains is a refined and confident effort. It sounds like an album from a songwriter comfortable coming into his own. Now, he's working on two other records, one with Winnipeg bluegrass outfit the D. Rangers, and one with Vancouver production duo JC/DC that leans toward pop. His ultimate goal is to be able to record year-round and release an album per year. "Give me more time and I'll make better music," he says. Shuyler Jansen will be touring with Saskatoon's Deep Dark Woods this fall. Today's Remains is available now on Black Hen Music and out soon on vinyl from Saved By Vinyl Records.
- Silas Polkinghorne