i used to do this “pretending to be a session musician” thing once in a while, and also this “kinda-sorta producer and/or recording engineer for other people” thing.
then i didn’t really do either of those things at all for a long time.
then i started doing them again.
i don’t do much to call attention to this kind of work. but i feel like maybe i’ve carved out a very quiet role as someone who might be an option if you’re a windsor musician looking to record an album and you want something organic, rough-around-the-edges, and pretty much the antithesis of anything that’s going to show up on mainstream radio. or if you want someone to play piano, banjo, lap steel, or some odd thing on an album you’re recording yourself or someone else is recording for you, i can maybe do that for you, if i like the music and feel like you’re a trustworthy person.
(i really don’t care about getting paid for session work when i’m not handling the recording, but i like to at least get credit for the work i do, in album liner notes and wherever else it’s applicable. i’ve been burned a few times in that department. i like helping people. i don’t like it when those people give themselves or someone else credit for things i’ve done. if you want me to help you out, please don’t do that.)
if you want vocal tuning/pitch correction, sound replacement, or drum time-alignment, i am not your guy. at all. that just isn’t my thing, and it won’t ever be.
if, on the other hand, you value heart over perfection and you’re interested in following creative impulses wherever they might lead, maybe we’ve got some common ground, and maybe there’s the possibility of something interesting happening. if you’ve got a project you think you might want me to be a part of, feel free to shoot me an email. i’m always up for talking about that sort of thing.
what follows is pretty much all the work i’ve done in this capacity over the years, not counting a few one-off favours for friends that either didn’t get any proper release or didn’t feel meaty enough to include. some of these are things i recorded (sometimes also contributing as a musician, sometimes not). some of them i didn’t record, but i played on them or contributed in some other way. in a few cases i mastered someone else’s recordings in a very DIY way, though that isn’t something i do a lot of.
recent stuff is always at the top, with the crustiest relics at the bottom. in most cases — at least with the things i recorded — you can click on any given album cover image to get to a page where there’s more to read about that specific album.
RON LEARY // TOBACCO FIELDS (2016)
when ron asks you to be a part of one of his albums, that’s like a nod of approval from someone very wise. ron has to be one of the few real folk artists we’ve got left, and he doesn’t choose his supporting casts lightly. there are a bunch of talented people on this one — rich burnett on lap steel, john showman on violin, dean drouillard on guitar, adam warner on drums, and mr. chill on harmonica and baritone sax, to name just a few. andy magoffin recorded the album at the house of miracles, with a bit of additional work done at dean’s studio.
i played piano on “tattooed lady”, and for the first time in my life got credit for the use of my own piano in my own studio (you see? all things are possible!). i also wrote the string part for “to living”. add “writing a string part for someone else’s song and having the dude from new country rehab play it beautifully” to the list of things i never thought would happen in my lifetime.
TEENAGE GEESE // CAT & CORMORANT (2016)
recorded/mixed/mastered, produced, sang backup/harmony vocals, and played a lot of different things (acoustic and electric guitars, piano, mandola, wurlitzer, lap steel, six-string banjo, bass, drums, shaker, leg slaps, melodica, glockenspiel). natalie westfall wrote and sang the songs, and played acoustic and electric guitar and electrified ukulele. jo meloche, erin armstrong, caleb farrugia, james O-L, and travis reitsma were guest singers and clappers (jo is now a part of the teenage geese band, formed after the album was finished).
THE HYPNOTICS // MODERN ART ENTERTAINMENT (2015)
i didn’t play anything on this album. i didn’t record any element of it myself. but the credits say the whole thing was recorded by josh kaiser at his studio, and that isn’t quite true.
the band needed to record a piano part for one song. a digital keyboard wasn’t cutting it, and they were having trouble finding a local studio with a good-sounding acoustic piano. i’m going to go out on a limb and say i probably have one of the best-sounding upright pianos in the city. so they came over here and used mine.
josh did record it. but he recorded my piano, in my studio, using my microphones.
TIRE SWING CO. // TIME AWAY EP (2015)
recorded/mixed/mastered, produced, sang backup/harmony vocals, and played a lot of different things (acoustic/electric/classical guitars, piano, organ, wurlitzer, casio SK-1, lap steel, harmonica, six-string banjo, bass, drums, shaker, djembe). steve O-L wrote and sang the songs, and played acoustic and electric guitar. “closet” features some great scorched-earth vocals from jim meloche.
ZARASUTRA // UNCERTAIN ASSERTIONS (2014)
recorded/mixed/mastered, sort of produced (though i really just moved a few mics around and let zara do her thing), and i played piano on one track (“just wanted to say”). otherwise it’s all zara. she wrote and sang the songs, and played acoustic guitar.
TIRE SWING CO. // INAMORATA (2014)
recorded/mixed/mastered, produced, sang backup/harmony vocals, and played a bunch of different instruments (acoustic and electric guitars, piano, wurlitzer, organ, bass, drums, shaker, tambourine, ukulele, six-string banjo, african drums, harmonica, melodica). steve O-L wrote and sang the songs, and played acoustic guitar. james O-L played electric guitar and bass on “i awoke”. kaitlyn kelly sang harmonies on “skipping stone” and “forgive me”. this is some of the best work i’ve ever done as a producer and as a sideman, without question.
SHIMMER DEMOLITION // DANCE TO NOISE (2014)
pretended to be a mastering engineer again. everything else was done by the dude behind shimmer demolition.
SHIMMER DEMOLITION // TAR DIVING (2013)
i pretended to be a mastering engineer here too. the dude behind shimmer demolition did everything else. i think it’s the best shimmer demolition album, and my best work mastering music i didn’t record myself.
SHIMMER DEMOLITION // NOTHING TO DO b/w KISS HER (2011)
a two-song single. i mastered and probably beefed up the bass and compression a bit too much. it was the first time i ever tried mastering something i didn’t record myself. the dude behind shimmer demolition did everything else (recording, mixing, singing/playing). i did a better job with TAR DIVING, which includes both of these tracks.
TRAVIS REITSMA // OUTSIDE THE FACTORY GATES (2010)
recorded/mixed/mastered, produced, sang backup/harmony vocals along with travis, and played a lot of different things (piano, wurlitzer, organ, bass, drums, harmonica, six-string banjo, ukulele, glockenspiel, national resophonic, tambourine, a bit of electric guitar). travis wrote and sang the songs, and played quite a few different instruments himself. this was the first meaningful work i’d done recording someone else’s music in a good seven years, and the most i’d ever been allowed to contribute on the musical side. i even got credit for everything i did. that was a nice change.
FIELD ASSEMBLY // BROADSIDES & EPHEMERA (2009)
played piano and glockenspiel on “alkali”, and piano on “out of the arms”, “still life”, and “daylight” — though on “daylight” i’m only in there for about three seconds. most of the piano on that one is adam fox playing a keyboard through a guitar amp. i recorded a track for the whole song, but all he kept was one tiny bit where i played a harmony on top of his existing piano part.
the songs were written and mostly performed by adam, with adam rideout-arkell playing guitar and organ on “when the sun can’t find you”, and eric arner and matt rideout playing guitar and drums on “old spell”.
i guess that makes me the closest thing to a ubiquitous guest, even if i’m only on about a third of the album.
adam recorded most elements of these songs in his home studio and mixed them with some help from dean drouillard. my piano parts are a different story. those were recorded at my house, with me playing my own acoustic piano, using my mics, through my signal chain, the way i usually record the piano. all adam did was plug my mic preamp into his interface and turn the gain up a titch.
at the very least, i co-engineered my own parts. not that you’d ever know. i didn’t get credit for that or for the use of my studio/equipment in the liner notes. same thing with my glockenspiel part, which was also recorded here. i got stiffed on that one completely. didn’t even get credit for playing it. adam gave himself credit instead.
if you ever want me to work with you again and/or you value me as more than a means to an end, here’s a piece of advice: don’t do that shit. it doesn’t leave a good taste in my mouth. especially when i’m helping you out for free.
at least my piano parts sound good. almost all of that is down to my piano, my microphones, my mic preamps, my room, and my musical ideas. but still. i like the stuff i improvised on this song. too bad i didn’t keep it for myself.
TARA WATTS // ABOUT LOVE (2009)
did a few things for friends in 2002 and 2003 when they needed a song or two recorded in an afternoon for a songwriting contest or something. then that all went dark for a while. this was the first work i did on anything outside of my own music in a long time.
i’ve never been too clear on who played what on this album. not many people have, outside of eric welton and tara herself. the musicians are named in the liner notes, but that’s it. it doesn’t say what anyone played.
as far as i can figure it, tara played acoustic guitar and handled the lead vocals and most of the harmonies, her brother brendan played bass and sang backup on “sunlight”, stefan cvetkovic played drums, sally zori played congas (or djembe — not sure) and some shaker, kevin couvillon did something (maybe he recorded the drum tracks at his studio…i know eric didn’t record the drums at his place), and eric added backing vocals to at least two songs and some synth atmosphere to “hail outside”. i played six-string banjo on four songs (“over-eager heart”, “camels in canada”, “the chubby man song”, “sunlight”), piano on five (“seven days”, “100 years old”, “in the backyard”, “hail outside”, “choosing the poison”), and sang harmony on one (“camels in canada”). the only songs i’m not on are “perched” and the title track. eric recorded and mixed the stuff. dwaine iler mastered it.
i was playing digital piano here — not a real acoustic. i’ve always felt funny about the way my parts were mixed. there’s a chorus effect on most of my banjo parts. that never made much sense to me. and some weird after-the-fact midi stuff was done to a few of my keyboard parts, like the dulcimer effect on “choosing the poison” (sounds more like a harpsichord) and the thing that’s supposed to be a glockenspiel sound on “seven days”. not the choices i would have made.
it was fun improvising things on so many different songs in one afternoon when i thought i was only going to be playing on a few tunes. i do like a lot of the ideas i came up with. i just wish they were treated a little differently and not mixed to be almost inaudible in some places.
tara has seemingly done her best to bury this album, so good luck finding it anywhere, either online or as a physical thing. it does exist, though.
this is probably my favourite contribution i made to the album, though the dark cabaret-ish piano on “in the backyard” is up there too. i’m playing banjo and singing third-part harmony.
JESSE TOPLIFFE // SESSIONS (2002)
recorded/mixed/mastered, played quite a bit of guitar, sang a bit of harmony, and played piano on one track and spastic african drums on another. jesse did a lot of different things here, playing guitar, bass, drums, and piano. i think you could make a strong argument for me co-writing some of the songs, given how much my contributions add to them. the music for “who can i blame?” is mine alone. the sound quality is on another planet from the first things we recorded together.
ADHD // WELCOME TO WINDSOR (2002)
recorded/mixed/mastered, and contributed a weird spoken introduction. the band’s lineup at the time was mike knight (lead vocals), tyson taylor (drums/backup vocals), tyson’s brother rick (guitar), and i can’t remember the bassist’s name. sorry, bassist dude. the drums don’t sound near as good here as they do on SEED OF HATE (using only one mic less so we could record everything but the vocals live made a big difference), but the recording did the job it was supposed to at the time.
FETAL PULP // SEED OF HATE (2001)
recorded/mixed/mastered. almost had a cameo vocal spot, but talked myself out of giving it a shot. the band was jay clark (lead vocals), tyson taylor (guitar/backup vocals/4-track sound collage), gord thompson (bass), and brandon furler (drums). brandon’s girlfriend of the time recorded a little a cappella bit for “jesus loves me”. the album was recorded at the walker power building, aka “the old peabody building”. easily the best job i ever did recording heavy music, with gear that shouldn’t have allowed me to pull it off, and without even mic’ing any of the amps. i have no idea how it sounds as good as it does.
SOUL CROSSING // PREPARE FOR THE FALL (2000)
recorded/mixed/mastered. christian and anna sang and played guitar and violin. recorded live off the floor. forgot all about this one for years. technically it wasn’t mixed until sixteen years after the fact.
SOUL CROSSING // FOUR SONGS IN JULY (2000)
recorded/mixed/mastered, blew a party whistle at the beginning of the first track, and contributed more hidden track goofiness. the band was the same as on OVERDUBS ARE EVIL (minus my piano and organ this time).
SOUL CROSSING // OVERDUBS ARE EVIL (2000)
recorded/mixed/mastered, played piano and organ, and contributed a goofy hidden track. the band was christian (guitar/vocals), anna (violin/vocals), ryan masotti (drums/percussion), and brian, whose last name i can’t remember (bass).
SOUL CROSSING // THE CHRIS-ANNA EXPRESS (2000)
recorded/mixed/mastered, and played keys and sang on the group improv “just call me steve”. aside from a violin overdub on one song, this was recorded live off the floor, with christian masotti and anna atkinson playing (guitar and violin, respectively) and singing at the same time. i think christian wrote most of the songs, but anna wrote the lyrics for “about face”. christian would later become phonogarde, which seems to have gone dormant. no idea what he’s up to now.
JESSE TOPLIFFE // GIOVANNI’S GLISSANDO (1999)
recorded/mixed/mastered, played a bunch of piano, sang some harmonies. some of the songs jesse wrote on his own. a few of them i had a hand in writing (“after the rain”, “losing isabelle”), and the music for “innocence” is mine alone. jesse played acoustic guitar, some piano, and some percussion. stephanie sarafianos sang some harmonies too.
this was my first experience recording someone else’s music, back when i didn’t have much in the way of equipment or knowhow. jesse was hellbent on world domination at the tender age of sixteen and very concerned with a song’s commercial appeal. i was writing and improvising marathon songs about perverted dentists, murdering family members, and the perils of bestiality. he thought i was throwing my talent away, sabotaging what could have been accessible songs for no good reason. i thought he was trying to con his way into a world i wanted nothing to do with and working a little too hard to craft songs that were all about artifice and one-size-fits-all emotional platitudes.
you could say we weren’t quite on the same page. but the creative friction was interesting, and for some odd reason his songs always inspired some good musical ideas on my end, even if i would later find myself wishing i’d kept them for myself.