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 (or near-Windsor) artist 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 me to play piano, banjo, lap steel, or some odd thing on an album you’re recording yourself or someone else is recording for you, that’s also a possibility.
(I don’t care about getting paid for session work when I’m not handling the recording. If you want to pay me and it’s something you can afford to do, great. If not, don’t worry about it. I do expect 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 when it comes to this stuff. I like helping people when I can. What I’m not a big fan of is when those people give themselves or someone else credit for things I’ve done. If you want me to contribute to your album, please don’t do that.)
When it comes to recording, there’s a general ethos and sound to my work that may or may not be right for a given situation. If you want vocal tuning/pitch correction, sound replacement, or drum time-alignment, I am not your guy. That just isn’t my thing, and it won’t ever be.
But if 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.
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 the albums or contributed in some other way.
Recent stuff is always at the top, with the crustiest relics at the bottom. In most cases you can click on any given cover image to get to a page where there’s a lot more to read about that specific album.
JOSHUA JESTY // NONSTOP BULLSHIT (2019)
Made the cover art (not just to give one of my old albums a face, but for someone else’s new release) and played the dobro solo at the end of “Endless”. Josh has been making an album in the month of February as part of the RPM Challenge for some years now. I think this is his sixth February record. He surprised me by asking me to play on it and illustrate it. I still can’t quite believe he used the ridiculous cover image I came up with. He’s a nut.
YESSICA WOAHNEIL // QUIET BEASTS (2018)
Recorded/mixed/mastered, produced, and played bass and drums on “Sun Coming Up”. Jess wrote and sang the songs, playing electric guitar throughout and ukulele on “Washing on Shore”. Most of this album was recorded live in one day. It was a lot of fun to get back to that way of recording after straying from it for such a long time, and extra fun working with Jess. She’s one of those rare people who can put you in a good mood just by being present and being herself.
SHIMMER DEMOLITION // YES LOVE EVERYTHING (2017)
I didn’t handle the mastering this time. I did sing some harmonies on “Snag You”. It’s probably my favourite vocal cameo I’ve ever had on an album I didn’t record myself (not that there are many of those to choose from). Adam’s songs just keep getting catchier.
ZARASUTRA // THE FOREST FOR THE TREES (2017)
Recorded/mixed/mastered, and the liner notes say I produced the album, but all I really did was move some microphones around, ride some faders, and capture Zara doing Zara things again. She added some ukulele songs to the mix on this one.
RON LEARY // TOBACCO FIELDS (2017)
When Ron asks you to be a part of one of his albums it’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 (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. That one still feels pretty surreal.
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. She also played acoustic and electric guitar (and electrified ukulele on one song). 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, which was 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. 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 might have one of the better-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. I didn’t get any credit for the use of my stuff, or even a thank-you in the CD booklet. Boo-urns.
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, produced (though I really just moved a few mics around and convinced Zara to try recording the guitar and vocal tracks separately), and 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. Some of the most fun I’ve had working on someone else’s music, too.
SHIMMER DEMOLITION // DANCE TO NOISE (2014)
SHIMMER DEMOLITION // TAR DIVING (2013)
Mastered. I think this is the best Shimmer Demolition album, and my best work mastering music that was recorded by someone else.
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 second time I ever tried mastering something I didn’t record myself (the first time was way back in 2000 when Tyson asked me to try and clean up a bunch of Fetal Pulp songs he recorded on his 4-track). 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, tambourine, and a bit of resonator and 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. It was also the most I’d ever been allowed to contribute on the musical side of things. I even got credit for everything I did. That was a nice change from the norm.
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 last track 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. Didn’t even get credit for playing that bit.
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, and these days I regret going out of my way to help someone who pretended to be a friend just long enough to get what he wanted from me. But still. I like the stuff I improvised on this song.
TARA WATTS // ABOUT LOVE (2009)
I 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 marked an unexpected return to contributing to something other than my own music after a long hiatus.
I’ve never been too clear on who played what on this album. The musicians are named in the liner notes, but that’s it. The nature of their contributions is left a mystery for the listener to solve.
As far as I can figure it, Tara played acoustic guitar and handled the lead vocals and most of the vocal 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 didn’t contribute to were “Perched” and the title track. Eric recorded and mixed the album. Dwaine Iler mastered it.
I was playing digital piano here. I’ve always had mixed feelings about the way some of my parts were mixed (very punny, no?). I would have made different choices. But I wasn’t the one recording or mixing the stuff, so it wasn’t my call to make.
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.
The album has become something of a collector’s item over the years. I don’t think it’s ever been made available online, and physical copies are scarce now. This song has always been one of my favourites in terms of what I added to it, though the dark cabaret-ish piano on “In the Backyard” is up there too. Here I’m playing six-string banjo and singing the low 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. If you can make an argument for him co-producing, I think you can also make a strong argument for me co-writing some of the songs given how much my contributions add to them and in some cases change their shape. 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 half as good here as they do on SEED OF HATE because I was using less mics on the kit, but the recording did the job it was supposed to do at the time. I had another chance to sing some guest vocals on the last album you would ever expect to hear my voice on. Again I declined. Opportunities missed.
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 (can’t remember her name) recorded a little a cappella bit for “Jesus Loves Me”.
The album was recorded at the Walker Power Building back in its heyday, before it was perverted by Big Business. This is 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 I don’t think it was ever given a final mix. I should attend to that one of these days, if only for a fun jog down memory lane.
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 the leader of a project called 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, and sang some harmonies. Jesse wrote most of the songs, but he roped me into helping him write the music and lyrics for a few of them (“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. These days Steph performs in the duo Twisted Sisters with her sister Liz.
This was my first experience recording someone else’s music, at a time when I didn’t have much in the way of equipment or knowhow. Jesse was after nothing less than world domination at the tender age of sixteen, and he was very concerned with a song’s commercial appeal. I was writing and improvising marathon songs that tackled some very radio-unfriendly subject matter. 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 dissonance was interesting, and for some odd reason his songs always seemed to inspire some good musical ideas on my end.