While he’s made HMN many a time over the last decade, Dan Edmonds returns with his first album in three year that showcases a decidedly different new musical direction. Edmonds’ solo debut mined the likes of Bob Dylan, the Velvet Underground and maybe Simply Saucer but Edmonds’ sophomore Softie is more about impressionistic pop influenced by the likes of Burt Bacharach.
“Everyone really likes that record and we sold out our first pressing of vinyl and we toured across Canada with Ladies On The Corner, recalls Edmonds. “But it took some time to figure out the next step. I’m always working and writing but this project we took our time and we revised the music as much as we could to create a different vibe from the first record. I didn’t want to do guitar music. I wanted to try keyboards and synthesizers and try the exact opposite of my first album.
Recording with former Hamiltonian, producer Graham Walsh (Holy Fuck, Alvvays, Sam Roberts) I bring up a scene from a classic comedy from yesteryear and it seems a touchstone with Edmonds. We both were struck when Elvis Costello walked into an Austin Powers movie to sing a Burt Bacharach tune — everyone knows Bacharach although indie rock hasn’t really embraced such an influence. For Edmonds, it became a muse to follow for his latest musical outing.
“It was really interesting experience hearing Burt Bacharach’s music before actually knowing it’s him — like in that Austin Powers movie when I was like twelve years old,” says Edmonds. “Funny, someone gave me a Burt Bacharach record called Reach Out and it almost plays like a greatest hits album. Every song I’d heard before and the instrumentation, the arrangements, the songs themselves — he’s sort of like a top tier artist that someone can really aspire to but it’s almost unattainable how good his songs are. I was trying to figure out what makes his songs so good and it’s the sort of music you can listen to in the morning and it’s not too heavy. I was trying to make music that you could put on in the morning and it wouldn’t be too abrasive.
“I was also drawing inspiration from painting a little more,” adds Edmonds. “I always considered art school as a kid but that didn’t pan out as I was more drawn to music. I went to see a Paul Klee exhibit in Ottawa and it was really inspiring and I got back into painting a little bit. I’m not sure how much it informed the music but just on that level of experience.”
So with these influences, Edmonds would start his journey into impressionistic pop. While songs may stretch back some three years, others were recorded as recently as days before the final mastering of the album. Overall, Edmonds and Walsh worked fluidly on riffs, textures and a vibe for a song to come up with an organic track at the end of the process and result in succinct, three minute vignettes of what could be called breezy yacht rock in the vein of Steely Dan, Christopher Cross or the band Looking Glass that a new generation learned about from the Guardians of Galaxy film soundtrack. Early on in the process, one of the first songs the pair worked on seemed to sum up the theme for the album and became its title, Softie.
“It was the first or second day when we came up with Softie,” says Edmonds. “The last half is just an instrumental that you could sample and loop. It informed the album as it was weird and surreal and that was the vibe we chased the rest of the way. We would work in chunks for a week and then I would take all the music and bring it to Hamilton for three months and then we would meet up after we’d both do some work on it and we slowly built up the music. I was bringing new songs each time we met up. It wasn’t recorded in two days but a little longer of a process. It was a learning experience because I’ve engineered and produced bands but working with Graham was a learning experience. He’s very patient and we worked in ways I’ve never worked before. We co–produced the album because he bounced ideas off of me and I was bouncing ideas off of him. He worked out arrangements and I did as well. It was like a sounding board to bounce ideas off of and it becomes much stronger when you can collaborate with people like that.
“People’s attention spans are shorter and we wanted to have the album move quickly,” he adds on the three minute songs. “It’s also about catching people off guard, making sure every song was different but they all worked together in some way. We wanted to be very concise and keep it exciting. We wanted to be as orchestral as possible and stretch into areas we hadn’t gone before. Lots of horns, percussion, Wurlitzer keyboards and we tried to make things more complex. I love Steely Dan although I’m not to up on yacht rock as a genre. I listened to “Gaucho” a lot over the last two years. It’s really interesting and exciting music so yacht rock is great although I don’t think I’m there yet with regard to the complexity of the music.”
Whatever name critics will ascribe to it, Edmonds has a solid group of songs that showcase his a new palette of sounds but with the same craftsmanship he's always had. Excited for the future, this weekend Dan Edmonds offers a hometown showcase of the new music and more.
“We’ll be playing a lot of Softie as well as some old and new songs to play at this show as well,” says Edmonds. “I’ve been rekindling my love of folk music again so I couldn’t say what my next album will sound like. I’m just super grateful to be putting out this music — it’s a joy to be working and be able to play shows. The recording of this album wasn’t about challenging an audience but more so challenging myself. I’d never made music like this before and it was very exciting. I hope it’s easily digestible. It’s different from my past music but I hope it’s still enjoyable.”
Dan Edmonds plays with Sam Weber and Evangeline Gentle on Sunday November 17 at Mills Hardware. Doors open at 7pm and tickets are $12 in advance (plus fees and HST) or $15 at the door. Click on samweber.eventbrite.ca or danedmondsmusic.com