Hi guys, we’re a good chunk of the way through making this album so I thought now would be an opportune time to give you guys some insight into what the whole process has been like. We’ve been giving you drips and drabs over facebook and in the newsletter, but we haven’t yet given you the full scoop (cause it’s kinda long). So just in case some of you are thinking “I gave this band a pile of money ages ago, how could they possibly not be done by now?” here’s what we’ve been up to:
The whole process of this album started around March-ish 2015. Brown (Brownman Ali of Browntasauras records, our fearless producer) and I were in talks about releasing Snaggle’s next album on Browntasauras records. Brown and I met through Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School big band. We were both members at one time (Brown still plays with them, they’re doing some really inspired music) and we were chatting one day when I mentioned that I ran an electric jazz band. Being the generous dude that Brown is, he said if we ever needed a trumpet sub he’d love to play. So I took him up on that offer in February 2015 for a gig we played at the Handlebar in Toronto. Brown really dug the music and wanted to be a part of the next album. Brown’s really great like that – he lives by the ideology that if we all link arms and build each other up, we’ll all be stronger for it. It’s a beautiful way of living and is very reflective in how he runs his label which he’s been using to elevate music that he’s excited about (other artists on the label include Modus Factor, Robert Ball, and Jason Wilson and Division One) . So of course I jumped at the offer to release Snaggle’s next record on Browntasauras and I asked Brown if he would be our producer.
We’ve got a bit of an unconventional arrangement with Browntasauras in terms of a typical label deal. Many label deals will front some money and in return will take a cut of sales, possibly take some of the creative control, etc – We’ve got a very different arrangement. In our arrangement we’re basically doing all of the same things that we would be if we were releasing this on our own (paying for it ourselves, retaining creative control, etc), the difference is that we have incredible access to Brown’s performance expertise, his production experience, his label contacts (engineers, artists, etc) and he’s been working closely with us every step of the way whether it be in grant writing, making arrangement suggestions, brainstorming album art ideas, giving feedback on edits, leading the mix… every step he’s had a great deal of wisdom and insight to offer us. So it’s an arrangement that has been EXTREMELY beneficial for us and everything has been geared towards serving the music!
In May we started the exciting and sexy process of writing grants! For those of you who don’t know, grant writing is incredibly dull and the vast majority of the time you don’t get any funding because the number of people submitting grants is very large and the amount of money available to fund grants is so very small (thanks for that Harper). Each grant is judged by a panel of experts from the music industry based on a written application as well as a couple of musical excerpts that are submitted. Because of the sheer volume of applicants the panel will usually only listen to about 30 seconds from each clip so it’s definitely tough to stand out. Unfortunately we didn’t get any funding from grants and while this isn’t a particularly engaging part of the process it’s definitely a necessary one because without any money there wouldn’t be an album.
Not wanting to hang all our hopes on the grants, in late June we launched our crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. The next couple of months were spent making promo videos and trying to hustle the campaign as much as possible. Thanks to a whole bunch of generous folks we made our target of $5000 by the campaign deadline! It wasn’t all the money that we would need to make the album, but it was a good, solid chunk and it gave us more than enough to get started while we saved up the rest!
August saw a couple of setbacks in our master plan. In this month we lost both our trumpet player and our guitar player. Our guitar player left first in what could only be described as an incomprehensible explosive meltdown. Our trumpet player left under far friendlier circumstances – simply wanting to pursue music of a different sort (Emily Denison – if you ever get a chance to see her play she’s phenomenal!). So we were pretty demoralized after losing two of our members, one under less-than-amicable circumstances. But those of us that remained were determined to push through it and keep the band alive and the album in the works.
I just want to take a second and say: Tom, Doug and Graeme – I have so much love for you guys. Since the very beginning of Snaggle (almost 4 years ago!) each one of them have been steadfast and dedicated bandmembers – not to mention absolutely monstrous players! We’ve played plenty of gigs to empty rooms and we’ve gone on crazy tours with little chance of making any money, but each one of these guys is working so hard to build us past that because we all believe this is a project worth pursuing and we get so much joy from playing with each other. I’m really proud of my guys.
Left to Right – Tom, Doug, Graeme
While I’m gushing, Brown has also been such an amazing source of wisdom, experience and on top of all of that – an incredible friend. When we started hanging out I realized pretty early on that I see a deep kindred spirit in Brown. We present ourselves pretty differently on the surface, but deep down we share so much – from the way that we think to the values we hold most dear. I’ve been learning so much from Brown about music, business, and life both in conjunction with Snaggle’s album and otherwise. I’m continually blown away by his open generosity and unbridled excitement and I’m deeply grateful for his friendship. And his playing – christ that dude can play a trumpet…
Mike Murray joined us on guitar pretty soon after our previous one quit. We had a gig in late August for which we (obviously) needed a guitar sub so Mike stepped in to fill the chair and really impressed us! Apart from being a virtuoso the dude is already steeped in all kinds of electric jazz and brings a lot of gritty rock and metal influences to the table as well – so he fit right in. I learned later from my wife that Mike had been practicing the Snaggle tunes like crazy leading up to the gig in the hopes that we’d offer him the guitar chair. Needless to say we did, and good thing too – Mike plays some pretty mindblowing shit on the upcoming album!
September through November we were on the hunt for our trumpet player. During this time I was also doing some serious composition for the album. Two of the tunes on the album were supposed to be compositions by our former guitar player. For obvious reasons that wasn’t going to happen anymore so I got to work writing the two tunes that would fill the spots (Sad Ritual and Theorum).
The hunt for a trumpet player took quite a bit longer than for our guitar player. All of us already knew Mike pretty well from our Humber days so that decision was a pretty easy one. We wanted to be more thorough with our pick of trumpet players mainly because we didn’t know most of the guys we tried out very well. We played with a bunch of really great dudes, but the guy we kept coming back to was recommended to us by Emily, our former trumpet player and his name is Max Forster. On our first gig with Max he immediately clicked with the band both musically and personally. He was playing some inspired shit that got all the rest of us pricking up our ears and responding in kind. He’s a special dude – youngest in the band, but in the words of Miles “plays like a motherfucker” and can stand toe to toe with the best of them.
Max joined us in November and immediately all of the original members noticed an enormous shift in how rehearsals were run, how gigs went, etc. Max and Mike brought with them such an air of positivity and optimism that was such a breath of fresh air for the rest of us. I don’t think they realize quite how much of an impact they’ve had since joining, but for the rest of us it was like night and day – we were ecstatic.
So by this point we had started rehearsing for the recording session. We rehearsed constantly in December and booked a whole bunch of gigs in January so that we’d be ready for anything once we hit the recording studio. Brown had lots of suggestions about the tune arrangements, grooves and all sorts of other things which really helped to shape the compositions and make them as developed and definitive as they could be. Brown really pushes for purposeful writing. Everything has to tie together in a way that not only sounds amazing, but gives a narrative and context to the piece. Art needs to have something to say and when you’re working in a medium of art as abstract as instrumental music your message can be lost if there isn’t an underlying purpose behind a piece.
At the very end of January we had our recording session. We recorded the album over 3 days at a high school in Etobicoke. We’d met the high school teacher (Brian Legere) the previous year when we did a couple of improv workshops for him and his students. He had been outfitting the classroom as a recording studio and had been getting some amazing sounds out of the room. So we decided to do it there especially since he was happy to record us in exchange for a few workshops for his students (a great deal for us considering how broke we all are:p).
The recording went great. We squeezed every minute out of that place we could and got some really great takes of each of the tunes. Just to paint you guys a picture – myself, Doug, Mike, Graeme and Max were in the main room in something resembling a semicircle. Tom was in an isolation booth with the window facing me so he could see all of my cues. Brown and Brian were in the control room monitoring everything and giving us feedback and direction through the headphone mixes. It was definitely hard work but through it all everyone stayed in high spirits.
I spent the entirety of February in front of my computer editing the audio we captured during the recording session. Editing involves picking which takes you like the best, and then slicing and dicing them so that you have the best representation of the tunes possible. Each tune had anywhere from 2-4 takes and most were at least 8 minutes long, some going as long as 10 minutes, so it was a lot of listening! I like doing my own editing (even though I’m slow at it) because no one knows the tunes better than I do and no one will put the level of detail into it that I will. I spent nearly 100 hours in front of Protools that month, but finally all the editing decisions were done and dusted and we were ready to go into overdubs!
Overdubs basically involve re-recording audio or recording extra audio on top of whatever you already have. There were a couple of small spots I wasn’t able to fix in editing that needed the horns to take another pass at. We had to wait a month to be able to do these – for the horns in particular it’s important to record in exactly the same location with the same set up and microphone so that you can match the tone between the already recorded audio and the stuff you’re overdubbing. Otherwise it sounds weird. The high school was booked up in March so we weren’t able to get in there to take care of that until April.
After all of the overdubs were done with the horns, the guitar and the synthesizer we were ready to start mixing! Brown brought on board a fantastic mix engineer named Josh Bowman to do the job. Josh is really great at listening to a recording and then emulating it and his efficiency with his mixing rig is quite honestly unparalleled! So we gave him a number of reference recordings for artists we’d love the album to sound like (Jason Lindner, Snarky Puppy, Weather Report, Brownman Electric Trio, and Kneebody) and then he and Brown sequestered themselves for a week to work their magic with the tracks. Brown and I decided intentionally that I should be left out of the mixing process initially and brought in later. After a solid month of editing and then prepping for punch sessions I was really close to the material and I needed to take a step back to be able to come at the mixes with fresh ears.
For those of you who don’t know what mixing involves – basically the engineer balances all of the instruments with each other by altering their volume, spectral content and a ton of other stuff. This is also the stage where different effects can be applied like reverb, delay, phasers, etc. So last Monday (May 2nd, 2016) I got to check out the mixes for the first time – they are incredible. Josh and Brown did an amazing job with the mix and there are some really cool production elements that heighten and showcase all of the material that was already there.
So that brings us up to present day. At the moment we’ve currently got some album art in the works by a fantastic artist named Nick Ragetli and liner notes are being written (and I’m incredibly honoured by this one) by one of Canada’s leading jazz pianists and a mentor from my days at Humber, Dave Restivo! Once the finished mixes have been mastered and all of the other pieces have been brought together it’ll be time to send it all to the Sony plant to be manufactured into physical Cds.
Of course, by the time we have a fully manufactured album we will have finished HALF of the work an album needs. If an album plays in the woods and there is no one to hear the shredding guitar solo, is it still awesome? Of course not. Musicians need an audience and once we have a completed album our job will be to make as much noise as we can about it – get as many radio interviews, as much airplay and play as many festival dates as we can. Because what good is an album (no matter how great it sounds) if no one knows it’s there?
We’re definitely getting close to a finished product. It’s been about a year since all of this started and it won’t be until September until we release it – which is a long time in some people’s view – but one of the things that I have learned through this whole process is that it needs to take time to be done right. Albums are expensive to make and funds are very limited. It’s also one of the only things a band will leave behind when they’re gone – so you make the biggest bang with the smallest buck you can, and the only way to do that is to be patient, smart and have a painstakingly high attention to detail. At this rate we’re going to have an album that I’ll be fiercely proud of for the rest of my life, and to my mind that’s well worth the wait.