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You only have to glance at the end credits of Calgary’s Crystal Eyes’ new album to see that the band took an ‘it-takes-a-village’ approach to bring their second album to life.
Recording in Montreal in 2019, the liner notes for The Sweetness Restored mention a number of musicians who contributed to the project. Not all of them are on the record, but they still played a part in its creation.
There are 14 musicians listed as contributors. So does Preoccupations bassist Scott Munro, who came in when the Crystal Eyes bassist couldn’t make the trip to Montreal. Hermitess, aka harpist Jennifer Crighton, also appears along with members of her Witch Choir: Melyssa Nielsen, Amanda Bassi and Joleen Toner, who is also the regular keyboardist for Crystal Eyes. Montreal singer-songwriter Basia Bulat provided some backup vocals, and her husband Andrew Woods, who also produced The Sweetness Restored at his Breakglass Studios, played percussion and various instruments. String arrangements have been made by cellist and violinist Eve Parker Finley, who will perform them with cellist Zou Zou Robidoux and violinist Owen Fairbairn.
“The lineup is getting very confusing,” says vocalist, guitarist and lead songwriter Erin Jenkins. “You kind of need an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of who was where and doing what.”
Some of that goes back to the roots of Crystal Eyes, which was once called a Calgary supergroup because of all the top local players who have made it through the revolving door ranks. Things have gotten a bit firmer since the band’s 2017 debut, The Female Imagination, when it was a loose collection of players with Jenkins in the middle.
“Over the past two years, it’s gotten to a point where it’s become much more consistent,” Jenkins says. “It was mainly a matter of convenience – being able to tour with local people and (around) people’s schedules. But it has really solidified in recent years.”
The Female Imagination, for example, was largely a product of the solitary writing sessions Jenkins undertook in a remote cabin on an island in southern Ontario, even if the final recorded versions used the sonic muscles of a full band to shape the shoegaze/garage shape. to give. rock tendencies of the sound.
The songs on The Sweetness Restored, on the other hand, came from many more communal gatherings in a Calgary jam room.
“We’ve made more progress and feel more like a band for probably the first time in the history of this project,” she says. “While it used to be my thing to bring in certain people, now it’s starting to feel more like our thing and that’s really cool. It is not a solo album in any sense of the word. It wouldn’t be what it is without the people who were in the jam room to help me write the songs and also without the people who were in the studio to help me record it.”
So is Woods, the Montreal artist who also leads experimental pop group Legal Vertigo and recently produced the latest album from former guitarist/vocalist Dan Boeckner’s Operators of the former Handsome Furs.
He took a hands-on approach to some of the arrangements, including bringing in strings to broaden the sound. It helps that his studio is also packed with vintage or slightly eccentric instruments for the musicians to play with, be it the classic-sounding Hammond organ with Leslie speakers or a therevox, a device described as a touch-activated version of the Theremin. .
As a result, the The album ranges from the energetic indie pop of opener Wishes to the dark drama of I Still Believe in Love, to the spoken word For Carole and the lavishly experimental, choir-amplified No Heaven.
“We put a lot of work, love, and attention into every moment,” says Jenkins. “It was very nice to pass the time. Often you can rush to release the product or don’t necessarily have the money or time. This time we were like, ‘No, we’re going to do it right.’ We would be perfectionists about it. It took a lot of time, but I think it was worth it.”
Jenkins was also in no rush to release the album, choosing to wait until much of the uncertainty of the pandemic was over. Crystal Eyes will co-headline a double album release show in Palomino on Saturday with Calgary singer-songwriter Samantha Savage Smith, who also had a role in Crystal Eyes at one point.
The extra time also gave Montreal’s Mark Lawson, a Grammy winner known for his work with Arcade Fire, enough hours to transform the plethora of tracks recorded at Breakglass into a coherent, fully formed record that sounds luscious and textured. , but never overly busy.
While the musicians often spent 12 to 14 hours a day in the studio, Jenkins said the process was fun rather than grueling. Bulat, who is credited as an assistant producer on the record, not only provided vocals on I Still Believe in Love, but also provided some tips when it came to recording vocals.
“Basia was also part of the creative process,” says Jenkins. “I call her a bit of a guru, only in terms of production advice. She was also there for many vocal takes, almost directing the vocal performances for a bit. She’d run in and say, “Hey, try again. Try it like you’re Marilyn Monroe jumping out of a birthday cake.” It was really nice to have her energy in the room.”
The decision to move production from Calgary to Montreal was based on the idea that members could fully immerse themselves in the process rather than be distracted by the domestic concerns that come with staying in your hometown. This communal, out-of-town approach seems to permeate the atmosphere of the album, which the band has described as a “feel-good, self-help record for the age of existential dread.”
“My style of songwriting is usually very stream-of-consciousness and I analyze to try and figure out what it means later on,” says Jenkins. “I’m not going to sit down and think I’m going to write a song about a subject. It’s almost like meditating. I come into another main room when I play the music or hear music, where it’s like I’m channeling something. I usually don’t try to control it. Later I usually realize what it means to me or what it is about.
“For me, the album is all the things I’ve known about life, what I’ve learned so far. It’s my self-help letter to everyone. This is what I know. Here are my little two cents of wisdom. There are many different themes, from joy to loss. It’s very human.”
Crystal Eyes will be holding a double album launch with Samantha Savage Smith on Saturday, April 23 at 8pm at the Palomino Smokehouse and Social Club with TeaFannie and Queen Valerie Hunt.