When you see an old house abandoned in a field, you might have a number of different thoughts. Maybe you’ll think it looks interesting, maybe you’ll wonder about the situation that made people leave the house entirely. The Blake Reid Band thought it would be a great place to record an album. The result, No Roads In, became both an album and a documentary about its creation.
The band will be in Yorkton on Jan. 21 to screen that documentary as part of the Yorkton Film Festival’s Open Cinema Program, at the Yorkton Public Library at 7:00 p.m. The next night, on Jan. 22, they will be performing as part of the Yorkton Arts Council’s Stars for Saskatchewan series, at 7:30 p.m. at the Anne Portnuff Theatre.
This is the band’s first tour of the province, and Reid said that it’s time, since they’re gearing up for the full release of the project, with the album being released in March.
The house itself is east of High River, AB, and was abandoned since 1939. It had no windows and had roof damage. They had to power the project with a generator, which was located 200 meters away in a ditch so they wouldn’t pick up the noise.
“To go in there, basically battle the elements and include all of the ambient sounds in the recordings, I think that was most interesting to the crew.”
Recording in the house lent the album a unique feel, and a unique recording experience. It was, essentially, a live album without an audience, explained Reid, and because it was recorded entirely on analog they couldn’t do any tricks or have the luxury of a studio setting.
“The house essentially was its own instrument. When you go into a typical studio environment there’s sound isolation. There was no sound isolation, we didn’t have headphones, we weren’t on metronomes, there was no post-doctoring. Everything we recorded went straight to recorder and went out on tape. That was an obvious challenge.”
Of course, having something raw was the goal, and Reid went further by not giving the band the songs until they were at the location.
“The album was written and recorded all within two weeks... We didn’t want anybody to be familiar with the music because we didn’t want it to sound like it was rehearsed. We wanted it to be natural and elastic. Of course the guys were thrilled about that, they were like ‘you’re going to film us and record us and we don’t even know the songs?’”
Unlike most albums, the weather also played a role in the album’s creation.
“We didn’t anticipate that we would have a monsoon during recording. We battled some prairie storms, it was fantastic.”
The album was recorded on analog, rather than digitally, and while appropriate for the context, Reid also believes that the analog sound is better, but for a technical reason.
“When you record digitally, everything is quantitized and snapped to grid, so everything is on the beat. What happens is that everything is stacked to beat, so that beat gets so layered with so much information that your brain cannot actually compute all those sounds stacked on top of the beat. In the old analog recordings, especially from the ‘60s and ‘70s when you had these tremendous bands, both in country and rock, which were playing, the bass was a little bit behind the kick drum... They weren’t perfectly on the beat, because they weren’t snapped to grid by computers. So the beat becomes a lot wider and the sound seems to groove and be warmer. I think that’s part of it, on the recording side.”
The goal was also to make something that wasn’t just a collection of singles, but an album, something to listen to fully, recalling the albums Reid grew up with, something he sees as coming back through the analog revival.
“When you got an album, you would sit down and listen to it front to back. That was one of the things we wanted to do with No Roads In, it’s a double vinyl album, so people can have a glass of wine or beer and listen to front to back. It’s not to listen to one song and walk away, it’s like an event.”
The old abandoned houses like the one the album was recorded in are icons of the prairie landscape, and have inspired a wide range of art. For Reid, he believes it’s because it inspires people’s imagination.
“You wonder about it, you wonder about the life that was there. There was a home, there was a life, somebody lived there. What challenges did they face when they lived there? That house in particular has an interesting story because the fellow that lived there built the house, I think he came from the maritimes in the early 1900s. He had built the house, and the plan was for him to send for his family, and they never came out. He lived in the house for a few years. I’m not sure if the family broke up or not... The house was built, had some life for a few years, but never seemed to be established as a family home, but it was beautiful... It was built with love, it was very interesting, the entire site.”
Making an album in this unique, organic way was a form of therapy, Reid said, and a way to return to their roots.
“Everybody who was involved in the project seemed like they were at a crossroads in their life. For myself, I had made two commercial albums, I had been down to Nashville, I had chased the industry, and then I got frustrated, which a lot of musicians do, they get frustrated with the industry. It was time to step away from that and realize why we do it. It’s a love for music, and a love for music from when you first started playing a guitar and learning a song in your own space.”
Reid grew up with music right in the land, with his farm being purchased by his grandfather from country music legend Wilf Carter.
“Music was very inherent, day to day, whether it was in tractors or whether it was in kitchens in the old farmhouse. Coming into this environment brought me back to why I love music. That thread of my parents and my grandfather, it just filled our hearts. Everybody from the musicians to the crew, it was challenging but a great experience, personally and musically.”
This is going to be a project that inspires the group for years to come.
“It’s been a little bit of a touchstone to be honest with you. We’ve recorded a commercial since the No Roads In project... It was really hard to go back in the studio after going through that experience because it was so inspiring. It’s so inspiring to sit there with the guys in the band, laugh and joke, and make music the way you want to make music... It was like a catharsis, it definitely changed my whole perspective on music and the direction I want to go.”
Reid is excited to show the documentary and play for audiences in town.
“We’re really proud of this project and we’re excited to be coming your way.”