Dean Drouillard

UFO HOUSES CD Release Show

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The first show playing music from UFO Houses in Toronto at The Piston.  The band will include the album’s producer Joshua Van Tassel (drums, percussion) as well as Robbie Grunwald (keyboards), Devon Henderson (bass) and Tom Juhas (guitar).

Amelia Curran – They Promised You Mercy

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A few months ago I had the pleasure of recording some guitar for St. John, Newfoundland’s Amelia Curran’s. The resulting album is called They Promised You Mercy and is released today through Six Shooter Records. I’d been a fan of Amelia’s for some time, taking odd pleasure in the emotional mess her precisely crafted lyrics wrap me in. We’d shared stages a couple times in the past, once performing together at the Juno’s in Regina for Six Shooters annual Outlaws and Gunslingers showcase. I was honoured when Amelia and producer Michael Phillip Wojewoda approached me to add some guitar touches to an already great sounding recording with bed tracks featuring my pals Joshua Van Tassel (drums) and Devon Henderson (bass). I ended up doing some unusual un-guitary stuff under Michael’s direction that I knew would ultimately make sense in context of the presentation. I somewhat reluctantly dusted off my wah pedal for one tune, played a single fuzzed out low G that lasted about 30 seconds before degrading into uncontrolled feedback and played orchestrated layers of hammer-ons and pull-offs until my hand clutched into a useless fist.

The album is beautiful, dark, emotional, detailed and powerful. I’m proud to be part of such a thing of beauty.

Once the album was finished being recorded at Revolution Recording, the core band (Amelia, myself, Josh, Devon and Joel Schwartz) was invited to perform a private invite-only show in Toronto’s CBC building. It was the first time we’d all performed together. Below is a video from that show of our performance of the song “Coming For You”.

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UFO HOUSES released October 28

 

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cover design by Cory Bobiak

Two years ago I started thinking about making an instrumental “guitar album”. (I have a lengthy  list of album concepts I hope to continue chipping away at.) I had made a couple instrumental EPs with the surf/lounge-inspired Dragon 1 and 2 releases. Those had a very specific stylistic anchor that I wanted to explore at the time. This time I wanted the compositions and performances to come naturally and from a more uniquely personal place.

One evening my close friend (producer and multi-instrumentalist) Joshua Van Tassel was over. I told him of my idea to record a guitar-focused album and he expressed interest in producing this project. Josh is a very talented and emerging producer for which I have great respect for, for both his solo and producing work but I had never used another producer for any of my previous releases since I began recording music. I can be bit of a control freak, generally having a clear idea of my intended outcome. But I got thinking it could be a powerful exercise for me, both as an artist and as a producer to loosen my grip on the reins and allow my music to go somewhere unexpected and enjoy being in the artist’s seat.

We agreed to work together and I immediately started fleshing out and demoing some of my ideas I’d collected on my iPhone over the past couple years. The fleshing out was definitely useful but the demoing turned out to be counter-productive. In the demoing I started producing the tracks and getting attached to certain sounds and arrangements, which is interesting because I recorded these demos on my Akai cassette 4-track figuring the technological limitations would prevent this from happening. When I played the demos for Josh and listened to some of his ideas I could feel myself tensing up despite the fact that he had cool and interesting ideas. It didn’t matter – I’d already started producing those tracks. I didn’t want to go into making a record from a place of defensiveness so I decided to leave the songs I had demoed for another time. They were a bit jazzier than what I was hoping to present anyway and maybe better suited for another time. So days later I presented Josh with an entirely new set of demos – these ones being just raw iPhone ideas that hadn’t been worked out yet. I stopped listening to them so I’d be happy to let them go where they’d be directed in the studio.

When we began recording in Josh’s space at the Verge Music Lab in December of 2013 I was still writing the songs. The evening before each session I would finish melodies and add new sections if needed as a lot of these demos were simple riffs, not exactly songs. Some melodies (the B section of Return To The Start) were created while recording.

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i recorded a few guitars for this record

Josh was interested in exploring the different sounds my guitars and gear could create. Fortunately I’d brought a few toys including about a dozen guitars, a few amps (two of which we blew up), dozens of pedals, a tape echo, ebow, etc. I think we used pretty much everything, even the baritone ukulele (Iz No. 3). There was very little soloing going on. We turned our attention more toward melodies and textures, using contrasting elements for interest. Performances felt real, unforced and enjoyable. I channeled some of my favourite non-guitar hero guitar heroes such as George Harrison (Beatles), Robert Fripp (King Crimson), Johnny Greenwood (Radiohead), Nels Cline (Wilco) and Ira Kaplan (Yo La Tengo). Aside from the many layers of guitars I had fun playing my Hofner bass, a Rhodes electric piano and Korg MS20 synthesizer.

Josh had great ideas and pushed me into places I likely would not end up on my own, like playing with every pedal on my pedal board on simultaneously or manipulating the tape echo live like an instrument or freaking out with an out of control fuzz pedal. I fed off his enthusiasm and inventiveness and ended up making an enjoyable and fulfilling album because of it.

 

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producer Joshua Van Tassel laying down some drums

Swart Space Tone Reverb #001

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About six weeks ago I somewhat reluctantly put this ad up on Craigslist. It’s for a very cool guitar amp I’ve had around the lab for several years that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. The amplifier is made by Swart Amps in North Carolina. They are a boutique company of two (Michael Swart and Kelly Holsten) creating high quality amps for tone discerning guitarists. The Space Tone Reverb is a 5-Watt, Class A, hand-wired, point-to-point creation with tube driven spring reverb. I won’t bother with what all that means because it’s likely not all that interesting to you unless you’re a guitarist/gear tech/nerd. I only mention this because it was through Craigslist where I first learned of Swart amplifiers and gained a real awareness of boutique amplifiers.

Though I’d never heard of them before, I came across an ad for another Swart amp that piqued my interest and lead me to their website, where I found the perfect amp for me for my current playing situation. On paper it seemed like a great amp to own – something not too loud, small’ish, fully tube with reverb. I was playing some quieter gigs regularly with my Fender Vibro Champ as my main amp (no slouch of an amp either) but liked the idea of the tube reverb and an amp built by someone I could communicate directly with, which I ultimately did after frying a tube and a capacitor (and diagnosed through emailed photos). There was only one dealer in Canada at the time – Boutique Tone in Montreal. They didn’t have any in stock but the owner agreed to sell me his personal amp. I can’t remember if he knew it or not at the time but upon looking at the inside of the amplifier I noticed the serial number was #001. The first one. I’m not normally one to care about things like that and I’m not sure how many of these amplifiers have been sold but that fact in and of itself has added some weight to the decision of keeping it around.

That’s definitely not the only reason though. It turns out that this model has gone through several modifications over the years and mine is somewhat unique. Kelly Holsten, who runs the website, customer service and tests the amps wrote to me, “the wood on the first 30-35 amps was accidentally made in Birch without us knowing it.  We then moved to our usual pine cabs, which are a bit warmer and somewhat softer sounding. The GOOD thing about those birch cabs is they tended to sound more articulate and precise… The reverb and wiring was changed a bit later along with the addition of the hi/low gain switch.  The reverb in those early amps would sometimes be crazy surf style.”

Kelly expressed interest in hearing what that original amp sounds like so I did up this little tune highlighting some of the amplifiers range of tones. Though there is a bit of percussion and a bass track, all of the other instruments are guitars going direct into the STR. The only exception is a fuzzed out Rickenbacker 12-string that achieves a distinctive tone with the addition of the Swart Atomic Boost treble booster pedal. 

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My ad for the amp includes a road case that I had built thinking I would tour with the amp regularly but ultimately it only went out on one theatre tour I did with Jill Barber several years ago. It also includes a leather cover and extra tubes. I recognize that it is a pretty specific subset of musicians interested in spending this kind of dough on a 5-watt amplifier which is likely why I’ve yet to receive a single inquiry about the amplifier. Oddly, I can’t remember ever not receiving not even one inquiry into a piece of gear I’ve posted to sell. Oh well. For now the amp lives happily with me. After making the audio/slideshow highlighting the amp I realized I’m not really in any hurry to let it go.

Since acquiring my #001 Swart I have owned two more of their amplifiers. My Atomic Space Tone is my main touring amp and has appeared on many recordings.