There’s nothing quite like the experience of making music with people you really dig. Making music can be (is usually?) heartbreaking agony, but when you’re working with friends, there’s usually somebody around to pick you up when you’ve accidentally erased your hard drive, can’t come up with a good rhyme for “raisin”, or to reassure you that it’s okay you can’t sing your way out of a paper bag. You can’t go completely wrong, since as long as you’re having fun, at least you’ve got that to show for it.
By Elling Lien and Bryhanna Greenough
You can make music alone, or you can make it in a group. Which is more fun? You could say it depends on what you’re working on, and who you’re working with.
Take Counter Destroyer, for instance. It’s their second year participating in the RPM Challenge. This sarcastic group of friends would probably be the first to admit that their recording isn’t great, and their music isn’t at all polished, (“when was the last time music hurt you? made you feel uncomfortable or sick?”) but you can hear them having fun making a racket. These guys embody some of the let-loose spirit of the RPM Challenge. “Fuck it,” you can hear them say. “Let’s just record something.”
“It’s a great excuse to get together and make music!” says Jeff Kinsman of Audiophile. He started out solo, but ended up signing up two other friends “it’s now a three-piece outfit looking to play gigs,” he says. “This wouldn’t have happened without the Challenge.”
Alive Underground is another repeat from last year’s RPM, but what originally started out as a solo project for Snowden Walters expanded this year to include guest appearances by his two kids. “My son (13) had a guitar piece in his head that we recorded and named ‘Pedro’s Theme’” says Snowden. “It came out of nowhere and sounded great, and it’s very different from the stuff he’s usually playing.” Having his kids involved was great. “We didn’t break any records for recording, but we had fun and they’ve been exposed to the process… Perhaps by next February they’ll have some more of their own material.”
Sometimes a sympathetic ear is enough collaboration to keep you moving. You can’t make music in a complete vaccuum. Bryan Power of The Subtitles started a solo electronic project for this year’s RPM, but things fell flat quite early on. “Once I got past the fact that I had just wasted a week building electro beats on a computer program, it went pretty well,” he says. While he doesn’t seem to have collaborated with anyone on tape for Pilot to Bombardier, he credits “the team” with helping him through it. “Being able to call friends to put me on the right track when I was about to throw it out the window, roomies coming to listen, making suggestions, and distributing high-fives as tracks were getting completed.”
There were a number of couples that worked on the RPM projects this year.
Amy Joy, a producer for CBC television, and Grant King of the Pathological Lovers , the Monday Nights, and Exit Party worked on Other People. While to Grant, music is old hat, this was Amy’s first time singing on tape. “There were a couple times when Amy and I got so frustrated that we almost threw in the towel,” says Grant.
“I’d sing something and Grant would say, ‘flat,’” says Amy. “I just thought, ‘well, that’s it. You clearly can’t sing, Amy, why are you even doing this?’ Of course, this would translate into me getting mad at Grant.”
Couple Ian Murphy (Exit Party) and Rebecca Cohoe (The Subtitles) worked on their project Pet Legs for the RPM this year. “Finishing the lyrics to ‘Our Lies Are Always On Fire’ was a sudden late night burst of inspiration and collaboration,” says Rebecca. “We built a fort and crawled inside with a flashlight and traded ideas back and forth until the song turned into something altogether different.” What resulted at the end of the month was a pop record they’re both proud of. “It challenged us personally and musically,” Rebecca says. “It let us try on new costumes.”
Terry and Allyson Barrow worked with Trevor Barker on Vitamin N, an acoustic rock project with “hints of folk and jazz.” Their experience was a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride, but they promised themselves they’d finish it. “We didn’t want it to become another failed project in our lives,” says Terry. From the fun of trying out every kitchen utensil in the house to get the best pots-and-pan sound to expressing a personal tragedy that happened in February, this group rallied together to create something “bittersweet and beautiful.”