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Originally published by Vue Weekly on Thursday, October 3, 2002. All rights reserved.

Wide Mouth Mason - They love a Parade

Thanks to Eva P. for sending this article in.

Wide Mouth Mason is a career band in a land of one-hit wonders

By Dave Johnston, Vue Weekly

As more labels count on big hits to keep on coming to satisfy the shareholders, career bands have become a rarity and often a casualty in the modern music industry. Unless, of course, you've got lots of fans you can count on.

Wide Mouth Mason jumped into the game at the right time, it would seem. The Saskatoon trio has ripped up and down the country for the better part of the last decade, winning over fans the hard way, picking up gigs anywhere they could. Their reward has been a stable relationship with their employer, Warner Music, and four diverse albums. "A lot of people who see you get an attachment to a certain element of your band, but the heroes we're aspiring to emulate were the sort who did reinvent themselves, and that's what kept them interesting," explains guitarist/vocalist Shaun Verreault. "I like to see the big twists and turns they took, and I wish the industry was such that there were more career bands, because a band's great failures are the most revealing things that they ever do, and sometimes the records that get overlooked are an interesting piece of the puzzle."

Wide Mouth Mason's last album, Stew, was a carefully constructed slice of P-Funk and blues, molded under the influence of friend Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar. Rained Out Parade, on the other hand, was heavily influenced by the tour that followed the release of Stew, which put the band in front of the most diverse audiences of their career, from the diehard fans to the hard rockers who paid good money to see Slash open for AC/DC and got three boys from Saskatoon instead. "The songs came from a very rock place," Verreault says. "All the songs sound like they belong together. We had the benefit of writing over 30 songs, so we were able to pick the ones that sounded the best together."

Burke's law

An exhaustive demo session at Edmonton's Homestead Studios, supplemented by constant live performances, prepared the band for their session at the Tragically Hip's sanctum, the Bathhouse in Kingston, Ontario. They also turned to longtime engineer Todd Burke to helm the recording. The band was impressed with the work Burke had done with them on their second LP, Where I Started, not to mention his time turning the knobs for Ben Harper and Jack Johnson. "We didn't need a ‘producer' for this record," chips in bassist Earl Pereira. "We had a pretty good idea of how these songs were going to sound before we went to him, so we made much easier for him. He didn't need to worry about where the chorus had to go."

"The line between engineer and producer is pretty fuzzy to us," says drummer Safwan Javed. "For us, we want to make a whole bunch of sounds that sound good to our ears, and we had to bring in people whose opinion we trust. When we were sitting around thinking of who we should ask to work on this record and allow us to spread our wings a bit more on the production side of things, and he was the right person. He allowed us to experiment, and it wasn't about roles."

One example of Burke's wizardry comes halfway through the hefty album opener, "Bootleggin'," where the slide guitar flanges into the next line. Rather than play around with a waveform on a computer screen, Burke did it the old-fashioned way, running tapes at different speeds to phase the sound. "He's really adept at recording sparse instrumentation and making it sound gigantic," explains Verreault. "He also brought a cache of wicked gear, like old compressors from the 1930s and '40s."

Recording at the Bathhouse, with its historic trappings and shadowy corners, helped give many of the songs a distinctively non-traditional feel. "The house became an instrument," Verreault says. "The space itself made its way onto the record. When we did our first couple of records out in Burnaby, we worked in these small studios where we could stay and create a vibe. It wasn't a case of going to the studio then going to the hotel. I've always been attracted to records that were done in a house. Chili Peppers records sound like there's a continuous vibe to them. So do the Band records. If you've been to Stax or anything, they're just old houses that utilize the rooms."

To live again

When the record was done, the band eagerly returned to live shows. "I didn't know what to do with myself," admits Verreault. "I was glad we booked gigs the day after we were done in the studio, because it gave me some kind of purpose to that time after. You've just accomplished something that you've spent six months of your life working on, doing it every day, getting away from the people around you because all you're doing is literally getting up, working in the studio and falling asleep. You're a little numb and dazed."
And as always, the road shall provide. "Our ability to play everywhere we can, spending a long time establishing ourselves, has made us able to sustain ourselves," says Verreault. "We can keep the machine going even when the flavour of the industry is completely unlike what we're doing. By having that core group of people supporting us, buying our records to see what the next thing is going to be, will keep us going."

Copyright © Vue Weekly

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