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Evening Hymns - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 24 / 3 / 2013

Evening Hymns - Interview


John Clarkson speaks to Canadian musician Jonas Bonnetta, the front man with atmospheric lo-fi/folk collective Evening Hymns, about his band's remarkable second album 'Spectral Dusk' which reflects on the death of his father

“Still can’t believe that you’d die/And left us here alive,” sings Jonas Bonnetta on ‘Spirit in the Sky’, one of the central tracks on ‘Spectral Dusk’, his band Evening Hymns’ mournfully beautiful second album. Bonnetta, who now lives in Toronto but comes originally from rural Northern Ontario, began his musical career as a solo artist, recording one album, ‘Farewell to Harmony’, under his own name. He then formed Evening Hymns, a lo-fi/folk collective, in 2007 in which he and his girlfriend Sylvie Smith are the only permanent members. Evening Hymns otherwise draws its line-up for both touring and recording purposes, depending upon who is available, from a rotating collection of musicians, which includes members of Ohbijou, the Wooden Sky, the Burning Hell, the D’Urbevilles and Forest City Lovers. Evening Hymns’ 2008 debut album, ‘Spirit Guides’, which was recorded over four days in an art gallery in which Bonnetta was then working, reflected on his life in rural Canada, romance and briefly the death of his father who died after a long illness shortly before its recording. ‘Spectral Dusk’ builds further on that theme of the loss of a loved one, each of its eleven tracks telling of the aftermath of Bonnetta’s dad’s death. It opens from an ‘Intro’ and in a hiss of static and the sound of rain into the stately ‘Arrows’, which from strikes of piano builds up in orchestral force and has Bonnetta wistfully imagining conjuring his father back from the grave. Other tracks include ‘You and Jake’, which with acoustic guitar and soft burrs of electronica reflects on the memory of his father and younger brother sharing a cigarette and joke together, and the eight minute instrumental ‘Irving Lake Access Road’, which named after a place where Bonnetta and his dad used to drive, is a set of cascading hypnotic and ambient washes and drones. The album is closed with the heartbreaking title track, in which Bonnetta pens a poignant letter to his late father, and admits that months on that he is still struggling to accept his death. ‘Evening Hymns’ was recorded, appropriately given Bonnetta’s upbringing and he and his father’s love of nature, over nine days in a log cabin in Nothern Ontario, and combines together both soundscapes and field recordings. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Jonas Bonnetta, shortly before he began a six week European tour which will include dates in Britain, about the remarkable ‘Spectral Dusk’. PB: 'Spectral Dusk' was recorded in a log cabin in your native Canada. Where was this log cabin? Is it true that it was owned and lent to you by one of your band mates' parents? The album also features a lot of field recordings. Why did you decide to record the album there? Was it because you wanted to be as close to nature as possible? JB: The log cabin was near Perth, Ontario. The house belongs to Sylvie's parents and they so graciously lent it to us to make our record in, nine days after they bought it. I wanted to record the record in the forest because it's peaceful and there are fewer distractions. We'd spend our downtime wandering around the woods or playing ice hockey on the frozen pond back through the trees. PB: The first Evening Hymns album, 'Spirit Guides', was recorded in the art gallery in which you happened to be working in at the time. Could you ever conceive of making an album in a studio, or is that something that you would just not do? JB: I'd consider doing it. I just like moving into a new space and trying to figure out how it sounds. It's nice to be some place where all the musicians can relax and cook and hang out. Technology has changed so much now that you can make great sounding recordings in random places. PB: You went through a lot of doubts about recording 'Spectral Dusk', as you were concerned that it might be seen in some way as exploitive of your father's memory. Why did you decide to finally make this album? What finally made you put those doubts to one side? JB: It was all I was writing about, and so if I was going to make a record it was going to be this one. When I decided to make the record about him and committed to writing all the songs about him, it became very therapeutic for me and I lost any concern that I was exploiting him. PB: You started out as a solo artist and released an album under your own name in 2007, before talking up the Evening Hymns moniker. Why did you do that? Was it because you wanted to avoid being typecast as a singer-songwriter? JB: I didn't want people to think that it was singer-songwriter music. PB: You recorded 'Spectral Dusk' with eight other musicians. Some of the ensemble had also lost someone, such as Carla the guitar player whose sister had died, and others such, as the members of the Wooden Sky who were involved, had known your father and come to his funeral. What was your criteria for involving people in its recording? Did they all simply have to be close friends? JB: I just wanted everyone that was involved in the recording to have an understanding of the importance of it, and the importance of the loss for me. That was really important. The recording session was a very thoughtful process. PB: The music on 'Spectral Dusk' has a really tight sound, but at the same time and especially on a track such as the instrumental 'Irving Lake Access Road' it often sounds totally organic. How much of it was carefully composed in advance, and how much of it came about as a result of improvisation when you were in the log cabin? JB: Well, we knew that the recording was going to have to be warm and organic sounding. The rooms we recorded in offered a lot of that. All those decisions were well thought out in advance. I knew that I wanted the album to open and close with field recordings to create the idea that the whole thing was documentation. PB: It is also an album that comes across as having a real beginning, middle and end. Were the songs written as they appear on the album or did you spend a lot of time afterwards playing around with the track listing? JB: We played with the sequence for a while and then I wrote a bit to fill things out. Once I had the general idea of how the record was going to look, then it was easy to figure out. I knew that 'Arrows' had to open the record, and that 'Spectral Dusk' had to close the album, and that 'Irving Lake' would sit in the middle. PB: You sing near the end of the album and on the final title track "I am not doing that well/That is just what I am telling my friends." How cathartic an experience did making this album ultimately turn out to be? JB: Well, I thought that it would make me feel better and it didn't really, but it did let me spend a lot of time thinking about my dad and working through how that feels. I don't think I'll ever really feel better about the situation, but I now have a better understanding of our relationship and so that's amazing for me. In that sense it's cathartic for me, I suppose. PB: You toured Europe with 'Spectral Dusk' at the end of last year. Recording the album would have been one thing, but to take it on the road and reliving the trauma of your father's death on a nightly basis must have been tough. How difficult an experience has it been emotionally taking this album out on tour? JB: It was a stupid idea. Ha,ha... It was really tough doing that for three months. My plan was to make sure that every night I pushed myself into the songs so that the performance was really honest to the songs. PB: Apparently on most of the dates of the last tour, at least one person and often more from the audience had come up to you at the end to share their own experiences of a death of a loved one. Have you been surprised at how strongly 'Spectral Dusk' has touched so many people? JB: I never thought about that or planned for it, and it makes things even more difficult to perform, but it also feels really powerful and it's been a really touching aspect of touring Spectral. PB: On the last tour your tour mates were your friends the Wooden Sky, who then doubled up as your band mates. Who will be touring with you on this second tour of Europe? JB: We are touring as a 3-piece. Drums, bass and guitars. PB: 'Spectral Dusk' was recorded back in early 2011, but has taken quite a while to come out. Why did it take it so long? Are you working on a third Evening Hymns album now, and do you have a theme for this one too? JB: I've started work on a new record. I hope it won't take as long to release. Most of the songs I've written have been about moving on and taking it easy. But I'll write this summer and they will probably be about living in the country and starting a vegetable garden. So hard to say right now. But I don't think it'll be a themed record at all. PB: Thank you.

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Evening Hymns - Interview

Evening Hymns - Interview

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