JIM BRYSON & MORE
JIM BRYSON’S EXCELLENT FIFTH ALBUM IS CALLED SOMEWHERE WE WILL FIND OUR PLACE. It concerns the middle years of life; its inherent anxieties, frustrations, joys, acceptance. “I think the record has to do with aging,” Bryson tells Exclaim! from the home he shares with his partner and two young daughters in Stittsville (just outside Ottawa).
“People say, ‘That’s very funny, you stayed in Ottawa’ — almost like it’s a failure ’cause I stayed in my hometown.” Bryson didn’t just stay in his hometown. “The truth is, I grew up here,” he says. “My father tricked me into buying this house seven years ago. It’s good, but it took quite a bit of getting used to and ghost-erasing.”
Bryson’s first home studio was in the basement; he built Fixed Hinge, a dedicated recording “shed,” on the property two years ago, at the advice of Zane Whitfield (North of Princess Studio in Kingston), with whom he worked on Oh Susanna’s Namedropper.
“We were sitting in my backyard after we had mastered [ Namedropper] drinking whiskey, and he said to me, ‘ You should put a studio right over there.’ And then he drew a picture of it, drunk, and it looks very much like the studio I ended up building.” Not actually a shed, Fixed Hinge is a 400-squarefoot building that looks like a Scandinavian sauna, with multi-coloured wood, an angled ceiling and windows down the side.
It contains a multi-instrumentalist’s array of tools, including a 1960s Rogers drum set, a 1930s Heintzman upright piano, lots of guitars, various stringed instruments — Bryson plays banjo and mandolin, amongst other things — a collection of mini synths and Bryson’s Critter & Guitari Pocket Piano.
Bryson learned piano and drums as a child, sax in high school and studied music at university before dropping out. “I just want- ed to play really loud, scrappy music.” He got his wish in the mid-’90s with Punchbuggy, playing almost 200 shows in two years and contributing a handful of songs to the band’s 1994 debut All Nite Christian Rollerskate. “I liked that music, but it wasn’t the only thing I wanted to do.”
An accidental sideman, Bryson has since alternated between his own songwriting career and “riding in the musical sidecar,” as he puts it, playing and touring with Kathleen Edwards, the Tragically Hip and the Weakerthans (with whom he also recorded 2010’s The Falcon Lake Incident).
On top of helping to inspire his studio, Bryson’s work with Oh Susanna also paved the way for him to do a lot more production work. He credits his friend Dave Draves (who owns Little Bullhorn Studios in Ottawa) with supporting him while he was getting into recording. “He lent me bits of gear and promoted the whole concept of it.”
Bryson uses Apple’s Logic Pro X and interfaces made by Universal Audio, preamps acquired from Hamilton’s Catherine North Studios, a LA-2A-style tube compressor and a rack unit of eight preamps, along with gear made by bigger companies like Neumann and Neve. “I am also treated very well by HHB Canada, from whom I buy far too much stuff,” he says.
Bryson doesn’t have a sound board, just tons of outboard preamps and his computer — Fixed Hinge is more of a work space than a studio, a place where he can work on his music and producing projects. “It works well for me,” he says. “I can record full bands if I need to, but I’m not a commercial studio.”
For Somewhere We Will Find Our Place, Bryson worked with producer Charles Spearin at four different studios: Whitfield’s North of Princess, John Dinsmore’s Lincoln County Social Club in Toronto, Aaron Holmberg’s Bathouse, in Bath, ON and at Fixed Hinge.
“For a while I didn’t like playing my own music, and that’s why I loved being a side person,” Bryson says. “But now I don’t want to be a side person anymore, because it doesn’t engage me the same way.”
Not that he’s been in a huge hurry to get the new album out. “My joke is that I already had a career as a failed singer-songwriter, so I don’t need to race back to that,” he quips. “Of course that’s self-deprecating, but the great thing about having a studio is it lets me do a whole bunch of things that feel interesting to me and I get to choose them; it’s kind of the best of two worlds — two worlds that I’m really interested in.”
“HE DREW A PICTURE OF IT, DRUNK, and it looks very much like the studio I ended up building.”