Cal­gary singer steps away From com­fort zone

Cal­gary singer-song­writer leaves his com­fort zone with new al­bum Miles We Put Be­hind

Calgary Herald - - NEWS - ERIC VOLMERS

When it came to his first ex­pe­ri­ence with col­lab­o­ra­tive song­writ­ing, T. Buck­ley could have cer­tainly done worse.

For the singer-song­writer’s fifth stu­dio record, Miles We Put Be­hind, he co-wrote the soar­ing Half A Heart with fel­low Cal­gar­ian John Wort Han­nam. Buck­ley and Han nam then had Don Henry con­trib­ute to Twi­light Diner, agent le, Lyle Lovett-es­que vignette about the colour­ful reg­u­lars at a “home away from home” greasy spoon.

Henry may not be a house­hold name. In Nash­ville cir­cles, though, he’s noth­ing short of an icon, an old-school song­writer’s song­writer who has penned tunes that Con­way Twitty, Patti Page and Ray Charles made their own. Younger su­per­stars such as Blake Shel­ton and Mi­randa Lam­bert have also recorded his songs.

Which was prob­a­bly why he was brought in to be a men­tor at the Banff Cen­tre’s song­writ­ing res­i­dency back in March 2017, which Buck­ley and Han­nam both at­tended. So, ac­cord­ing to Buck­ley, they “tricked” the vet­eran song­smith into a co-write.

“He came from the whole pub­lish­ing house world down there back in the hey­day of coun­try mu­sic,” says Buck­ley, in an in­ter­view from his Cal­gary home. “He was one of the guys in the cu­bi­cles crank­ing out tunes for peo­ple like Mi­randa Lam­bert and Con­way Twitty and Ray Charles. Pretty im­pres­sive cred. John and I were like: ‘We need to write a song with Don Henry.’ So we ap­proached him and said ‘Yeah, we were both mess­ing around with co-writ­ing, so how does it work?’ He said ‘Let’s try and write some­thing.’ “

What­ever the tac­tic, Miles We Put Be­hind now boasts a Don Henry co-write. It also shows that Buck­ley, like all good song­writ­ers, is still a stu­dent of the craft will­ing to push him­self cre­atively after spend­ing a decade writ­ing and record­ing ma­te­rial.

The 10 songs on his fifth stu­dio al­bum show­case this wellschooled ap­proach, of­fer­ing a va­ri­ety of coun­try-roots styles and a num­ber of mem­o­rable melodies for Buck­ley to wrap in his re­laxed tenor. The Long Road has hints of snarling coun­try blues; Blind­sided is a frag­ile, coun­try-soul bal­lad; Lost in Love is a sweet, rolling coun­try-folk tune about first love and in­fat­u­a­tion.

Buck­ley says the idea was not only to push him­self as a writer, but also in the stu­dio. So when it came to record­ing the record, he de­cided to stray from his com­fort zone. His 2015 al­bum, Nowhere Fast, was recorded un­der the name the T. Buck­ley Trio in a makeshift stu­dio at the Banff Cen­tre with his long­time mu­si­cal co­horts, Tim Lea­cock and Derek Pul­liam.

Miles We Put Be­hind was mostly recorded in Mon­treal, although it also has its roots in the Banff Cen­tre and, in par­tic­u­lar, that fruit­ful March 2017 res­i­dency. Howard Bil­er­man, the Grammy-nom­i­nated pro­ducer and en­gi­neer who has worked with every­one from Leonard Co­hen to Vic Ch­es­nutt and Ar­cade Fire, is a fac­ulty mem­ber at the Banff Cen­tre and over­saw the demo ses­sions at the song­writ­ing res­i­dency.

“I was a lit­tle bit in­tim­i­dated and ap­pre­hen­sive about this hip dude from Mon­treal who had played in Ar­cade Fire and was com­ing in to lis­ten to my folk songs,” Buck­ley says. “Is he go­ing to get this? How is this go­ing to work?”

Buck­ley played him a folk tune called Least a Man Can Do. Bil­er­man sug­gested they record it with a drum ma­chine and or­gan.

“I re­mem­ber think­ing ‘no gui­tar?’ and phon­ing my wife and say­ing ‘I don’t know! This guy wants to do this and it’s kind of crazy!’ ” Buck­ley says. “But then go­ing in and do­ing it and lis­ten­ing back to it was so cool. I was re­ally ex­cited and in­spired and had this de­sire to have more of that. I wanted more of that dif­fer­ent lens, some­body to ap­proach the tunes and steer me in some di­rec­tions that I wouldn’t nor­mally want to head with things. Then I got re­ally ex­cited about the idea of mak­ing a full record with him.”

So he went to Mon­treal in Fe­bru­ary of 2018 and spent two weeks at Bil­er­man’s Ho­tel2Tango stu­dio. The pro­ducer as­sem­bled a firstrate band of mu­si­cians, in­clud­ing gui­tarist Mike O’Brien, drum­mer Matthew Wood­ley, bassist Josh Toal and Max Henry on key­boards to play on the record. Still, the record was put to­gether fairly quickly and much of it was recorded live off the floor.

“I wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily shoot­ing for any­thing that was more pol­ished,” Buck­ley says. “I was just look­ing to try new things and take a few more risks in terms of record­ing with dif­fer­ent peo­ple and try­ing new things.”

As with past records, Miles We Put Be­hind shows Buck­ley’s affin­ity for that school of great Texas song­writ­ers. His work has al­ways had echoes of that scene’s best, in­clud­ing Lovett, Guy Clark and James McMurty. Buck­ley cred­its a Cal­gary show his fa­ther took him to fea­tur­ing Lyle Lovett, Guy Clark, Joe Ely and John Hi­att as kick-start­ing his de­sire to write songs. His par­ents were al­ways sup­port­ive of his mu­si­cal as­pi­ra­tions. What­ever the case, they must have done some­thing right: the Buck­ley house­hold man­aged to pro­duce not one but two of Cal­gary’s best song­writ­ers. Ear­lier this year, Buck­ley’s younger sis­ter Mariel re­leased her stel­lar sopho­more record, Driv­ing in the Dark.

Still, things have cer­tainly changed for T. Buck­ley since those early days in the trenches of Cal­gary ’s mu­sic scene. He is now hap­pily mar­ried with a two-year-old daugh­ter and an­other child on the way, prov­ing that good coun­try mu­sic doesn’t al­ways spring from heart­break and pain.

Ap­par­ently, har­ried do­mes­tic bliss works just as well.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to com­plain,” Buck­ley says with a laugh. “I think the most im­por­tant thing in writ­ing, re­gard­less of whether it’s re­ally heavy and dark like a lot of coun­try ma­te­rial can be or lighter, is a gen­uine­ness. I think that’s the whole song­writ­ing bag, just be­ing you and speak­ing the truth as you know it. Not to sound preachy about it or any­thing, but I think that’s the charge we get out of it as writ­ers and, hope­fully, peo­ple get out of it when they lis­ten to the records. They feel that it’s hon­est and some­thing they can grab onto and re­late to.”

SE­BAS­TIAN BUZ­ZA­LINO/UN­FOLD­ING CRE­ATIVE PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

T. Buck­ley got help from John Wort Han­nam and Don Henry for his lat­est al­bum.

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