It’s a good time to be a Bry Webb fan. He recently announced that the Constantines will be having a reunion this summer to celebrate a re-release of their sophomore album, Shine A Light. Along with the Constantines reunion, Bry Webb has recorded his second album Free Will (release date May 20th), a follow up to his excellent solo debut Provider. Bry Webb and the Providers are currently touring Ontario as a 5-piece band. We had the pleasure of chatting with Bry last Friday before his show at the Grad Club.
The Vault: The Arcade Fire covered “Young Lions” on Friday night in Toronto, and there’s clearly a lot of buzz about the Constantines reunion. How excited are you for it? Can you tell us how extensive the reunion will be?
Bry Webb: I’m very excited, I think it’s the perfect time for it. We all just needed some time for ourselves, to figure some stuff out. I had a kid, Will moved to Haida Gwaii, Steve has been doing Baby Eagle and You’ve Changed Records, Dallas plays in a band with Jennifer Castle called Deloro, Doug is the drummer for City and Colour now, so he’s on world tours. All that stuff means it’s been tricky scheduling, but this summer we were all in the right place to try and do it. We’re doing Field Trip in June, and there will be a handful of shows throughout the summer, we’re just feeling it out. I don’t expect any month long tours, but we’ll be around, looking to see some friends.
The Vault: For Field Trip, did you guys reach out to Arts & Crafts, or did they reach out to you? How did that work?
BW: They kind of reached out to us at exactly the right time. We’d started talking about reissuing Shine A Light last year (for its 10th anniversary) and we completely missed the boat on that, but we’d also just seen each other around in the last year a bit more. We all saw each other at Sappy Fest. We did this Crazy Horse cover band here and there over the years, and Will put together a show at the Silver Dollar in Toronto. Just a good year of reconnecting. We were talking about this reissue idea with Sub Pop, who were excited with the idea, so we started talking more seriously about stuff. Arts & Crafts asked at the perfect time.
The Vault: This album, like the last one, is coming out on Idee Fixe. Can you tell us about that label, and why you decided to release your album through it?
BW: The label is run by Jeff McMurrich and Alex Durlak. Alex runs a printing company called Standard Form out of Toronto that has done tons of good album covers and amazing publications. Jeff recorded the last two Constantines records, and he did my first record, so we just have had a long relationship. I had stopped playing music for a little while after Constantines stopped, and about two years after we moved to Guelph, Jeff called me to check in and ask me if I had any music that I was doing. I had just met Rich Burnett (who plays in the Providers) and Mike Brooks (who played on the first record). We’d recorded a live set at the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada, which is the most serene, beautiful place on the outskirts of Guelph. A friend of mine who works there invited me, and it was one of the first shows that Rich and Mike and I had played, just a bunch of songs I had from over the years. Jeff wrote to me saying “there’s nothing I would rather do than release an album that was recorded live at a donkey sanctuary”. The recording didn’t really work out, but that was the beginning of that arrangement. Jeff runs 6 Nassau Recording Studio in Kensington in Toronto and invited me down, so we just did a couple weekends, and made that record pretty quickly. Alex and Jeff look after everything I’m terrible at.
The Vault: You also built your own studio, is that right?
BW: It’s like a music idea space or something. It will never be a commercial studio, I couldn’t imagine building something like that. We bought a house in Guelph with a separate garage, it had a furnace in it, so we just sound proofed it. We actually did a couple parts of the new records in there, with my friend Ben Grossman, who runs a beautiful space called Silence, probably the best cultural hub in Guelph right now. We did the fifth song on the record, called Let’s Get Through Today, and he did some drone-style hurdy gurdy. That was all done at 8:30 in the morning at our place before going to work. That wouldn’t have been possible without my studio.
The Vault: I saw a trailer for the new record, Free Will, where you were plugged in with Will Kidman wailing on guitars. Now Provider had one song with drums, and other than that was totally percussion-less. Is the new album more full band sounding?
BW: It’s less mellow than Provider, for sure. It’s more of a band record. There was a quartet for the first record, but this one is more upbeat. Bottom line, it has drums, that’s the difference. As for Will, he came down to Toronto in October, and we just did this duelling feedback solo on one of the songs. It’s easily the loudest moment on the record.
The Vault: Is this one of the first time you’ll be playing some of these songs for a live audience?
BW: Yeah for sure, and this is the first show with the group, the band from the record. In St Catherines we played at the Niagara Art Centre, Aaron Goldstein (who plays pedal steel) couldn’t make it to that show. We’re figuring out some different arrangements for different songs. Sort of a Rolling Stones version of some the record.
The Vault: You were on CFRC, our student radio station this morning, and you work at CFRU in Guelph. Why do you think community radio is so important?
BW: When I was twenty, I got a job at CHRW, the campus community station in London. My life was kind of disjointed at the time, and I just didn’t know what I was doing, and I had no social connection to Western University. CHRW was this perfect mecca of weirdos. You could run into an older experimental show host, and they would walk you through the vinyl library, and introduce you to the best stuff. It became this bastion for things I didn’t realize were so important to me until I found that place. I was there for a couple years, and then we started the Constantines. I think it completely informed the music I made for the next eleven years, and also just how we tried to do it, realizing what a network of interesting people there was. Up until that point I had kind of just known rock, in the late-80s early-90s tradition, and played in hardcore bands. My world opened up musically at the station. We always had that connection, it was important from city to city, and it was something that was really supportive of our band from the first record.
Moving to Guelph I had already fallen in love with radio again, independent alternative media, especially a station called WMFU (in Jersey City) which is one of the greatest freeform independent radio stations in the world. A friend of mine told me that CHRW was hiring an interim program coordinator, and I ended up getting the full-time job. My attachment to that kind of media had initially been about underground, independent music. But since connecting with CFRU, I’ve really reconnected with ideological priorities that I hadn’t addressed in the later part of the Constantines, with a touring lifestyle. Ideas around anti-oppression, social justice, trying to help carry on a social justice organization. On that level, I think it’s revitalized what I think is important. There aren’t that many sources of independent media left, whether you’re talking about music, art, and culture, or reporting.
I struggled for a long time to figure out what I could possibly do after being a musician for a long time, since I was lucky enough to have that be my living about half the time the Constantines were a band. When we stopped, trying to write a resume was a nightmare, I didn’t know what I could do with my skill set, but a place like a campus community radio station, is a magnet for people with really specific skill sets. It was too perfect that I ended up finding a place there.
Bry Webb’s second solo album, Free Will, is out May 20th on Idee Fixe. Go to http://harbourcoats.tumblr.com/ for tour dates. The Constantines will be playing at Field Trip, in Toronto on June 7-8. Stay tuned.