Our brief journey with Vic began in the mid-1990’s when we stumbled upon his album, West Of Rome. We had just begun work on the collection of songs that would become Lay It Down and we decided to throw the title track of Vic’s album into the mix. We worked on the song for weeks but were never able to match its wistfulness, its forlornness, its honesty; we were never able to replicate the way the song just simply and effortlessly existed. It sounded so unlike a studied recording and so much like a man sitting in a motel room just east of the border, his life evaporating before him. Vic and this album were one of the reasons that we decided to venture down to Athens, Georgia (his home town) to record Lay It Down. Several months later when our album was released we invited Vic to join us on a leg of our North American tour. The first date and our first meeting was in Ottawa at a club called Barrymores. Vic arrived in his wheelchair and was greeted by a flight of about thirty stairs which were the only way in to the second floor club. I was more upset about it than he was, he just shrugged his shoulders and asked the two strongest people that he could corral to carry him and his chair up the stairs. No big deal…just another surmountable obstacle in the life of someone who spent the better part of the last two decades on the road. Throughout that tour we watch Vic every night as he, stymied, infuriated, intentionally pissed-off and then subtly disarmed and won over audiences across the US and Canada. There was no secret to his game, just him, his guitar, and his uncanny voice, which could be grating and beautiful in the same breath, and the flat out honesty of his songs. After that tour we would cross paths occasionally out on the road, or when he came through Toronto, but mainly we kept touch through his music. After West of Rome he seemed to release an album of new material every year (including the stunning collection Is The Actor Happy) all the while keeping up a hectic tour schedule. We hooked up again in the early 2000’s when we did a tour of the UK with him. I have two treasured memories of him from that tour. The first is from our first gig in Leeds where Vic arrived with his bass player and drummer in tow. The trio had spent the past few weeks rehearsing several albums worth of material. In the car ride over to the gig Vic had told them that the drummer would now be playing bass and the bass player would be playing drums. Neither of them had any practical experience on the others instrument but Vic wanted to keep the material fresh and edgy. They both had the look of freshly caught fish. My other memory from that tour is a show in Brighton which took place in a beautiful wood and glass pavilion that had the most delicate acoustics. Vic played to the room. The instruments all but disappeared; Vic songs took flight on the wings of his falsetto and floated, soared and swoop around the space. In my declining years I’ll swear that he did the entire set a cappella, because that is what it felt like. We like to say that music can transport one’s being, one’s essence, from one plane to another, but who can say that they have ever been truly transported….I can, thanks to Vic. Our last get together with Vic was in 2007 when he came up to Toronto to help us with our Trinity Revisited project. The consummate professional, Vic was prepared and patient and willing to work, no muss, no fuss. My favourite moment of our two days together was when Vic and I played the song Postcard Blues together for the first time. Vic singing and playing guitar in his inimitable fashion and me parrying with my guitar, his voice and our instruments ringing throughout magical Trinity church. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, it was just a rehearsal and it wasn’t recorded. During the taping and recording of Trinity we had an opportunity to do a bit of playing together while the film crew adjusted lights and did those time consuming things that film crews do. It was during one of those breaks that we came up with the idea of doing a Chesnutt/Junkies album. It would be his songs and we’d be the band. We talked about it through email and on the phone and tried to block some time in each of our schedules. The last time that we talked he said that he was working on a song cycle centered around his childhood in Georgia and maybe this would be the album that we would record together. I was on a cell phone in a parking lot outside a gig in Maine and he was in a van driving on the QEW heading to a gig in Toronto. And that was all.
We are trying to approach Demons with the same sense of adventure that Vic undertook all of his projects (or at least that is the way his recordings sound). We are letting happy accidents happen, we are trying to invest his songs with the same spirit and the adventure in which they were written, but at the same time we are trying to invest them with our own Northern spin. We have thrown about twenty of his songs into the proverbial pot and we will let the process decide which songs find their way on to the finished album. Exploring his songs and delving deeper and deeper into them, as one must do in order to do justice to any cover song, has been an intense, moving and joyous experience. I don’t think Vic would have wanted it any other way.
Here is our version of Wrong Piano. I don’t think I have ever heard Margo sing so well in the studio and, man, I love my new Fairfield Circuitry pedal…and…oh ya…if you have a freak flag its time to fly it…our aim is to have the album in your hands by mid-November.