(I'll be posting a series of blogs over the coming days all about the making of The Trinity Session. Check out our Facebook page to see rare photos and anecdotes from me and Margo.)
We had spent the past year touring Whites Off Earth Now!!around Canada and the United States, grabbing gigs wherever and whenever they were offered. We had sold an incredible (by the Canadian indy standards of the time) 3,000 copies of Whites and had taken the little money that we had made from touring and placed it all back in the band. With a pocketful of change and the inspiration from our travels we began to conceptualize our next recording.
While touring Whites we had spent a lot of time in the Southern States, especially Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas. For some reason the club owners down there took a liking to what we were doing so we spent a lot of time crossing the kudzu choked highways that ran through the heart of the old Confederacy. Those were the days when having to spend a night in a hotel room would mean the difference between eating the next day or paying for the gas to get us to the next town, so we spent a lot of our time sleeping on the floors of friendly promoters, fans, waitresses and bartenders. One of the best part about being "billeted" was that each night we were exposed to a new record collection and each night we'd discover a new album or a new band or a whole new type of music that was springing up in some buried underground scene somewhere in America.
A style of music that we were heavily exposed to at that time was country music. It wasn't like everyone we ran into was a country music freak, but growing up in the South, most people had been exposed to a lot more of it than we had growing up in suburban Montreal. There would inevitably be in every collection one or two great country music records that had been lifted from their parents as they moved out. Sitting there between the latest Death Piggy single and Coltrane's Giant Steps would be something like Waylon Jennings' Honky Tonk Heroes, or Patsy Cline'sGreatest Hits, The Louvin Brothers, The Carter Family, Bill Munroe, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and the list goes on. We drank it up. On one of these trips we passed through Washington DC, specifically to go to the Smithsonian Institute shop to buy their Collection of Classic Country Music. Those tapes were rarely out of our vans tape deck and when they were we were scanning the radio in hopes of tuning in some local station playing some scratchy old Lorretta Lynn record. Also at this time Steve Earl and Dwight Yokum had arrived on the country scene and were taking this classic music that we were falling in love with and infusing it with new life and making it seem relevant and modern.
So when we finally got home and began to think about our next album we not only had a whole new set of experiences set in a very foreign landscape to draw from, but also a whole new musical influence and style to draw upon. We were now thinking in terms of songs about peoples lives and the places where they lived. Into this mix we decided to throw a few non country-influenced originals and covers. The intention was not to make a country album, but an album that dealt, loosely, with the great songwriting traditions, styles and themes that had crept into rock music over the past three decades. So we added a few more originals, I Don't Get It and Postcard Blues, which harkened back to the more Blues influenced material on Whites Off Earth Now!! and added two more covers. Blue Moon Revisited (A Song For Elvis) killed two birds with one stone. It is partly an acknowledgment of the great song writing days of Tin Pan Alley and the great songwriting teams of the era of which Rogers and Hart, who wrote Blue Moon, was one. And it is also our acknowledgment of Elvis Presley who stands alone as a rock music pioneer. Our version of Blue Moon relies heavily on Elvis's interpretation which he recorded for Sun records.
The last piece to this very abstract puzzle was Sweet Jane. The Velvet Underground and Lou Reed embody what we feel rock music should be about – slightly out of step, intelligent, groove orientated and original. They have to be listed as one of the great rock bands ever and Sweet Jane, for better or worse, is one of their most recognized songs. It was and still is the backbone of cover bands all across America. It has been pitilessly slaughtered countless times on countless nights on countless stages around the world. We thought, "lets take it and see if we can breathe new life into this tired old work horse ". We got our inspiration from The Velvets live album entitled 1969. To be honest it is one of our straighter covers, we didn't change it a whole lot. Originally we had tried to record it for the Whites album, but we never got the right feel. For this collection of songs we chose Sweet Jane as being "our song- this is what we listened to growing up, this is where our musical tastes come from".
I think the song on Trinity which best sums up that period for the band, the song which defines that time is 200 More Miles. It is about the wanderlust that infected us all during that year. When I listen to it I am placed right back in the van, just the four of us, it is well after midnight, Pete and Marg are asleep in the back seat, I'm behind the wheel and Al is beside me in charge of keeping me awake, neither of us saying a word, alone with our thoughts, nobody on the road but us and the long haul truckers, and the music we are listening to is so piercingly beautiful.
(coming next: songs and musicians and recording)