Published Jul 12, 2016For five years, songwriters Kate Maki and Frederick Squire (Shotgun & Jaybird, Daniel, Fred & Julie) have been living in Greater Sudbury's historic Copper Cliff neighbourhood, nestled surreally beneath the infamous Inco Superstack, next to the Copper Cliff smelter. The couple recently released two wonderfully understated solo albums recorded in their basement home studio: Maki's Head in the Sand and Squire's Spooky Action at a Distance.
Sudbury's flourishing music scene has plenty of great local musicians, yet the timing of these projects — when Maki started to record Head in the Sand she was pregnant with their daughter Kae and their son Finn was two — meant that it was easier to record at home, with Maki and Squire playing most of the instruments.
"Trying to coordinate bands and studios when you're pregnant, with a toddler, is like, no, we have to do this on our own," Maki says. "And I was okay with that because Fred engineered his first two records himself and I love them, they sound incredible." (He also engineered the Daniel, Fred & Julie album, and recorded Shotgun & Jaybird.)
After years of collecting gear, Squire and Maki's analogue home studio is comprised of a TEAC 80-8 eight-track tape machine and a Soundcraft 400B mixing board, along with a Neumann U87 and Rode NTK microphones and a couple of borrowed amps, a Fostex tube reverb unit and some good Yamaha speakers. "This and that, together," says Squire, pointing to the tape machine and sound board. "These are the ones. I feel like I could do anything with those."
Once they had the gear, the couple started work on Maki's record in 2013, but encountered road block after road block. "The kids, and the pregnancy, and the gear would break down," Maki says. "Nobody fixes these things, so Fred would do the best he could."
Even then, the home recording process was slow, with Maki recording each summer around Squire's demanding school schedule (he's studying mechanical engineering at Laurentian). "I'd get her set up, [hit] record, and then grab the kid and run up the stairs and outside, and she'd have to wait until the door was shut and get the take," says Squire. "And if it didn't work, she'd yell out the window and I'd run back in and set it up again." Eventually Maki learned to run the tape deck, and inevitably the kids made it onto the recording, though they're hard to pick out. "They're actually in time and in key a lot of the time," says Squire. "They're good singers," adds Maki.
In September 2014, Maki's old friend and collaborator Nathan Lawr came up for a weekend to record drums for her album, working with Squire in the recording room while Maki used the sauna as an isolation booth. That Christmas, Squire recorded the bulk of his album alone, playing all the instruments. And finally, last spring, Maki and Squire were able to finish recording Maki's record.
"We worked tirelessly when the kids slept or when they visited my parents," Maki says. "We played everything else ourselves, deciding as we went along who was better suited for the part. Many of the songs were built up and then stripped back down to very minimal instrumentation, because we thought they sounded better."
Maki says it was hard putting her record on hold, especially since many of the songs were from 2009, but there were benefits to home recording; notably she's happier than ever with her vocals. "It was the first time I got to sing by myself without a live group of inebriated musicians," she says. "You know, where you're singing over the band, slightly inebriated yourself, and then you listen back and go, 'the band's great but the voice sucks. Too bad!' I got to sit and listen back and do it again to the point where sometimes Fred was like, 'This is getting crazy,' but I really enjoyed that: being allowed to sing sober, sing pregnant, sing without any other people."
Many of Squire's songs were old too, some older than Maki's. He recorded some on a four-track years ago in Dawson City, YK with Shotgun Jimmie, and a couple of them surfaced on Julie Doiron's 2009 album, I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day. "Sometimes, they feel like they are cover songs that you just know perfectly," he says. "Especially being in a totally different state of mind and situation than when you wrote it, or what you were thinking. Though I still wouldn't consider myself completely grown up in any way, shape or form."
The couple are currently at work on a new duo project called Hurt Protector (their son Finn came up with the name) featuring Squire's songs, Squire on guitar, Maki on drums and lots of vocal harmonies. "We're really excited about recording," says Maki. "[We've been] setting up a microphone and just recording our practices onto tape; if that works into a release, that would be great."