Article by Kolston Gogan and Heather Beresford.
The first time I had the chance to see Adam Webster perform (almost twelve years ago now) he had long dreadlocks and was playing his infamous white Strat—he was performing the most soulful and beautiful rendition of “Superstition” I had ever heard. He put out so much energy to the audience, and you could immediately see that it was honest and effortless.
Before this record with his new band Colour Picture Book, I didn’t know it was possible. However, Adam, his brother Matt Webster, and Max Roach seem to have taken all of the energy and magic of these live shows and stamped it onto a disc. It is bursting with colour and really gives you that “first time” experience.
The words that came to mind for this album:
Fuzzy, warm, funk, beautiful, sentimental, mature, observant, fresh, vibrant.
Listen to the album on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/album/631GWs25pMnyxbgUSDEM94
I had the opportunity to sit down with Adam and talk about the process and adventure he had in making this record. Here is what he had to say:
K: Whats with the orange?
A: Well… Carly [Adam’s wife] had an antique orange juicer that had belonged to her friend’s grandmother, if I’m not mistaken. I was juicing oranges every day to have the freshest orange juice I could get. I would just look at this orange and think that it was so full of life, that no candy could ever taste that good. When my friend Andy said to me (about the album cover) “it has a Blind Melon vibe to it.” That made me really happy because that’s kind of what I was going for. It’s a slice of everyday life. It’s beautiful and vibrant, though still something you see everyday. I think it’s in those glimpses of our everyday lives that the real beauty lies.
K: Who is Colour Picture Book and how did that come to be?
A: Originally, before it had a name, I was trying to break away from the projects that I was involved in that didn’t really represent who I am. I started working with my brother Matt and with Max. There came a point when I had to decide whether it was going to be called something with my name in it or not. I felt that it was much more inspiring to choose something that could be bigger than me and that could be a creative outlet for the 3 of us or whoever else we wanted to involve in the future. I wanted something that everybody could get credit for because I think amazing things can happen if nobody cares who is taking the credit for it.
The name itself came from the aesthetic of an old photo album. It’s something that is harder and harder to find, those golden memories. I think a lot of things now are just lost on a hard drive somewhere. I picture Clark Griswold up in the attic, tears coming down, with the projector and all of the memories. Its that Bolex perspective on life, like seeing the world through a polaroid instead of a screen. It’s a more tangible reality like something you can feel and hold in your hands.
K: Is that how you approach a lot of the writing as well, as a collaboration in that way?
A: I bring a lot of ideas to the table but those guys are so creative. Right down to the production and the levels to which we were distorting things on the board, they’ve been instrumental in that too. I might bring the initial song ideas to them but they really contribute to putting things together. I really respect what they do with it. I couldn’t have done it without them. I want them to feel like its theirs as well.
K: How long have the 3 of you been working together?
A: I know it might seem like just 2 songs but they’ve been 3 years in the making. From trying to first record them through my interface, then bringing them to the guys and working the songs out, and getting the finances together to go to Revolution [Recording]. Part of it was in making sure the timelines worked out for everyone involved. Another part of that was because it was all done in analog format.
Every time that you make a change in the analog world, you have to physically mail a tape somewhere and wait for it be mailed back. Or physically mail a plate somewhere and wait for it to be mailed back. Or an acetate, or whatever it is, it has to go two directions every time there is a change. It actually made the process a lot longer but I don’t necessarily think of that as a bad thing. Everyone is so caught up in getting things done instantly that it doesn’t hurt to have some patience for a process that will take longer but will be more rewarding in the end.
What has been really overwhelming is the amount of positive response and good press that we’ve received all of a sudden. I could never have imagined it. I think its partly due to the fact that the story is easy to tell. It’s because every step of the way we decided to do things to the fullest extent in an analog direction. Nothing needs to be altered when people ask questions. Its such a great story because we had a great time making it, the actual process was that much fun for us.
K: Are there any particularly good stories or funny moments that you had at the studio?
A: The first thing that comes to mind is a story about Max. Max Roach, our drummer, he’s a really hardworking guy both in the music industry and with his own business ventures. Whether he’s playing bass, keys or drums he’s always operating on such a high level. I have a video clip of one of our mixing sessions and it was a really intense session and there was some pressure to get a lot done in a short amount of time. It got pretty tense so we decided to take a short break. I was trying to get myself together and I walked out into the kitchen at Revolution and Max was working on his laptop. He was tracking a bass guitar on a little interface that he rented that day. He was recording a track for some session thing that someone had sent him online that same day. I couldn’t imagine that, and I thought I was driven! To walk out and see Max go from two completely different instruments, on two different recordings and two totally different jobs, getting it all done whenever he can… That is drive.
K: What inspired you to take an entirely analog signal path? Was that always the plan or you were surprised?
A: Everything I’ve worked on, up until this point, always ended up with compromises somewhere along the way. Before I’ve even finished, the idea gets watered down so it ends up sitting on a shelf because I’m not as excited to put it out. One big question I always had is “why is it when I listen to something totally analog it seems to get into me more deeply?” I didn’t know why I loved my dad’s old tapes of live performances or rehearsals or old records. I didn’t know if it was the fact that an analog signal is completely continuous whereas a digital signal is a bunch of little snapshots placed so closely together that it tricks your ear into hearing a continuous signal. I don’t know if that’s it or if it's that there was generally less compression in that time. Whatever it was, I wanted to find out what the difference would be between going absolutely analog and what we’ve already done digitally. I thought the only way to get to the bottom of it was to do it.
K: What did you learn from that?
A: I learned that tape if my favourite compressor. You don’t really need to use compression if you have nice magnetic tape. You just turn up whichever frequencies are driving you nuts, drive it into the tape until the red lights are flashing, until that frequency seems to disappear. It becomes a part of everything else which somehow leaves the bottom end more open and dynamic. It doesn’t squash the entire signal; it just seems to squash whatever was harsh about it.
There are a lot of beautiful digital recordings that I will always be in love with. I have nothing against that way of doing things. I find that the biggest difference is when you turn it up past the zero. In the digital world, things get really ugly. When you turn things up past the zero in the analog world, they get prettier. I don’t know why but it brings out these harmonics that I love.
K: With the solidity of tape, most often, you aren’t doing many edits or a thousand takes of the same part. Do you think that having more of the “real performance,” with minimal to no edits, had any impact in the sound of it?
A: I really do think that is a factor. I think that because it is so easy to polish things now, we do. When you have the constraints of the equipment, you really have to make up for it in other ways such as having a good performance in the room. That was a part of why I wanted to work with it. A lot of great records from back in the day weren’t polished, they were pretty rough in a lot of ways. It’s just our humanity coming through. We really can edit as far as we want now and we can polish things as much as we want. I like that having some of the constraints that keep those human elements in there.
K: What were your greatest inspirations for the project? In regards to writing these particular pieces.
A: To put it simply, live music was really the greatest inspiration for this recording. To be able to capture the chemistry of a real live band and to tap into the magic of what happens when everyone is really locked in. To be able to have that happen in a room and to be able to capture that vibe, that was the idea. I think that comes from the fact that my dad has tapes and tapes of recordings he made between 1960 and 1980. They’re of every gig and each rehearsal that he had back then. I had all of these amazing recordings of these tight bands that nobody else will ever get to hear but they’re the best things that I ever got to listen to. They’re full of real music from the time and they captured people pouring their hearts out. There was nothing polished about the recordings but they were tight and polished performances. There was no post production, it was just about the moment.
K: Growing up in music was obviously influential for you, and your brother, seeing as how you are still making music together now.
A: I’m super lucky. People were a little less careful when I was a kid and I got to hang out in a lot of good bars with a lot of good musicians. My parents were really cool about letting me go out to witness some really good talent. I saw people who were on that level of gigging that nobody really talks about in the mainstream. There can be some of the most amazing musicians playing right around the corner. They may never get any bigger than being just around the corner but they’re still the best that you’ve ever heard. I think that needs to be talked about more and even celebrated more.
K: I agree, Collingwood has a great scene and its something we’re both a part of. Ten years from now we will probably be looking back on it as the best thing we were ever a part of.
A: It’s true and it’s cool because it seems like there is a whole new phase of music here. There have been great scenes before and it’s like this one is totally reborn. It’s full of new faces and many established musicians too but also new venues and new opportunities. The standard working gig is shifting towards people really figuring out how to get their original content out there. It’s everything that I’ve hoped would happen for the people who are here. There are so many talented people here.
K: So are you planning an album release party?
A: Yes! I’ve spoken with some local promoters. The record is already out there but we have yet to celebrate it here. I want to include all of our friends and the people in this town that we love, those who have been supporting us the whole time. I want to celebrate it with a party because this is big for me… I’ve never been in this position before.
K: After all of the time in the studio, going back and forth with the mail, waiting for the right time with the publicist, how does it feel to finally have it out?
A: Honestly, I never thought that I would be here, getting all of these good reviews coming back. My goal was just to finish something that I really felt proud to put my name on. I didn’t have the realization then that people were actually going to hear it and that some people might actually respond to it. To have this much love coming back is something I could never have dreamed of. My friend Danno [O’Shea], who has been helping as a consultant with this release and who understands much more about this than I do, he kept saying “Just wait.” He helped to push me. There were times when I just wanted to quit. I would say “Let’s put it on the internet now, that’s that, carry on,” but he would say “No, lets put this out for real.” He kept pushing me to each next step. He said, “When you see this all roll out at once and you start to feel some of the love coming back, it will all look different.” He was right, it really does. I want the same thing for all of the people around me who have been waiting their whole lives to do this too.
Adam and Colour Picture Book are currently planning a release show in Collingwood and a tour to follow. Follow their journey on the website here: https://www.colourpicturebook.com/ and check them out on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/ColourPictureBook/