interview and article by Kolston Gogan and Heather Beresford
Erin Costelo is an active voice in the Canadian music scene and is about to release her fifth studio album. Erin was the first woman to be awarded Producer of the Year" at the East Coast Music Awards, where she was also awarded R&B recording of the year and solo recording of the year for her 2016 release Down Below, The Status Quo.
Her new album Sweet Marie sounds the way it was made. Not every album pulls this off so well. It sounds like a cozy winter cabin getaway on the coast, warm slippers on hardwood floors, ambient heat from the fireplace making your face glow, the steam from your morning coffee dancing through your gaze. As you look out of your window to the frigid ocean, you know it could pull you under at any moment, but then you remember you are safe and warm, here.
Sweet Marie was recorded in January, beside the Atlantic Ocean, over the course of ten consecutive days. Even so, the album sounds in no way rushed or hurried. Erin enlisted some of Canada’s best musicians and built a studio inside her friends timber framed house in Little Harbour, NS. The album features Glenn Milchem of Blue Rodeo on Drums, Anna Ruddick on bass (Randy Bachman), Leith Fleming-Smith on organ (Matt Mays, Hawksley Workman) and Erin’s long-time guitarist and partner, Clive MacNutt,
I had the chance to talk with Erin, ahead of her upcoming tour, and this is what she had to say about the project.
KG: When you set out to record this album you recorded 10 songs in 10 days. How was this process different for you?
EC: This is my fifth record and on all of my previous albums I would just take forever to make the record, sometimes up to 2 years. I would go in and out of the the studio—probably that was due to finances. I could afford to have 2 days here, a day there, 6 months or a year would go by and I would want to make changes [to earlier recordings]. This was a challenge that I gave myself, to do it quickly and concisely like capturing a snapshot of a moment in time.
KG: Did you prepare differently for this challenge?
EC: I often would have a song or 2 [at a time] and go in when the song was ready but I had to have a whole collection of songs this time because we did it in one shot. I thought about the musicians differently. On previous albums I would have different musicians for different songs, and this was recorded with the same people, so it has a real band vibe all the way through. I think you can tell that its a group of musicians playing together.
KG: When you were writing this material did you impart any similar challenges on yourself?
EC: I’m not a writer who writes constantly. I wish I was. It’s a struggle for me to write, but I need to do it. When I sit down to write I know that it’s going to be exhausting and painful. I’ll go through multiple edits of things. … I write more than I need and then I weed it down to the ones that feel like the best collection. I think it happened all within a 2-3 month period.
KG: Would you say that your process in the studio has changed over the course of 5 albums as well?
EC: I think as a producer, I’ve started to produce other people not just myself, and so I’ve seen the way that your mental wellbeing really affects the way that you perform. So, for this record, I really wanted to create an atmosphere that was relaxed and calm. We went to a house in Little Harbour, right on the ocean. We built a studio there, at a friends house, and it just felt like we were away at camp for a week. It was really relaxed, we all stayed at the house together. We woke up and ate breakfast together. Thinking about peoples mental health and how to keep people relaxed throughout the process has changed from the way that I was making records before. It was more “let’s go in and get this done” and you’re kind of watching the clock, and it can be really stressful so I thought a lot about that going into this record.
KG: You can really hear that. When I listened to the record it sounded to me like its just one day.
EC: I think thats great! It gives me confidence to go out and perform this record because we played it all together in the studio so theres no chance that were not going to be able to do it again. Its the same group of people and that same kind of trust that you have with each other when you really hunker down and play the music together so I think that will translate to the live shows too… [These musicians will also be accompanying Erin on her album release tour.]
[Regarding the horn players on the album Trombone: Andrew Jackson and on Saxophone/Flute Andrew McKelvey] They’re a great group of musicians, you can have a kind of dialogue with people you’ve worked with for a long time. I can have a short hand in the way that I write arrangements because I know of the things that they know how to do, and we can have conversations that are quick as a result of that.
KG: When you were writing these songs was there a lot of preproduction, were you thinking of these parts before meeting with the musicians?
EC: Some of it. The string parts I thought a lot about beforehand, but I couldn’t write many of the arrangements before the songs were recorded because these are symphonic string players so they have to have everything notated. We did the day of tracking and then I basically had a night and morning to write all of the string arrangements for everything. So, in the creative aspect of it, it was pretty intense and challenging. But I never felt the feeling of anxiety. I felt dizzy but I didn’t feel nervous that it was not going to happen. I did leading up to it but as soon as the musicians got there and the work started, I didn’t feel any nervousness.
We actually lost an entire day of recording, there was a technical malfunction. We were going into the last day of tracking with the band and we still needed to do 3 other songs, so we did 6 whole songs on one day. You said it sounded like it was recored in one day and well, a (large) part of it was. But we had honed the arrangement so well that it was so easy for us to do a couple takes through and have them…There were, I don’t think, any edits between tracks. We either just said “thats the one” or “thats the one.” So they’re really live performances.
KG: You must be excited to hit the road? Especially because theres that bit of time between finishing the album and then going out and showing the public what you’ve created together.
EC: Its so great. Now we can think about creating a show which is a different way to think about the music that you’ve recorded, thinking about it as an album sequence is one thing, but how do we create a show thats going to keep peoples interest. And how are we going to move from one track to the next. Its all those details we get to work out now which is really fun.
Erin will be performing at CROW Bar & Variety On Tuesday, October 23rd.
Keep up with Erin and check out her “Making Of Sweet Marie documentary produced by Amelia Curran: