Connor’s Album

My son Connor has recorded his first album. It’s full of power, grace, poetry, honesty, and passionately performed music and singing. He wrote every note, every word. He created all the arrangements, played all the instruments (except the Cello, Viola and two violins on two of the songs), sang all the harmonies and wrote a large part of two string quartet arrangements. I helped him make the record, and so did Debbie. But, short of expressing our opinions when he asked us for them, we had nothing to do with the creation of his amazing songs.

I was nervous about the project from the moment we began talking about it. I wanted to help Connor make the record but I was conflicted. We work really well together and I’ve had a lot of experience with producing recording sessions - budgeting time, tending the vibe and generally keeping things running smoothly - and I could provide many of the services of a producer without the expense. But, I was concerned that my involvement might hurt as much as help.

A few years ago at a friend’s wedding, a drunk musician cornered Connor and belligerently chastised him for, essentially, being my son. He was angry that Connor had been given what he saw as an unfair, and undeserved, advantage in the music business. Connor was hurt and confused by the encounter, but I recognized a variation on a theme I had experienced when Trooper’s first album came out. Despite the fact that Randy Bachman, the guitar player from the Guess Who and BTO, had chosen to produce our band because of the quality of our songs and performances - we were often branded as his pet project and accused, repeatedly, of riding his creative coat-tails. Some people (including Randy in later years) even insinuated that Bachman had taught us how to write the hit songs we were performing when he first heard us.

Living in someone’s shadow diminishes the already minimal rewards of success. In Trooper’s case, our initial breakthroughs were seen by some as unearned. I didn’t like that, and didn’t want it to happen to my son.

Connor, Debbie and I talked it out. We agreed that I should help with the production of the record. Although I wanted to co-produce without credit, Connor insisted that my name be used in order to acknowledge the time and energy I had contributed.

While I was away, Connor and Debbie spent weeks preparing an application to “FACTOR” - the Foundation to Assist Canadian Artists On Record - an organization that awards talented songwriters and performers a sizable loan to help with recording costs. After months of waiting Connor was turned down. Although he received the highest marks for all categories related to the songs and their performances, they were apparently unimpressed with his “marketing plan”. So Connor took a loan.

My good friend, and award-winning engineer, Pat Glover signed on as part of the studio team. We recorded all the music, including the string quartet, at Whitewater Studio. We recorded all the vocals at home. We worked hard and conscientiously and had a great time making great music. We started in April and are days away from finished. There are two songs that Connor wants to re-mix and he’s been listening to them over and over in our upstairs music room that he wants to call “Liberty Studio”.

What I Did This Weekend

On Sunday, me, Connor and sound engineer extraordinaire Pat Glover settled into Whitewater Studio for an all day "Mic Shootout". We set up a collection of some of the best and most highly regarded microphones in the audio world and compared them, one to the other. It was a day of spectacular audio geekdom. We had an excellent time.

Tentative and Tenacious

The longer I leave it, the more I have to write about, and the harder it is to begin again. I’ll start by trying to pick up where I left off.

‘Lee’ from Universal Music Canada came through with digital downloads. Half of our recorded output is now legally available online. There are still two unreleased albums that Universal owns but seems to be unable or unwilling to offer to the public. Once I muster the appropriate energy, I may bring this up.

‘Lee’ worked hard for us. He was friendly, positive and professional. He was a pleasure to work with and I told him so in an email at Christmas time. I wrote to him again this week, asking about download-related royalties and how they compare to our non-digital penny-rate. I also asked if he could look into our royalties for 2003 - which we have not received. Occasionally, I morph into a jaw-locked, mouth-foaming dog, tenaciously dragging behind a leg I’ve bitten into. It’s embarrassing sometimes.

Both my mothers have been to the hospital and have returned to us healthy. My Mother has moved from her house in Langley to a much smaller place here in White Rock. Her house sold last night. Our families have all weathered a series of emotional, worrisome, physically and mentally taxing, stressful, but ultimately positive sea changes lately. Those seas appear to be calming as the days begin to lengthen and grow warmer.

Today, Connor and I bought an Apex 460 tube condenser microphone and a ‘Groovetube’ vacuum tube so we could perform the mod that, according to a panel of audio engineers at a prominent Vancouver studio, will make the 460 the rough equivalent of a Neumann U87 - a revered, and much more expensive, mic. Connor’s downstairs now, using it. I can hear him singing.

Connor McGuire @ The Wired Monk

Connor’s band, Anger and After, started to break up when their twenty-one year old drummer began devoting more time and attention to a twenty-something band with connections to a local recording studio. Just at the point where A&A had gig offers, he became double-booked - and chose the more mature band over his two seventeen-year-old Anger and After band mates.

Disheartened, Connor and Simon struggled through auditions. One young drummer brought his girlfriend and asked for a mid-audition break so he could smoke some pot. Another played, unaccompanied, the complete and extremely complex drum part from a Dillinger Escape Plan song.

With a new drummer failing to materialize, Simon became less and less committed to the idea of the band. He explained that his musical tastes were shifting toward more artistic and experimental music. One night he called Connor to say that he would be unable to attend the drummer audition planned for that evening because he was going to a concert by one of those artistic and experimental bands. Although the two of them had been best friends since grade six, their musical partnership ended that night.

Two years later, last Friday night, at a coffee shop in Crescent Beach, a standing-room-only crowd listened intently as Connor, acoustic guitar balanced on his lap, described one of the first songs he had ever written.

“I’ve revamped the chords a bit, but the words still suck.” he said, grinning.

Then he called his friend Simon to the stage to sing the song with him.

From the moment he said; “Hi, I’m Connor McGuire, I write my own songs”, he had the young, and usually fidgety, audience in complete pin-drop-quiet control. He played for an hour - just him and his guitar - interspersing his amazing songs with charming and engaging banter. The crowd cheered, whooped, whistled and hollered after every tune. He completely owned.

Just two years after the collapse of his first rock band, Connor has returned to the stage with a completely new, and improved, version of himself. He’s written a collection of heartbreakingly powerful songs - each new one better than the last. He’s taught himself finger picking and has profited from the classical guitar lessons he took. His singing has become natural and unaffected and his vocal phrasing amazes me.

Connor’s show at the Wired Monk on Friday was a watershed in his music career. He’s proven to himself that he can do this by himself. What he did on Friday can be replicated successfully on any stage anywhere.