Health stands defiantly against the oncoming torrent, refusing to give ground or accept the decision that music was meant to be sloppy, rough or not thought out. Music, like making love, is easily enjoyed on a adolsecent level – visceral, straightforward and fast – but only perfected with patience, a loving touch, experience and time.
The new look Heavy Blinkers is Jason Michael MacIsaac’s brain child, but make no mistake, Health is collaborative and vast. Choirs, players, fans and new voices all add to the final mix, and suddenly seven years seems less like time spent waiting and more like time needed. This is an epic album, in scope, output and sound. Equal parts musical history, appreciation, talent, and whimsy, these arrangements will stand the test of time. If you don’t believe me, just listen the triumphant swoon they add after Jenn Grant sings, “could you not have brought a harp instead?” on “Silence Your Drum Tonight.”
I am not sure what this album is about ENTIRELY but I do know that it isn’t just a collection of songs per se. I can say this because I have put out lots of albums that are just collections of songs, and this is not what this is to me. I guess it is a concept album in so far as there ARE unified themes, characters and a somewhat overarching narrative, but who knows, maybe Paula Abdul said the same thing about Forever Your Girl.
AS LONG AS YOU HAVE YOUR HEALTH (CHOIR SECTION)
This song was recorded with a 31 piece choir that I hastily assembled, which included pretty much every singer I knew in the city of Halifax at the time. Among them: Rich Aucoin, Mike O’Neill, Erin Costelo and Brent Randall. This was live off the floor in one take with me on piano. The choir also sang a section that night that was to be a part of CALL IT A DAY, but I never used it for some arcane, long since forgotten reason. This piece is the jumping off point for the album and if you listen carefully, lyrics from this piece are littered all through the album. Pretentious, I know.
AS LONG AS YOU HAVE YOUR HEALTH (INSTRUMENTAL SECTION)
This section was originally to be have been performed by a full orchestra, until I filed my taxes. Wowzers! I quickly retooled the piece for harp, banjo, mandolin, string quartet, horn quartet and tympani. The crickets that you hear on this section are real and non-union talent.
ANNA KARINA, I WAS WRONG
This is one of the many songs on the album that makes references to soldiers and war. This was also the first song that I wrote for the album, so it’s fitting that it be the first song with vocals to appear on the album. I remember coming up with the idea for the song when The Heavy Blinkers were playing a show in Rouen France, just outside of Vimy Ridge, the site of World War One’s biggest single Allied advance on the Western front up to that point and where over 10, 000 Canadian soldiers were killed.
CHILD OF THE RADIO
Though this song (as is true of all the songs on the album) was written specifically for HEALTH, there WAS a time when I toyed with the idea of shelving it, in favour of putting it on a Heavy Blinkers RnB album that I was also demo-ing while writing HEALTH. In the end, it was always an important component of the album and I’m glad it stayed put.
GOD BLESS HAZEL
This song boasts some dazzling string arrangements, gras a la incomparable David Christensen. I especially love the strings on the 4/4 section. I think in conversations, we discussed making “stabby” Jean-Claude Vannier strings like the ones on Serge Gainsbourg’s “Histoire de Melody Nelson” or Vannier’s very own “L’enfant La Mouche Et Les Allumettes.” The arbour (on the waterfront), the armory and the grainery are all places in Halifax are all significant to me, so I was glad that they made an appearance in the story, which is simultaniously about and not at all about my sister.
CALL IT A DAY
Musically, this piece started out as a gentle homage to some of my favourite bossa nova artists (Marcos Valle, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Chico Buarque, Gal Costa, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso) but somewhere along the line, as is true of most of the things that I do, what started off as horse, ended up as a camel. The album cover artwork comes from the chorus of this song: “This song will breach your hull like a cannonball that drops you in the sea, like a sugar cube in tea”.
I SHOULD BE SLEEPING
One of the great thrills of my life was when myself, Andrew (ex-blinker) and Dave Christensen got to go to Sean O’Hagan’s (of The High Llamas) house to record his vocals for this song AND for Dave to play clarinet on a High Llamas record. I’m a massive High Llamas fan to say the least and The Blinkers were playing a show with them in London and we took the train to his house the next day and he just knocked it out of the park. He is an elegant and gracious man whose amazing musical works have been criminally under appreciated by all that I see. He remains an inspiration to me.
This is the first single off the album and is one of many songs about unrequited love. That piano part at the very end is my bed track where I literally didn’t know how
to end the song, so it just ends the way it does. However, looking back, I think it’s a pretty appropriate ending, given the subject matter.
SILENCE YOUR DRUM
When you write a ponderous album like HEALTH, it’s really important to have some jokes in there from time to time. This song tells the story of the Little Drummer Boy from Mary and Joseph’s point of view. They just get Jesus to bed and over the horizon comes a kid banging on the drums. Ever since I was a kid, I found this visual
to be funny, so I finally wrote a song about it. This recording especially thrills me because after years and years, I finally got to uses uilleann pipes, which has long been one of my favourite instruments. It is a simply gorgeous machine. I am a huge celtic music fan (my parents being from Cape Breton) and despite a few twists and turns, Silence Your Drum is very much a song steeped in the celtic tradition.
I remember writing this hours after watching Hitchcock’s REBECCA, but seriously, beyond that..I got nothing. I love how haunting Jenn Grant sounds in the bridge. I love how Jenn Grant sounds all the time. Go buy her records now.
IT SOUNDS BETTER THAN IT SOUNDS
One of my favourite singer/songwriters is Sondre Lerche, so I was blown away when someone had told me that he had said kind words to a reporter about one of my songs “I used to be a design” (I think it was that one). This guy is the NICEST guy in showbiz, hands down. He literally invited Andrew and I to stay with him for a couple of days in Brooklyn, never having met us before, and we recorded his vocals in the office of his apartment. He is one of the most lovely, kind and funny men I have ever met. Moreover, I’ve loved his entire recorded output and I eagerly await his next album. I hope someday we can do a co-write. IF YOU ARE READING THIS, SIR!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We can do it through Skype!
WAITING FOR A RIVERBOAT
This is sort of a retelling of the Orpheus myth and yet another song about unrequited love, I suppose. The way Jenn sings “I see the bullet holes in the church” sends shivers up and down my spine. This is a favourite of mine to play live. The outro was written by David Christensen and was played by he and I in a studio in France during the Heavy Blinkers’ first tour to Europe. That’s a Coke can used as percussion on that one, folks. The studio was around the corner from a street of prostitution houses called Rue Des Bonnes Enfants, hence the title of the outro piece.
WHY MUST YOU HIDE YOUR LIGHT?
This song was the last song written for the album and it clearly owes a debt to Burt Bacharach. I remember working tirelessly on these lyrics. This is one of the few songs on the album that features only current Heavy Blinkers personnel (strings and horns notwithstanding)
MES CRAINTES OUBLIEES
My attempt at rewriting La Javanaise? Yet another song of unrequited love. Francoise Hardy’s perfect album La Question and Keren Ann’s equally perfect album Not Going Anywhere were the inspirations for this song.
SOMEONE DIED TODAY AT THE ICE CAPADES
Shockingly, this is based on a true story. My aunt actually was violently killed ice skating. I took her story as the launch pad for this song. For those of you too young to remember, The Ice Capades was a traveling show like Cirque De Soleil, but on ice. It oft featured licensed cartoon characters from television. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen “Hey Kids, Meet The Snorks on Ice”.
WHEN YOU GO
When You Go is probably my favourite recording on the album. If I had to choose one song to play for someone to give them a sense of what HEALTH is all about, or what I think The Heavy Blinkers is all about, I would play them this one. It turned out exactly as I had hoped, which I’m told is rare in the record making business. My hope is to make a video or short film of this song in the new year.
EVERYTHING IS MAGIC
My then three year old niece was sitting at the piano with me and I said: “Let’s write a song together.” She started singing (almost fully formed) the lyrics that would become Everything Is Magic. I especially love that she didn’t sing “Everything is magic for me AND you” but rather “Everything is magic for me OR you”. The spoken word off the top was kind of a working thesis statement-poem that I wrote before I had written any actual music for the album. I emailed over 40 people from around the world, who I knew were really into the band and I got them to record themselves saying the poem on their smart phones and then I got them to send it back to me. I incorporated it into the song and I feel it helps to bring the album to a nice logical conclusion.