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Event Archive - Sarah Slean, Carey Ott

Fri. July 27th 2007 Camosun College - Gibson Auditorium (All Ages)
7:30pm doors at 7:30pm
Tickets at: Lyles Place,
Presented by: Atomique Productions
Sarah Slean describes the genesis of her fourth full-length album Day One as occuring in the summer of 2003 when, as she puts it, her house burnt down. It's her metaphor for those periods in life when everything seems to be crashing to the ground at once. The fallout from this particular four alarm fire was so great that it sent Slean scrambling for a change of scenery. Sensing that she needed solitude, she left her Toronto home and took residence four and half hours away, in a remote log cabin just outside of Ottawa. It was there that she spent countless evenings in total isolation, thinking, drawing and composing new material. "I had to go out with my little container to get water every day," she says proudly. "I would recommend it to anyone."

By the time she returned home over four months later, she was absolutely bursting to get back into the studio. Renewed and creatively charged, she felt a far cry from the bruised and emotionally exhausted person who began the experiment eighteen weeks earlier. "I went to the woods because I had my 20s explosion," she explains. "'What am I doing, my life isn't noble, this is meaningless.' I knew I had to come back because my piano was going to die over the winter, and when I did I thought 'If I don't make a record right now, I'm gonna lose it.' It was buzzing from my fingertips to my toes."

Back in the city, Slean tapped producers Pete Prilesnik (Sarah Harmer) and Dan Kurtz (of live house band The New Deal) to help with production duties. An accomplished programmer and bassist, Prilesnik's rhythmic sensibilities proved the perfect counter to Slean's melody-driven ear. "The reason I chose them was because I figured out in my cabin that what I loved about the music that I collect - Radiohead, Bjork, PJ Harvey - is its rhythmic structure," Slean says, adding that the idea came to her one night as she was dancing to music booming loudly off the cabin's wooden walls. "I had a revelation: duh, it's rhythm! And it's rhythm that I don't understand. I have harmony under my belt, I completely understand the math of it, I've studied it. Western harmony is a beautiful structure that if you understand, it's like you speak a language. But I don't understand rhythm, and Peter and Dan have that."

Recorded in Toronto over a five month period with Prilesnik and Kurtz, Day One is Slean's wisest and best-realized record to date. Ranging from the torch light moodiness of opener "Pilgrim" and the cabaret-noir of "The Score" to the stunning balladry of "California" and the uptempo pop of the album's title track, Day One communicates its central themes of ruin and rebirth while still retaining a sense of optimism and playfulness. "The image I had in my head was someone who's broken down and really struggling, dirty and almost spent, crawling but still going, by the roadside," she says. "Your wings are poking out but in order to get to that stage you have to have suffered. You have to be in the mire, you have to go down into the dark and be terrified by yourself and your fears and your weakness. I wanted the whole flavour of the record to be revolutionary - a really strident awakening, one that occurs after a great amount of sorrow and destruction."

Co-produced by Slean herself, Day One includes guest appearances from Toronto singer-songwriter Howie Beck and Billy Talent guitarist Ian D'Sa. Beck appears on "Vertigo," while D'Sa can be heard on the album's lead single, "Lucky Me". "I've known Howie for years and I love and respect his work, so we did a little swap," says Slean, who in turn lent string arrangements to Beck's forthcoming album. "We needed someone who could do a really aggressive guitar tone," she says of D'Sa. "Ian came in and absolutely killed it."

Conceived and created entirely by Slean, the mixed media artwork that accompanies Day One is yet another product of that fruitful four month hiatus. "When I was in this cabin, I painted furiously, like I've never painted before. I couldn't believe it. And this is what I was doing - I would cut out little things from books and then I'd start drawing around it. They were all small because I wanted to finish them that sitting, and so I made piles and piles of them."

The vaguely apocalyptic overtones to Slean's artwork aren't just representative of her headspace going in, but also of how she sees the world these days. As evidenced by the lyrics to "When Another Midnight," Day One isn't just about personal rebirth, it's a call for Renaissance; surely not such a bad idea, given the world's current political climate. "Five years ago I thought things were bad but they couldn't get much worse," Slean smiles. "But something's gonna happen, it's gonna be something major, and I really feel that it's going to be artists and people that love art and care about art are going to facilitate that change."

"Maybe that's idealistic," she concludes. "But idealism is the only thing in the world that's ever saved anyone."


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