I wish there were a more eloquent and effortless way to explain how this album came to be. As of this writing I have been working on the Mother Earth project for over 12 years. It’s been a labor of love, a significant part of my life and something I’m very proud of.
The detailed stories of how this album came together will be told in the interviews and conversations that I look forward to sharing with you, but until then, let me start with this….The power of music and its ability to affect change is undeniable.
With that in mind I wanted to celebrate nature through my songs and the. videos I would create for them. The common theme of this project is respecting and understanding how nature is a part of our lives in the world that we all share.
Some songs, “Artic Mistress” for example, celebrate nature but others like “One Giant Farm” and “Life on Earth” have a call to action. The messages are powerful (I hope) and on occasion may make you uncomfortable, but they need to be told, especially now.
Slash lent his name and talent to “One Giant Farm” because of the message. In the video for the song it shows the horrific images of shark finning and the slaughter of dolphins and whales that is still happening in the oceans today. It was important to him as a lover of wildlife that the graphic reality be shown, not a candy-coated version of the events.
I’m not naïve. I know that single handed I don’t possess the influence to change the world but I’m doing what I can artistically at least. We must start somewhere, do something, and if a single person is influenced by these songs and does something to make the beleaguered natural world a better place, then I’ve accomplished a small part of my mission.
Mother Earth was recorded and created by everyone involved with the promise to celebrate and protect our natural world. I hope you get up and go outside into a natural space somewhere. Find the place you can go to seek solace and be healed by the energy of the natural world. Take a walk with Mother Earth and breathe deep. Then go back into civilization ready to fight for her.
Proceeds of this album, such as they are, will go towards environmental organizations such as The Dolphin Project, Sea Shepherd, the WWF and the IFAW.
Most albums recorded have what the artists call “throw away songs”. The songs seemed like a good creative idea at the time, but in the end they either just didn’t fit in with the final tracks of the album or they weren’t good enough.
For me, as a song writer, this is always heartbreaking. It’s hard to put many hours into a piece of art only to decide later…..nah! With these four songs on Embers, my feeling was not so much “nah” as it was more a matter of them not quite fitting in with another album project I was working on at the time: Mother Earth.
This EP is really just for me and the players. For “Wasting”, I actually kept the sound of Eddie Vedder in my head, as the voice I would’ve loved to have heard singing this tune. “Better” was a chance to show how I think harmonica can really blend well with horns on some straight ahead rock.
The version of “When It’s Gone’ is actually the penultimate version before Mike Clink asked if he could take the song and start from scratch. I had to release it though because of the incredible orchestration by Chris Carmichael.
And “Lies”. Well, that’s a whole other story. Bryan Potvin, Ian Auger and I had a lot of fun putting this together, most of it being the brainchild of Bryan’s. He wanted to go with a dark set of lyrics but he doesn’t have the hutzpah that I do when it comes to being dark and I know to this day he was ok with the line “You’re so full of it” but he hates the line “Take your little trip and fuck off by yourself” he’s just such a loving and caring person he cringed every time I sang that line. A line that I, of course, being the vulgar one, love leaving in.
On his fifth full-length album, Bittern Lake,Les Stroud, the Canadian singer- songwriter issues an urgent call for environmental preservation with a collection of powerful original songs and classic covers, produced by the legendary Mike Clink (Guns ’N Roses, Beth Hart, Metallica).
Recorded at his home in Huntsville, Ontario, on the shore of its name sake lake, Bittern Lake represents Stroud’s favorite way of making music: “Live off the floor, no overdubs, everybody in one room, all at one time. The musicians I bring along, they just fall in love with the process.”
Those musicians on Bittern Lake include members of Stroud’s long time backing band, the Campfire Kings, as well as singer-songwriters Oh Susanna and Justin Rutledge, ace session drummer Tony Braunagel (Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal) and Cuban-Canadian guitar wizard Elmer Ferrer.
Bittern Lake announces its subject matter with a pair of gritty covers. “Death in the Wilderness,” a little-known track by renowned guitarist and songwriter J.J. Cale (author of Eric Clapton’s classics “Cocaine” and “After Midnight”), mourns the loss of the Earth’s last wild spaces over a smoldering blues-rock groove with hard-hitting lyrics: “God save this planet now/We’ve got to help somehow/We’ve let it happen way too long.”
Following that comes one of the album’s biggest surprises: a version of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” that strips away the original’s catchy chorus and sunny acoustic guitars in favor of a sparse, bluesy arrangement featuring little more than a dusty slide guitar and Stroud’s own scorching harmonica licks. “I even changed the lyrics of the last verse — sacrilege!” Stroud notes. But to his delight (and relief), when he sent Mitchell his version, “She loved it.”
Elsewhere on Bittern Lake, Stroud displays considerable songwriting chops of his own. “Snowshoes and Solitude” could be described as Northern blues, as Stroud meditates on escaping to “a world of wind and water” above the Arctic Circle, where he’s alone with the caribou and the aurora borealis. “How Long” is a wakeup call disguised as a plaintive folk ballad, wondering if it’s too late for humanity to realize “time’s no longer on our side.” On the mid-tempo rocker “Any Minute Now,” Stroud strikes a more hopeful note, singing, “Any minute now, my dreams will all come true/There’ll be an end to this waste/And I’ll finally lose this blue” before Elmer Ferrer’s guitar streaks across the song’s bluesy chords like a sunset painting the autumn sky.
“When I was 14 and started writing, the first guy I ever showed my stuff to was Noel Golden. Three years ago, we started recording together. It was kind of bizarre,” Stroud marvels. Through Golden, Stroud met producer Mike Clink, who was sufficiently impressed with Stroud’s skills as a songwriter to sign on for the project and travel from Los Angeles to Ontario to oversee the Bittern Lake recording sessions.
“In order for me to get involved with an artist, I have to love the music,” says Clink. “I’m really happy with how the record turned out. It’s a great introduction to what Les is all about.”
Bittern Lake also features covers of fellow Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn’s cautionary tale “If a Tree Falls” and a blistering version of Ben Harper’s “Excuse Me Mister,” as well as an intimate, gather-round-the-campfire version of the theme song from Stroud’s all-time favorite film, Jeremiah Johnson. (“I’ll still watch that once or twice a year,” he says.)
And because Stroud loves to collaborate, he passes the mic twice — once to Suzanne Ungerleider, who records under the name Oh Susanna, with whom he duets on the heartbreaking “Poison,” and once to Toronto singer-songwriter Justin Rutledge, who ends the album on a graceful note with the country-tinged “Goodbye July.” Bittern Lake is the first of two albums Stroud recorded with Clink at the producer’s helm.
Here we go my friends. This is number 3 of my bi-annual “Barn Sessions” recording project. That wonderful week I make happen every two years when I recruit a group of very talented musicians and bunch them together in one room side by each, charged with the task of performing a bunch of my tunes.
It’s a wonderful, marvelous, joyful amazing opportunity that I will continue to take advantage of as long as the universe I have created for myself agrees with it. So what’s the big deal? Well, ninety-nine percent of modern musicians and songwriters don’t record this way anymore. Instead we sit in front of our little laptops, with Pro Tools, Cubase or Logic Audio launched and record and re record until we think something is perfect. We fix the tuning of the singers. We ‘comp’ the best take together until it sounds just right. And we can alter it any way we want until we decide to share our creative endeavor with the world.
I shudder to think what performances would never have happened if we had had this technology thirty years earlier. David Bowie’s vocal performance on “Hero’s” wouldn’t exist. Nor would the energy on Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run”. Nor would a thousand other musical classics we know and love and still listen to. So this Barn Session lll is just me, as a singer songwriter, playing my roots-acoustic tunes with some very talented musicians, hoping we all get it right at least once, so I can share it with the public.
Indeed, there are a few songs we did that didn’t make the cut. There always are. But these ones that did, I am proud to say, come completely imperfect, full of flaws and missed moments, slightly out of tune vocals, little guitar slips and missed percussion hits. But who cares? These are real recordings, made in my barn, with real musicians, playing for real. For you; the listener. As with so much that I do in my work as an artist – I strive to keep things as real as it gets.
Existing on this album is the original version of “One Giant Farm”, a song which would show up again on the Mother Earth album with Slash taking over the duties of lead guitar. However, I was always and also very partial to the wonderful “Hotel Californiaesque” playing that Ian Auger and Peter Cliche put together for this tune in this acoustic rendition with its original lyrics.
“Far Away Gone” must be one of those creations you call a “sleeper” because I often get it requested when I play live. So, it must’ve struck a chord with a few people so to speak and that thrills me to no end. For live concerts however one of my favourite songs to cut loose on is “The Cost” which is a kind of Johnny Cash droning country thing.
This whole album lyrically was a time of transition for me. Romantic that is – some songs are the breakup that was happening and some were the new romantic involvement and where I was heading.
On this album is the greatest capturing of back-up singers I have ever achieved during these wonderful rustic settings for recoding music. Mitch Seekins, Suzie Ungerleider, Kelly Adams and Kevin Kloss stood to the side of the band and crouched under the low roof of the barn in front of a couple mics and sang their hearts out to most of the songs from these sessions. They can be heard at their lush best in “Never Intended”.
This album is actually a collection of recordings done “in the barn’ (literally – it was a barn) with the first sessions taking place in, I think, 2010 and the second set of sessions in 2012. If you want to see some of the story of the first sessions, they are part of the documentary film I made called Off The Grid. Not only that, but I also threw on the final mix for this album the song “I Am Canadian” which I had recorded at some point with the Northern Pikes, but then we kept it off the EP we put together called “Long Walk Home” for some reason. Like the next album I would record “live off the floor” (“Off The Grid”), this is a fine selection of roots-acoustic tracks played by talented and skilled acoustic
One big thrill for me was finally getting to do a duet with the extremely talented Oh Suzanna as she was called at the time (now Suzie Ungerleider): Another Glass Of Wine, which then doubled in thrill when she allowed me to cut her song “River Blue”.
“Wonderful Things” were lyrics Kelly Adams emailed to me one day and for some reason they struck a chord, so to speak, and the song just flowed out as I sat in my bed one night. They are beautiful and powerful lyrics that touch your soul.
I was never shy to take advantage of the celebrity that becoming Survivorman afforded me when it meant I could meet my childhood heroes or other artists I admired. Such was the case when Bryan Potvin of The Northern Pikes contacted me out of the blue one day just to say he was a fan of the show and thus we struck up a friendship. That friendship would then become an artistic one when he discovered that I was a folky, singer songwriter with ambitions beyond my current place. All of that led to he and I hooking up with his old bandmates from his band The Northern Pikes to record an EP.
It was wonderful for me because unlike my debut CD it meant that I had one band in one place working on my tunes. I brought Peter Cliche into the foray as I had been using him on everything I had done thus far (and would have Peter record for me on many more tracks in the following years).
Like “Clouds” from my debut CD, I felt that the song “Long Walk Home” was indicative of where I believe my writing could go. I felt it was sophisticated enough to take seriously. In those days I had been putting lyrics to musical pieces by a writer named Jim Milne (RIP).
As such I am intensely proud of the song “Storm Winds”. Only the lyrics and melody are mine but I wish that song had more exposure that it has been afforded thus far. On this album too, was my first chance to really blast my harmonica and show some chops and a sound indicative of where I wanted to go with that instrument, in the song “Steady Job” which began on Jay Semko’s solid bass playing.
Well, it’s a long story but after more than ten years away from writing music I found myself staring at an acoustic guitar in a house in Yellowknife NWT in Canada’s Arctic. I picked up the guitar and out came “Ride On” And I never looked back.
I started writing again and performing again and as soon as stepped on stage I realized just how much I had missed it all. Music. Creating. Recording. Performing.
Fast forward to living in Temagami, Ontario and befriending Ian Auger and I found myself in his studio crafting many folky and roots-rock songs. As simple as these tunes are you could certainly see where I was about to go with my artistic side; the celebration of nature through my music.
This was years before Survivorman would happen for me as a career so I certainly came by my artistic leaning honestly. I still feel that to this day, “Clouds” is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever written, adorned as it was by Peter Cliche’s unique violin and his dreamy playing. The roots-acoustic-blues sound would (and I suppose will) follow me around for the rest of my song writing life.