The Weakerthans’ cabin collaboration

Ottawa singer-songwriter Jim Bryson’s latest album, The Falcon Lake Incident, features Winnipeg’s own Weakerthans. According to Weakerthans guitarist Stephen Carroll, the collaboration was a natural one, partly because of the artists’ similarities. “I think we have a similar philosophy toward music,” he said, “and we share a similar vantage point. We believe in the strength of the lyrics and the simplest essence of songs.”

The match had been in the works for years. “We had all chatted with Jim on the road about working with him on his songs some day,” said Carroll, “and Jim had played with the Weakerthans for a couple of years as our kind of fifth member.” But it was not until recently that the opportunity for the collaboration came about. “Finally, Jim was in town kind of sequestered here on a five-night stint with the Tragically Hip,” said Carroll. They met for lunch and “three months later we were in a cabin in Falcon Lake with an entire recording studio full of gear,” said Carroll.

The idea of recording in a cabin was initially suggested by Weakerthans drummer Jason Tait. “We all agreed [it] was a fantastic idea,” Carroll said, “and I had been out to Falcon Trails a couple years before with my wife and really thought it was neat.” Thus The Falcon Lake Incident was born.

This arrangement allowed Bryson and the band to complete the album in a mere seven days. “Once you’re set up and you’re all in this spot,” explained Carroll, “it’s all you do — all day, all night. It allows you to be incredibly productive when you’re normally not being productive. If you’re having your breakfast, you’re having your coffee [and] you’re listening to playback.”

According to Carroll, this tight schedule was born of necessity. “It was basically what we could afford and what we could allow for time for ourselves,” he said. “Even though the Weakerthans have been not so active in the public, we’ve been incredibly busy, and all of us had to scatter minutes after this recording session was done. [ . . . ] This was the only window of time that we had for almost the whole year.”

Bryson and the Weakerthans don’t hit Winnipeg until March 5, but they have already completed a mini tour in Ontario and Quebec, and the tour so far has proved interesting for Carroll and the rest of the band. “It definitely is different than the Weakerthans,” he said. It’s a different vibe on stage. [ . . . ] Our playing style changed in this set up because there’s a new ingredient, which is Jim. His songs work totally differently than ours. Some of them are very complicated and totally unorthodox, stream-of-consciousness chord-progressions.”

These things can be challenging for Carroll and his bandmates to adapt to, given their usual songwriting style. “I think Jason, Greg and I are fairly single-minded sometimes about our vision of things,” he said. “We know how we’re going to play them. Each one of us individually does. When we sort that out with the Weakerthans, it takes years. With this, we’re shaping how we’re going to play them and how we’re going to play them live on the fly.”

Carroll is enthusiastic about the Weakerthans’ collaborations. “This is the second [album] we’ve done as the Weakerthans, collaborating with somebody else,” he said. “I hope we do more; it’s super fun. We did a record with Greg Graffin from [American punk icons] Bad Religion a couple years ago.” Despite this enthusiasm, he doesn’t see any more collaborations in the immediate future. “We’re probably just going to stay focused on ourselves for a couple years and do our own thing,” he said.