Slowcoustic Guest Post – Tyler Butler

Today is a guest post from Tyler Butler, creator of one of my favourite albums of 2011 thus far, Winter King (see here).  Crawl inside his head and read into how Butler comes to terms with one of the very things it is to be Canadian.  Enjoy the below feature and swing by and visit him on Old Ugly Recording Co or his Bandcamp page.


The dark cold of Edmonton’s winter is an isolating force. I know this is an inappropriate time to speak of such a thing — I spent the duration of last weekend wearing a tank top and shorts, dancing in the sun at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival — but the looming threat of snow is never far from the Albertan psyche.

How best to combat the need to stay inside our shelters? Groups of us huddle around fires, wrapped in blankets, holding cups of wine and telling stories. When I wrote Winter King, I focused on these stories. The album is a collection of winter mythologies that I compiled and reconstructed. What I ignored was the great influence of my fire-side friends.

I have compiled a list of songs that provides you with samples from a few of these friends — artists who guided me through the deep cold, held me until the thaw.

1. Caity Fisher – Only the Wind

This may be a self indulgent way to begin. I recorded this album almost two years ago, and this past winter saw its release. The first time I heard this song is engraved on my memory. Edmonton, for one night in December 2009, was the coldest place in the entire world. Our (then new) record label, Old Ugly Recording Co, had organized an all-day showcase. A cavernous venue went unfilled as audiences elected against inhumane bus transit. Caity took the stage and warmed the mostly-musician audience with this composition. The recording speaks of winter loneliness. Wind and visible exhaust punctuate the desolation of Fisher’s devastated harmonica.

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2. Jom Comyn – New Raincoat

Lyrically, the seasons are wrong. But this is possibly the best song to ever emerge from the firm grip of Edmonton’s winter. Balcony is Jom Comyn’s exposition on the season. The album cover is a lovingly penciled sketch that depicts his elevated view of the North Saskatchewan River. Visible are the powerplant smokestacks, the High Level Bridge, the skyline, just a hint of the Tory Building at the University of Alberta, where he and I met so many times. Recorded at Wash ‘n’ Dry by the excellent Eric Cheng, this exuberant recording speaks of crowds in basements — folk-rock efforts at group celebration in the grip of the dark winter.
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PS: I just found out that Jom Comyn has joined Old Ugly Recording Co. Look for a new EP on August 25th.
3. DoT – Golden Gate Arm

Phil Holtby was a recent addition to the Old Ugly roster when he opened for me at the release party for Winter King. Parts of the album were recorded by Rene Wilson of Sugarglider, parts — and this song in particular — were recorded at home. This is the weird-folk of isolation. Creepy piano plinks over unhinged vocals, building into the solid chords of the chorus, which itself speaks of separation and of misunderstanding. The narrator’s call out to another is a plea, and a solution to his own seclusion. This album is an Edmonton gem.
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4. First Nations – Royal Blood

A few years ago I included this song on a collection of covers that I recorded for some close friends. There is a wildness in this song, and I felt an irresistible urge to capture it. My slowed down recording tamed the vocals, made the chords soft and fluid, but it is the cantering wilderness of the original that makes the song irresistible. Derek Janzen’s vocals are buried in snow, heralded by sleigh bells and ringing banjo.

My gaze has been turned north since I first visited and performed with the now-defunct group called Machinery in Grande Prairie. The icy depths of Edmonton are a paradise next to the wind-swept open fields of Grande Prairie, and yet a thriving scene makes music under the snow, emerging only to sprout new releases.

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5. Goose Lake – Lakeheart

One more from Grande Prairie via Victoria. I have written many words about Goose Lake, and none have done them justice. They are a creep-folk delicacy, and I cannot get enough of their latest EP. Here is the title track.

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6. Zachary Lucky – Sins of my Father

My songwriting process always follows a similar pattern. I enter with a strong idea for lyrical direction, work out a melody by humming over a chord progression, then fit the two parts together. When I was writing Winter King, I wrote down a brilliantly simple chord progression, began to mindlessly hum over it, opened my mouth to sing… and realized I was singing this song.

I have an incredible amount of respect for Zachary Lucky. The Saskatoon-based folkie is a hard-working, always-touring model for aspiring musicians. This album, Come and Gone, was recorded in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, which I last visited on tour with Doug Hoyer in December 2009. The city was frozen solid and sleepy. Small pockets of population moved as groups, congregating in the same bar, leaving the other spots empty — the perfect example of the communities that form from necessity in the winter months. I slept in the same house-turned-cafe that Come and Gone was recorded in. My girlfriend and I held each other close for warmth. The furnace shut off and the long Saskatchewan december night settled in around us

Check out the live bootleg Lucky recently posted on his bandcamp page. That is how he sounded when he performed at the release party for Winter King. Backed by drums, his electric guitar is a cutting edge below his smooth vocals.

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7. Jessica Jalbert – Paris Green

Remember Rene Wilson? Jessica and he disappeared for a whole year into Riverdale Recorders, located just south of the Italian Centre in north-central Edmonton, and emerged with her still-forthcoming album. Brother Loyola. These songs are carefully honed Edmonton classics, made somehow better by Rene’s creative arrangements and production. Jess’ woodsy folk is infused with punk, fleshed out with percussion and wailing feedback. Years ago, Jessica was the host at the first open mic I ever played regularly. Long evenings, regardless of season, were spent on Whyte Avenue forming a nucleus that is mostly still intact as members of Old Ugly . We in Edmonton have been waiting to share this song with you. Brother Loyola is out this September.

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I am going to leave you with these songs for now. Thanks to Slowcoustic for inviting me to write on this excellent website. I hope I get the same chance again.


Tyler Jack Butler