You can’t fake authenticity and London’s Heartaches Stringband prove their worth on the 10 tracks which make up their debut album.
Only the clarity of the recording informs the listener of how recent the bluegrass and folk songs must be. The early 20th century didn’t have the recording capabilities and equipment for such full sounding records.
Every other aspect is reminiscent of the intended timeline of these mostly cover tunes. The fiddle soars as husband and wife Martin Horak and Amanda Lynn Stubley’s voices harmonize.
The bass is masterly plucked behind the mandolin lead in Lonesome Moonlight Waltz is a standout on the album where each musician gets an opportunity to shine.
Martin Horak sat down to talk one day about the release. Here’s what he had to say:
I assume the church isn’t usually setup for recording albums. Were there any heartaches (sic) in the process of recording? Or did the natural acoustics of the room make it an easier task to capture the right sound?
Wesley-Knox is a big part of me and Amanda’s lives, and we had also heard some great choir recordings done in the church sanctuary where services are held – so it seemed like a natural fit. But when Amanda and I tried the acoustics, we found the sanctuary was way too filled with reverb and echo for string band music. So we tried other rooms in the church, and the junior choir room had the sound we were looking for – spacious with just a little bit of natural live-ness.
After that, it was just a matter of our recording engineer Danny Santarella doing his magic with great mics and great placement, and we were good to go. We did have to make sure to book our recording times around other events though – the church is a busy community hub, and yoga instruction or toddler noises aren’t really part of the traditional string band sound.
There doesn’t seem to be much overdubbing or extra instruments added to what you would play live, almost like this album is a perfect distillation of what you create at your shows. How long was the recording process?
We were in the space for three days, including setup. There are no overdubs or tracking on the album at all – it’s all live-off-the-floor, and each track is one take from start to finish. Doing things that way isn’t necessarily faster – it means you have to get it totally right, or start again with another take; but when get it right, you get that real old-time sound and energy, since this is exactly how this kind of music was recorded many decades ago.
Tu Es Ma Petite Femme is a francophone song, and sung extremely well. Is Martin fluent in french?
I do speak French; I used to be pretty fluent but I’m rusty now. Same goes for Amanda. I found that song on an old LP record by Jos Desrochers, a country singer from Timmins from the ’60s, and there were a couple of phrases that I just couldn’t make out when I was learning it.
Our friend David Heap, who’s a linguistics prof in the French department at Western, helped me figure them out. So thanks to his help, I’m pretty sure I sing it as Jos Desrochers wrote it now. French speaking Canadians have a rich string band history and we’re happy we get to tell people about it with this song.
I love the heart made of XO’s on your cover. Who designed that?
I designed that. A couple of years ago I found a late ’50s Royal DeLuxe typewriter on the side of the road; someone was getting rid of it. It’s a gorgeous streamlined modern kind of design with bright green keys, so if course I had to take it home.
Turned out it worked just fine, and I made the heart design on it. Amanda thought it was hilarious of me, but hey, she plays the banjo so it’s kind of right at home. Angie Cabral Gauthier from Second City Records had the brilliant idea of crossing the name of the record with the bottom of the heart, and that completed the cover design!
Yodeling, which appears in your song “Honky Tonk Sweetheart” doesn’t seem as popular now as it once was with the kids, when and what drew you to the style?
I think for both Amanda and me the biggest yodeling inspiration is our friend Ed Norman, who’s originally from Alabama but lives in North Carolina. He’s got this strong, pure voice that just sends shivers up your back. Some of the most fun I’ve ever had jamming is singing with Ed in West Virginia, where we met, and in North Carolina where we lived for a year and sang with him regularly.
We learned the yodeling version of Honky Tonk Sweetheart from him, and he told us that he learned it off a recording by Yodelin’ Kenny Roberts, a ’50s country singer.
It was only when we were putting together the liner notes for the record that I discovered that the song was actually first recorded in 1954 by London’s own Guy Lombardo! Lombardo’s version was slow, in ¾ time, and with a big band – and definitely no yodeling… so pretty different than ours.
The track “Goodbye Mr Brown” is a very wonderful way to bookend the record with a time capsule. Could you tell me a bit about it?
Amanda comes from a family of honky-tonk and country musicians from northern BC, and they’ve sung this song for many decades. Amanda tells the story of how her grandpa would still ask her grandma to sing this with him at family gatherings – 30 years after they had got divorced!
Anyways, Amanda learned the song from her family, so it seemed only fitting to include this great old recording of her aunt and grandma singing it on the album. Her dad actually found the recording in a box of cassettes by fluke – we think they were performing on the radio in Prince George, BC in the early ’70s when they sang it.
We used a short clip of it at the start, and then included the whole thing as a bonus track at the end. I feel like it’s a lovely way of honoring Amanda’s musical roots.
When and where can people see you next live?
Our next show is our official CD release party on October 13.
It’ll be at the St. Regis Tavern as part of the Musical Chairs series. It seems fitting, since we played our first show ever at the St. Regis almost four years ago. We were there every last Friday of the month for about three years running, so it’s kind of like a homecoming for the band.
We have made some good friends at the Reeg over the years and we know they’re happy we’re going to be playing there again too. The Release Party will be a pay-what-you-can show, and if you pay $15, you’ll get a CD. It’s going to be a ton of fun.
Beyond that, folks can keep an eye on our website, and we put all upcoming shows on there and on our Facebook page.