September 30, 2020

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All about that bass

The Crooked Brothers went straight to the bottom end for latest album

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/12/2014 (2120 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When the Crooked Brothers were thinking about their third record, this year's Thank You I'm Sorry, the local alt-country/Americana act drew inspiration from an unexpected source.

"One of our big influences for rhythm section sound going in was Amy Winehouse's Back to Black record," says Darwin Baker, who is joined in the trio by Jesse Matas and Matt Foster. "That was a huge record for us as far as the production goes. It's got this warm, vintage, soul feel but then it's got the super- heavy bass and drums. We're really attracted to that sound -- warm and vintage, with a hip-hop rhythm section layered underneath it."

If you're not particularly nerdy about music, chasing a very particular drum tone might seem like a small (and perhaps) obsessive detail, but a fat-bottomed rhythm section -- anchored by Emmett Van Etten (the Perpetrators), Eric Lemoine (the F-Holes, Little Miss Higgins and the Winnipeg Five) and Julian Bradford (pretty much everyone) -- gives the Crooked Brothers' brand of beardy, back-porch blues a shot of old-school cool. Blackbird in the Snow, probably the album's best example of that warm Back to Black tone, sounds positively Leonard Cohen-esque. (The band will be playing as a six-piece, as it did on the record, for the hometown release show on Friday night, but the core trio has had to get creative on the road. "There's been a bit of adaptation -- but it's going well," Baker says.)

Room sounds are also important to the Crooked Brothers, who have a fondness for recording in unconventional spaces; for both 2009's Deathbed Pillowtalk and 2011's Lawrence, Where's Your Knife, the band holed up in a cabin over the winter.

Thank You I'm Sorry came together in a few spaces. The band recorded its cavernous drum and bass tracks at the Frame Arts Warehouse on Ross Avenue before moving on to a log cabin at Cloverdale Farm in Selkirk. "We were allowed to take over the giant log home there while the owner was on vacation, as long as we fed her cat. We were able to get big room sounds -- but we were able to get away from the city, and we were able immerse ourselves in the process. There were no time restrictions. We could record at all hours."

The jangly barnburner Pass You By, meanwhile, was re-recorded at Private Ear Recording in Winnipeg after taking on new life during a tour in Italy, "probably fuelled by Prosecco, because everywhere you go they want to fill you with booze," Baker recalls. "It got a lot rowdier on the road." Came home, mixing, didn't have the same life it picked up on the road. "We went into Private Ear and recorded it live off the floor."

The Crooked Brothers went in wanting to make a "big" record, and Thank You I'm Sorry is certainly far from subtle It's a big, bold-strokes album that unapologetically takes up space, making it at odds with its painfully polite (read: Canadian) title. "It is very Canadian," Baker laughs. It was actually something he said to his friend, painter Kyle Scheurmann, who had accompanied the band on tour in Italy. "As we were parting ways after our last show there, I said, 'Thank you I'm sorry' in complete earnest because I didn't know what else to say."

The Crooked Brothers have close ties to the visual arts scene in Winnipeg. The intricate cut-paper works of artist Paul Robles adorned the covers of the band's last two records; Thank You I'm Sorry's cover was supplied by multi-disciplinary artist Paul Butler, whose idyllic Prairie landscape is interrupted by two fat pieces of duct and electrical tape blotting out the sky.

The inside cover features a painting by Scheurmann of an apartment on Kennedy Street that served as the inspiration for the high-lonesome track Kennedy. As it turns out, Butler, Sheurmann and Foster -- not attorneys at law -- all lived in that apartment at different points in time.

"It's kind of a special space," Baker says.

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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