Published Oct 24, 2010After years performing as faithful sideman to musicians like Kathleen Edwards, Sarah Harmer and the Tragically Hip, Jim Bryson is getting some backup in return. The Ottawa musician has joined forces with Winnipeg indie rockers the Weakerthans for his fourth studio album, The Falcon Lake Incident. The collaboration is hardly a bolt from the blue: Bryson has not just toured with them, but played as a member of the Weakerthans over the years. And in the lead-up to the album, he started writing with the Winnipeg rockers in mind.
"I was trying to get inside their brains a bit," he says, "knowing they'd be arranging it and trying to make it something sympathetic, something that would work for all of us." When it came time to record, Bryson embraced the band's contributions. "I went in with the idea that I wrote the songs, so that was my part. And I just sort of threw them up and saw where they got knocked around."
The process resulted in a captivating folk rock album that probes the human psyche but still finds time to kick up its heels. Bryson's rootsy vibe softens the edges of the Weakerthans' hooky power pop while the band brings a punk rock spark back to the singer-songwriter's wryly depressive musings on awkwardness and longing.
Recorded in only six days in Falcon Lake, MB, the album is named for a reported UFO encounter at the lake in 1967. Although Bryson was unaware of the incident until after they'd started recording, with the album's frequent references to the night sky and recurring theme of alienation, the event that became its title could easily have been its inspiration.
Lyrical estrangement notwithstanding, the album is imbued with the warmth and camaraderie that characterized the recording session. In between cross-country skiing jaunts and wilderness rambles, the songs were laid down with little rehearsal and very few takes. "It was a very comfortable recording experience," Bryson says. "The great thing was that everyone was there all the time. We got a lot done in not a lot of time, just because no one was leaving. No one had to bring their kids anywhere, no one had another recording to do, or a job. It was kind of nice to take them far enough out that they couldn't really get away."
For a musician who's spent so much of his career backing others, the opportunity to focus so intensely on his own work was a joy. "It was so rewarding to get away and do something like that," he says. "This record has been a really kind and wonderful experience." Still, Bryson feels little pressure to intensify his solo efforts. "I realize that I've compromised part of my own existence to be part of other people's existences," he says of his work as a supporting musician. "I'm not the hare in the race, that's for sure. But I just keep on doing it, you know. That's all you can do, is try to make it a little better each year."
He most certainly has. But he's got no time to wallow in it. "And then you go on," he says. "As they say in hockey, never stop to watch your pass."