I was at the cottage and…

The problem of navigating through Ontario is that invariably some large body of fresh water gets in the way. Adding hours to any journey, driving around lakes and rivers is scenic but frustrating. Mainly the problem is that they haven’t built a direct route from, say, Montreal, Quebec to Wiarton, Ontario. We’ve come up to my aunt’s cottage for a little vacation. The weather is a bit dark and rainly, but there remains great value in being surrounded by quiet pine trees and the great Lake Huron.

As kids we would come up here every summer, and one year (as a tween) I came up with my BFFs Lis and Heather. We had this silly joke about the pile of blankets we needed on our beds to keep us warm. I think we had about eight blankets over the bed and at night they would be so heavy on our bodies that we nicknamed the collective beast “Big Bertha.” We would fight over the covers, invoking the dilemma of Big Bertha: you want her but can’t have her.

My aunt’s cottage has remained unchanged since the 80’s, and judging from the abundance of wood paneling, peach-coloured tile and kitsch furniture, was likely established in the 50’s or 60’s. Even my family’s attempts at updating the decor have purposefully maintained this timelessness. Redecorations have been subtle, to say the least, and the framed 2,000-piece Manet puzzle of a lady wearing a hat figures prominently alongside the tattered National Geographic world map, published 1968.

Our day trips include the quest for the ultimate butter tart, cinnamon bun and homemade preserves. The sugar high is seemingly perpetual, offset only by long walks to watch the sun set or futile attempts to say hello to resident jackrabbits. This weekend we will visit the low-rent lakeside town (that they forgot to close down…most probably because it was never opened in the first place) of Sauble Beach, including the batting cages and wicked french fries at Mar’s chip shop.

…so that’s why there’s been no post in a while. I had hoped to post from my Blackberry, but the signal was too weak and it kept crashing. I think it’s time for an upgrade in mobile phone…Blackberry Bold, anyone?

Playing the Record for People

On Tuesday, Murray and I embarked on an Ontarian adventure. We drove down to play the record for some people. This album is precious to us, and we would be totally devastated if our past year’s work was misused or stolen from us. So we never sent out any CDs to anyone, and in fact the only way anyone who didn’t play on the record can hear it is to come to one of our impromptu board room meetings for a listening session. We came to Toronto to play it for friends and also some industry types: at least, the ones who were open to the idea of a listening session. We would gather people together, put the CD on the stereo, then leave the room. After 58 minutes we’d come back, reclaim the CD and that’s it. That’s how we’re rolling: no burns, no iTunes imports, no files somewhere on a server. No ripping, burning, leaking or stealing allowed until we’re ready. Because we know it’s going to happen eventually — we’d just like to be involved when it goes down. Call us crazy, but these songs are the keystone, our main conduit keeping us connected with our fans, and we want to enjoy that communication, not live in fear of it.

So we’ve got a lot of convincing to do: our works’ cut out for us. Murray and I are kind of on a reconnaissance mission: collecting information, seeing who’s into our outsider ways, observing people’s reactions, their favourite tracks and single selections, what they did and didn’t expect. It’s been interesting, and the common thread (for me) is how good it sounds no matter where we play it. It carries itself with a creative consistency across several platforms: headphones, car stereos, amazing stereos, crappy stereos, computer speakers and other small systems. Even after hearing it dozens of times in its finished state, I still hear things I’ve not heard before.

Now we’re simmering, letting all the ideas come to us as sort of a natural reaction to how the music is being perceived. The music industry has forced our hand, compelled us to let go of old world methods and marketing templates for organic ways and the opening of an unconventional, artistic discourse. We want to put something out there for you to hear soon, too. Stay tuned for the news of listening sessions, because we might get crazy and invite you to the next one.

So now that mastering is done…

Murray and I got back from mastering on Tuesday night. We drove down to Portland, Maine to work with Bob Ludwig. It was a really nice, scenic drive from Montreal. Here’s what it looked like:

Anyhoo, a lot of people don’t really know what mastering is, so here’s a quick rundown of the whole process:

1. Recording or Tracking: Each instrument is performed and recorded individually. A dense song can have more that 50 layers of instruments.
2. Mixing: All those 50 layers or tracks are balanced together into two tracks: Left and Right.
3. Mastering: The mixes are then kind of “mixed again,” compressed together, hopefully resulting in a unified sound. Also the songs are put in running order and any fades or gaps are added.

Or, in Jughead Jones sandwich terms:

1. Recording: Picking out all your ingredients for your ultimate, multi-level sandwich: slices of havarti, provolone, tomatoes, Swiss, lettuce, sprouts, (veggie) meats, pickles, and five to seven slices of bread. Don’t forget condiments such as mustard (regular, Dijon or en grains), mayonnaise, corn relish, etc.
2. Mixing: Assembling the towering sandooze.
3. Mastering: Pressing assertively (but not too firmly…don’t want to bruise the lettuce) down on the sandwich to achieve a height suitable for the most openest mouth. Finally placing toothpicks in each corner before slicing diagonally, into triangles.

…and one year later you have an amazing album/sandwich in your hands!

It’s been an emotionally and psychologically rough year for The Dears, and especially for Murray, so it’s really good to have the album done and sound REALLY incredible. BTW, we’ve mastered with a lot of people, and Mr. Bob Ludwig is a genius: he’s got that bag of magic pixie dust and he’s not afraid to use it. I’ll tell you more about it soon.

Long, Long, Long

I was inspired to get my iPod up and running because I had this song suddenly stuck in my head, and the only way I know to remove a song is to listen to the original. The song was “Long, Long, Long” off the Beatles’ White Album.

This is my second iPod. My first one Murray bought for me years ago, and it eventually got stolen out of our car. So I’ve been iPod-less for about a year, which is OK because I don’t really listen to music anyhow. Since, however, I’ve been driving more, especially out to the South Shore to visit family, I’ve felt the urge in those commuter-like moments to listen to music. Except for certain shows on the CBC, the radio is entirely frustrating. I try CKUT, CISM, but usually can’t be held for more than one song.

I’ve had a new iPod sitting in its box for something like five months: each person in the band got one as a consolation prize for being a Polairs nominee. So why did I wait so long? This new, fancy iPod comes with new, fancy firmware that didn’t work with my ancient OS X. I had to breathe new life into my iBook G4 anyhow so I wiped it, upgraded the RAM and installed Tiger. Now it works like a charm but I don’t have iPhoto anymore which is annoying. How do I get that back without having to dish out for that useless suite of iLife programs?

At least the iPod works now. I have 160GB which I’m filling up with music I had backed up music from my previous iPod, and also with my photos. For variation, I’ve decided to turn to the Podcast, and now subscribe to episodes of CBC Radio 3 and DrownedInSound. Mainly I want to hear new music, get a sense of the musical climate out there.

Now I want to go on a road trip or something, just to have an excuse to explore the new things captured on my iPod…

…and I still haven’t listened to that Beatles’ song yet.

Best Veggie Burger Revisited

I just remembered that I had omitted Ontario’s Best Veggie Burger: Weber’s on highway 11. This would be the close second to the Crown Burger I mentioned in my Veggie Burger Blog. When you go to Weber’s you have to get fries and a milkshake, too. They cook the garden patties on a charcoal grill and if you live in the province of Ontario and you’ve never been to Weber’s then you should be ashamed of yourself. An interesting tidbit about Weber’s is that they had to build a pedestrian overpass because too many people were getting hit by cars trying to cross the highway to get their burgers. That’s how good they are.

Best Veggie Burger

On our travels, we’ve had the pleasure (and excruciating pain) of discovering food the world over. When on tour, Murray and I feel a constant struggle to find vegetarian food that’s not: 1) coated in melted cheese, and 2) disgusting. There have been some triumphs (Excellent Sushi in Vancouver, BC, incredible curry soup and tea that tasted like the Earth at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, Flat Whites with Johnny in Sydney, AUS), acceptable standards (Pret-A-Manger, Pizza Express in the UK), and surprising failures (revolting vegetarian restaurant in Bilbao, Spain).

The most universal quest, however, is the eternal search for the ultimate veggie burger. While in a pinch, you won’t be wronged by a veggie burger with cheese from Harvey’s (Murray asks for BBQ sauce on his), you can definitely do better. So oftentimes Murray and I will find ourselves wandering strange, international places, looking for something our stomachs might rely on. We’ve been cheated far too many times by England’s afterhours kebab shops…our own naivety, I suppose.

The best veggie burger we’ve ever tasted caught us by surprise in, of all places, Salt Lake City, UT. I think it was called Crown Burger. They had their own “special sauce” that killed it. We both ate two garden burgers and even though we were so incredibly full we ordered a bunch and brought them back to the tour bus for everyone else to try. Oh, we had milkshakes and fries, too. We totally pigged out that time.

Montreal’s probably most renown veggie burger is the pinto burger from La Paryse. While strictly not a veggie burger but a bean burger, the combination of cheese and the nutty-beany taste of the patty kills. Aux Vivres has a pretty good tempeh burger, but I find it a little on the dry side…better to go for a sandwich on chapati. Mondo Fritz had a good veggie burger, but they recently closed down all of a sudden (due to the endless third-world war/construction zone Blvd. St. Laurent became over the summer?).

This journey is not over. The search continues.

Torq’s San Francisco in 45 Minutes

The first time I had ever been to San Francisco was when we went on tour with Stars in 2004. Saturday March 6, 2004, to be precise. In fact this tour was before I had a digital camera, and since I love you all so much I actually rephotographed some analogue pics for you. Anyhow, we had a show at Cafe Du Nord that night, and were very excited to be in San Fran. Its one of the few really beautiful, historical American cities that has it all: natural beauty, cultural relevance, and sights to be seen at every turn. We didn’t have much time, only the moments between soundcheck and the early doors. We wanted to do it all and didn’t know where to begin. That’s when Torq swooped in, proclaiming: “I’ll give you a tour. How much time do we have? 45 minutes? Perfect.” Here’s how it went down:

The touring party consisted of me, Murray, Rob and Torquil. We started at the Phoenix Hotel (THE hipster place to stay, though I have since befriended many a kind, beltless crackhead in the neighbourhood). We walked briskly through to Chinatown where I bought some hangers for the RV closet (yeah, we toured in an RV). Then, Torq ordered us to hop onto a moving cable car. I was like: “What are you crazy? Why is the street rumbling so much? Oh, cables.” So we did it and were suitably exhilarated for the two stops we rode before hopping off. I remember a nice square park and lots of hills. I think at this point Torq instructed us to walk up this big hill while he went to get the world’s best pastry or call Moya or do something like that. So we walked up this punishingly steep hill to Cort Tower, checked our watches and took the elevator ride to the top. We could see the whole city, and the bay along with Alcatraz and Golden Gate. After a few touristy snapshots we headed back down the hill to where Torq was waiting.


We walked back along another street to a really old bar. It looked like something out of the Old West, and I guess it really was. Torq rattled off a few facts about the place while we had a beer. We were amazed and impressed by both the fact that the old wooden bar hadn’t burned down in 200 years, and that Torq knew so much about the city. So anyway we had to run, stopped in a few shops where Murray and Torq had an impromptu jam on a tiny toy piano in the street in front of a music store. Insert laffs.


We hurried back on foot and that was that. Just enough time to grab a clean shirt from the RV, a piece of sweaty cheese from the rider, a tall, icy vodka soda, and jump right on stage.

My Parents: a follow up

The “My Parents” blog from a few days ago wasn’t my first online observation of the two most delightfully complicated people in my life, but being The Dears’ Number One Fan, my mother subscribes dedicatedly to this blog. This, in turn, caused the following email:

“From: ursula yanchak
Subject: blog…parents
Date: September 4, 2007 4:49:46 AM EST
To: natalia@thedears.org

OK…so we got home and there on the floor in the kitchen is a sewing needle with thread in it….Where is this from? The sewing kit!!! ….that Neptune had thrown on the floor and I had hurriedly put back together.
Well I truly enjoyed Murray’s cooking, as did Dad. I guess you need stuff to write about. Nice water pic. Send it to me with the [others] please.
What route did you finally take home? We got turned around once on country roads and ended back in Haliburton where we started, laughing. There was a Hwy # marked on the map right over a slight jog in the road and a road sign to Gelert with tiny arrows pointed in both directions.
love MoM”

I remember when I was researching about starting a blog (yes, I know, I’m such a control freak that I actually researched something that thrives on being spontaneous), someone warned of the dangers of writing about your family, friends and co-workers. They cautioned of the repurcussions, of people being offended by the honesty of your diary. But really how can I resist writing about my parents? They are the characters in the story of my life that I know the best, that I care about deeply, and that can drive me crazy suddenly and for no apparent reason. It’s almost like its too easy to write about the things they do, as if that license were part of the relationship; I can expect to deliver a frenzied, panicked, all-encompassing, love-driven attention to Neptune one day, too. Maybe I already do, she’s just too un-jaded to notice.

What was the other thing? Oh yeah, all that being said, what’s up with our parents and maps? They are obsessed! We spent days at the cottage discussing the best route home, and while Murray and I were like: “Yeah, we do directions for a living. I have Google maps on my Blackberry if we get lost. We also have the map of Ontario you gave us. And a GPS. We’ll figure it out,” my mom was fascinated by our final routing. I guess it’s like my obsessing about the weather, and actually wanting to talk about it (not only for small talk): just one of those things.

So, in closing: we took the 11 to the 169 (which becomes the 12), then onto the 7 just past (Brendan) Cannington, then down the 28 at Peterborough to the 401. And we stopped in Kingston to visit Lis and Bryan. And we drove straight to Jimmy and Dominique’s for their housewarming that night. It took us 7 hours.

God Bless Canadian New Country

While surfing the radio waves, either looking for the CBC, or searching for a dead station to run the iPod through, we randomly stopped on a new country station, where a woman was singing: “God bless the Canadian housewife.” I was driving at the time – and let me take you on an aside, in the form of a poorly written, run-on sentence, that I still don’t have my license, just my learner’s for the second time, which the first time I let expire, so I am determined to get my license before my permit expires. ANYHOW, I drove from Bracebridge to Peterborough (if that means anything to anyone) and upon hearing the aforementioned refrain, my brain began a detonation sequence: the first key was turned. Murray and I were like: “Waitasecond: did she just say…?” and at the repeat to fade of the scarily patriotic phrase, the second key was turned, the cover flipped up and the red button pressed: my head exploded.

What the hell? “God Bless The Canadian Housewife?” Yeah, OK, what person that you know (only 40 years and unders allowed) is a dedicated housewife anymore? So dedicated that they actually have the time and money to do all the crafts in every issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine? So singularly dedicated to housewifery that they need their own new country anthem? Who frigging wrote this song? Oh, Jann Arden (figures) wrote it and a band called SheDaisy sang it. OK but wait, while my brain is still a scattered, pulsating, spongy mess, I learn that that THIS SONG IS A CANADIAN VERSION OF “GOOD BLESS THE AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE.” So if you are not Canadian you won’t appreciate how desperately Canadian this is. I mean, did our conservative prime minister Stephen Harper commission this project? Wow. Can we Canadians just take it easy a bit on the USA bandwagoneering? It’s really starting to get scary.

Hillside Festival: Some Thoughts

I am the worst blogger ever. Well maybe not the worst but I have some pretty half assed moments. Like I’m in the car driving back from Hillside, writing this blog on my Blackberry, and looking through my pics for something to post. All I have from Saturday is a movie clip of Neptune playing with a whirly rainbow thing. Cute but not suitable.

Hillside is like Canada’s Glastonbury but one thirtieth the size. Literally, if Glasto is 150,000 then Hillside is 5,000. But each have a similar vibe: nature, camping, hippies, hipsters, gruppies, grupsters, etc. They are all there. Murray guest guitared with Jade, which made Neptune want to rush the stage a few times. She was saying: “Jade…singing?” all afternoon. Then we hung about, ate vegetarian catering, saw a bunch of people, chased Neptune around, drank beer and sat in the sun.

Our show was, as many of our last few shows have been, a bit weird. We haven’t rehearsed and I’m losing the songs a little. Saturday before the gig I had so much nervous energy it was troubling. I couldn’t shake it, so I drank a bunch of wine which kind of got me through it. Not my greatest show ever, but overall it was fine. I was so much just in my own bubble trying to keep it together that I have no idea what went on up there. Anyway, you will be able to relive my insular keyboardmanship on CBC Radio 3 who were there and recorded the whole darn thing (check out my trance-like expression in that pic!). They also spoke with Murray whilst he was receiving a reiki massage backstage. Yup, that’s our lives when we’re cruelly torn away from the Food Network.