THE SILVER HEARTS featuring ANDRE ETHIER at the Mod Club (722 College), Friday (April 7). $13.50. 416-588-4663. Rating: NNNNN
A strange thing happened while Peterborough brothel blues band the Silver Hearts and Andre Ethier of Deadly Snakes infamy were supposed to be rehearsing for a one-off show together: they wound up making an album.
The odd part isn't that the resulting disc, Dear Stranger (Banbury Park), sounds like a brilliant bizarro-world version of a Deadly Snakes album - substituting sousaphone, theremin, accordion and viola for the usual guitar blast - but that the entire recording was completed top-to-bottom in a matter of days. They managed this despite the fact that Ethier and the herky-jerky 12-strong ensemble had never even met before convening in the Victorian home of the Hearts' squeezebox-strapped singer, Kelly Pineault.
"Since we'd never played with Andre before," says Hearts drummer Paul Vernon, "we thought it would be a good idea to have a rehearsal - a novel concept, since the Silver Hearts never rehearse.
"We didn't go into it with a list of songs already planned. Actually, we didn't even know which members would show up, since, well, let's just say we'd been on an extended hiatus.
"Eventually, we met up on the front porch of Kelly's house, looked at each other and said, 'All right, who's got a song?' Our manager, James Greenspan, drove up with some recording equipment. It was like, 'This tune is in A and it goes like this, like that and then ends like this. '"
"That's how it went for three straight days and nights. By the end of it, we had 26 or 28 songs done - complete - which is just crazy. It's amazing how quickly Andre fit right in with what we were doing. Everything just locked."
Vernon isn't alone in his amazement at how fast the songs came together during the weekend session. Ethier, too, seems at a loss to explain how everything fell into place so effortlessly with a group of musicians he'd never traded licks with before.
The creativity was contagious. Ethier wound up composing a song for Dear Stranger and co-wrote two others. That wasn't the initial idea. Originally, they were going to learn his tunes and he was going to learn theirs. That changed once they got into it.
"Someone would say, 'I think I've got an idea for a new one,'" explains Ethier, "so I just went with it. They'd show the other members the changes in about five minutes, dictate the lyrics to me, and then I'd go into another room and sing the words I'd just written out while they played through the song. We'd record it live just like that and then move on to the next one. It was a very unusual way of working, but it was fun.
"The Silver Hearts are a rare bunch - a group of amazingly talented musicians who really care about the craft of songwriting. They all live together in this tight little community in Peterborough where they can record together at a member's home and then walk across the street to a bar. They really are like a family - somewhat dysfunctional at times but definitely a family."
When Vernon alluded to the Silver Hearts' "extended hiatus" prior to the sessions with Ethier, in truth, the group had broken up, and there were serious doubts that they'd ever reunite. Evidently, the collaboration with Ethier was just what the Silver Hearts needed to get back on track.
"When I arrived," recalls Ethier, "there seemed to be some animosity between certain members, but they were able to put their differences aside and get on with it. The tension in the air just added to the excitement of the recordings. I'm not entirely sure, but I think the album's final song, The Last Days Of Chez Nous, is about the tenuous status of the band. Much like families, bands are hard to break up for good. There's always something that pulls you back together."
"This band has been breaking up regularly since it began," chuckles Vernon. "It's like any group involving a number of creative people with strong personalities, especially if there are 12 of them. It's difficult to get everyone on the same page, but we keep coming back. It's not because of the financial success, the critical acclaim or all the records we've sold in the past. It's the music that always brings me back."