After three years of sporadic work sandwiched between his duties as an in-demand audio engineer and producer, Mike Trask’s TV Dinner arrives this weekend.
For an album that took so long to make, Mike Trask wastes little time making his intentions clear. “I had to figure out my own colours,” sings the raspy voiced musician, known by many these days as the guy behind the boards at Memramcook Recording Company. And that opening line? It could be interpreted as an excuse for why it’s taken Trask this long to get his album out. But more appropriately, and probably more accurately, it’s the reason this album exists in the first place.
“I would say it’s a mission statement to myself to make my ideas sound new to me,” said Trask, speaking on a Zoom call from his studio where a client’s occasional blasting guitar lick cuts in between his words. “I’m standing outside the studio so you may hear some noise. Maybe a four-wheeler driving by.”
Whether it’s a mission statement or the topic of the thesis he’s attempting to prove on TV Dinner, that first sentence works well to define both Trask’s mantra and process. Anyone who’s followed his music over the years knows imitation has never been part of his playbook. No one sounds quite like Mike Trask.
“When I’m making music, whether it’s my own or something I’m producing, I work really hard to make it sound like something not in my mind. Often I’ll play something thinking it might be something a listener might like, but then I think if it came too easy it’s probably not right.
“I once watched an interview with Carlos Santana where he said, ‘Don’t play the notes you hear. Play around the notes you hear.’ You can dissect that statement all day long and who really knows what it means? But for me, it means coming up with an idea and then working around it. Everything you’re hearing on this album isn’t a first thought. I’ll take a guitar part and play around with it for two or three hours to get it away from what I initially came up with. That’s how I do things.”
By challenging himself to trade quick decisions for patience and practice, Trask has created an album that respects the process in a way few are able to accomplish. Nothing is in between. Every sound is full of intention, from the core instrumentation to the overdubbed textures that build upon each song’s foundation. Whether it’s the defining portamento slide on the intro melody of The Painter or the subtle deconstructing of rhythm that carries forward the album’s closing track Hazel Jones, this figuring out of colours is what gives this each of Trask’s songs an identity all their own.
Another part of the identity that ties these tracks together relates back to Trask’s love of old gear. He records everything to tape and the bulk of his instruments are at least as old as he is. Most are older.
“Garrett Mason got me into recording my own stuff on tape,” said Trask. “And so I guess I could sum up my love for vintage gear with a quote from him. He said, ‘It’s not that I like old shit because it’s old. I like it because I like the sound of it.’
“I don’t go into the studio thinking that I want to make stuff sound a certain vintage. It’s more about the more I lean into more modern equipment, the less my ears like it and the less I can do what I want with those tools.”
So why did it take three years for Trask to complete the record? The answer isn’t something that can be summed up as easily as he sums up his love of old gear. TV Dinner’s lengthy creative process was the result of time constraints, indecision and for the most part, a lack of completed songs.
Most of these tunes find their origin in experiments with Trask trying new production techniques, noodling with amps and mic placement. He admits there was never an urgency to make a new record and it wasn’t until the tongue in cheek song All Digital took shape that he even thought a new record was something he was slowly edging towards.
As his ideas slowly morphed into basic structures, he pulled a few friends in to help fuel the process. While Trask plays most of the instruments on TV Dinner, contributions from Adam Mowery, Matt Gallant, Matt Hayes, Paul Gamache, Katrine Koël and Julie Aubé help to broaden an otherwise singular vision, adding additional layers of tone and feel that no combination of dusty amps or mic’s could ever recreate.
“A lot of this stuff started out as experiments in the studio as a means of being better for the people who hire me to produce,” he said. “That’s my real passion. Writing and producing. Everything else is a byproduct, really.
“It’s taken me three years to put this album together and a lot has changed in the past three years. Some days I thought what’s the point of putting this out? I’m not getting any radio play and I’m not gigging. But those kinds of thoughts are really against more core beliefs.
“I think it was Mary Tyler Moore who said, ‘There’s no point in being discouraged. It literally gets you nowhere.’ Honestly, after I read that quote I got so hard back into the record and I started pushing myself after that. The record started coming together and then the pandemic hit. For a while there I didn’t do anything. It just wasn’t on my mind. I wouldn’t say I lost interest in it but for a while, I thought it was the apocalypse or something. I didn’t know what was going on. So, had that all not happened, the album would have probably come out around this time last year.”
Trask’s decision to name the album TV Dinner had little to do with the track of the same name that appears on the album. For him, a TV Dinner represents both a nostalgic outlook on life and a deep appreciation for the unexpected. A lot like listening back to an album that took years to make before putting it out into the world for others to hear.
“TV Dinners were so iconic to me as a kid,” he said. “We ate them, but not all the time. They were a special thing. I guess for me, this album is a bit like that mess that comes on the plate. You get such an odd combination of things. You heat it up, it’s this short lived experience and it’s never neat and tidy. It’s a nostalgic thing for me because in my mind, a TV dinner is packaged so nicely, and it’s surrounded by the TV tray and it’s surrounded by what’s on TV. And then there’s my old man telling us to be quiet as we watch a movie. It’s a really loaded title for me.”
After three years of sporadic work sandwiched between his duties as an in-demand audio engineer and producer, TV Dinner will finally arrive on May 15.