Driven by a deep love for collaboration and the creative process, the Greville Tapes Music Club returns in January with a new series of recordings and live performances.
Any idea worth pursuing deserves time to develop and become its own thing. When treated properly and given the right amount of respect and patience, a collection of vague ideas, or even those partially formed, can grow to become something far greater than the napkin they were first scribbled down on.
When Peter Rowan dreamed up the idea for a collaborative project that would pair musicians together to write and record music in a farmhouse studio overlooking the Bay of Fundy, he knew the concept had potential to become something much more than just a week on the water. He wanted to establish a means of generating new music made between artists he admired and respected, but a big part of his intent behind launching the Greville Tapes Music Club was also to find a way to support independent artists whose work often involves numerous big risks.
“When we did the first [Greville Tapes Music Club] series, part of it was that there were artists from away who were going to be down here anyway on a tour that wasn’t going to make them any money. So offering them the opportunity to do a recording session made it more feasible,” he said.
The project takes its name from the location of a home-based recording studio where many of the project’s recordings were tracked. Port Greville is about ten kilometres from Parasboro, Nova Scotia, an equally isolated location on the outskirts of that sparsely populated rural section of the province between Truro and the border with New Brunswick. It’s the kind of place that attracts people into things like gardening, being alone, or you know, silence. Existing almost entirely free from distraction of any kind besides maybe occasional changes in the weather makes Port Greville the perfect place for artists to escape and create.
The whole idea behind the Greville Tapes Music Club first began to take shape in 2015. The first series of recordings were done in Port Greville between December 2015 and May of the following year with Motherhood and Catriona Sturton, Julie Doiron and Nancy Pants, Little You, Little Me and Eamon McGarth, and Jon McKiel and WHOOP-Szo all pairing up to record together. The resulting recordings, tracked by Trenaman and mastered by Corey Bonnevie (Monopolized Studios), make up the first four volumes of the series. You can listen to them all HERE. As the recordings rolled out over the year, supported by live shows throughout New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and extremely limited edition cassettes of each session dubbed and sold on-site at each venue, the twenty-some artists and collaborators involved demonstrated just what could be achieved when people come together in support of a common goal.
But it was also a lot of work. Rowan credits the successful delivery of the Greville Tapes Music Club’s first four volumes to the hard work of every musician involved, to the kindness, skill and hospitality of Collins and Trenaman, and especially to Motherhood bassist Penelope Stevens who handled a lot of the project’s logistics, from arranging schedules to organizing shows.
“For that first series we got a lot of help from Penny, who helped connect us with a lot of cool artists,” he said.
Any project of this scope – let alone one undertaken with little to no operating budget besides the universal currency of good faith and a willingness to be part of something special – exists primarily in the moment. Whether we’re talking about musicians writing and recording, touring and performing, or plotting and planning, everything is fueled by a mounting energy and anticipation. So it’s no surprise when this first round of recordings and performances were completed, everyone took a much deserved rest, returned to their own routines, and went their separate ways fulfilled and completely exhausted.
But Rowan never gave up on the idea. A master curator who helped found Pop Montreal, the Halifax Pop Explosion and Quality Block Party, Rowan has always dreamed big and draws a lot of his motivation from observing the unintended consequences that can happen as a result of simply bringing artists together.
“The A to Z of the process is simply bringing people together into a consciously safe and supportive space to write and record and release music,” said Rowan. “But it’s the alphabet soup in between, that’s what’s really amazing about this. I’ve really enjoyed seeing new relationships and opportunities arise from simply bringing musicians from different backgrounds together to create something new.”
And the effects of that first series, some six years ago, are still reverberating in one form or another. During our conversation, Rowan pointed out how the song Deep Dark, written by Catriona Sturton and recorded together with Motherhood for Greville Tapes Music Club Vol. 1, was instrumental in Sturton landing a recent deal with a Brooklyn-based record label. And the two songs Julie Doiron wrote for Vol. 2, Good Reasons and Thought of You, both ended up appearing on her new album – her first in nine years – going so far as to even influence the album’s title.
“Two of the tracks that Julie Doiron recorded with Nancy Pants for the first Greville Tapes series, both of those songs are on her new album, I Thought of You, which is blowing up right now,” said Rowan. “They wouldn’t have happened otherwise because again, she was put into a collective, collaborative and safe space and just asked to be herself.”
Fast forward to today, a world completely different than the one we were living in back in 2016. With fewer bands on the road, live shows operating at reduced capacity (or with any number of restrictions), and gatherings of all types marred by an underlying fear and anxiety, it almost seems impossible to think another edition of the Greville Tapes Music Club could be possible. But artists can adapt, right? They have to. We all have to. We’re presently living in a time where even the most established artists and arts organizations have had to reinvent the way they do things. So why not a brilliant concept that hasn’t even discovered its full potential yet? The future of the Greville Tapes Music Club is just waiting to be written.
With support from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Province of New Brunswick, a second series of Greville Tapes Music Club recording sessions took place earlier this year. Much of the planning for this second series was done by Rowan and Bonnevie who together arranged the three pairings that will make up Greville Tapes Music Club volumes five, six and seven.
“This time, obviously with the pandemic, we decided pretty early on that we couldn’t operate the same way as we did the first time,” said Rowan. “I had some good ideas and Corey, as ever, brought some good insight into what we were doing. So it ended up being Corey and I chatting about it all and sorting out artists who would be interesting to work with.”
The artists involved in this current series are Coco Collins (NS) and Indigo Poirier (NB), Sadie (NB) and Designosaur (NS), and Tooth & the Fang (NB) and Marian (NB). Bonnevie recorded all the sessions this time around with the first two happening at The Quarantine and the last at Shiftwork Studios in Fredericton.
“And there’s a lot of commentary right now about the loss of the process in the computer age of artists getting together and just jamming shit out. For me, doing these sessions and being part of the process and seeing the process is amazing. I just love it.” – Peter Rowan
Poirier, a New Brunswick-based electronic musician who often performs as Wangled Teb, released several acclaimed recordings between 2015 and 2020 before placing her work in music on an indefinite hiatus. Accepting an invitation to participate in the second Greville Tapes Music Club helped her reconnect with writing and offered her a first chance at collaborative creation.
“This was my first time working with another artist like this and it was so awesome,” said Poirier. “Colleen (Coco Collins) is a very talented artist and I really loved getting to share in each other’s process. I’m stoked for our upcoming performances and for the world to hear what we’ve made together!
“It also helped that the place where we stayed was so gorgeous and Peter and company did a good job making sure we had nothing else to worry about but creating art for the whole weekend.”
Rowan is a true believer in the power of collaboration and its many forms. He has spent much of his career curating opportunities for artists to be artists. Whether that involves establishing festivals, or rehearsal spaces or maintaining relationships with venue owners, lobbying city councils and developers to make space for artists, or something altogether different, he sees his work largely as facilitating a means for artists to follow their muse and engage in the lost art of the collaborative creative process.
“It’s interesting to be talking about this while The Beatles documentary Get Back is a bit of a zeitgeist at the moment,” said Rowan. “A lot of people I’ve spoken with who have watched the film have commented about the process. And there’s a lot of commentary right now about the loss of the process in the computer age of artists getting together and just jamming shit out. For me, doing these sessions and being part of the process and seeing the process is amazing. I just love it.”
The musicians who participated in this latest edition of the Greville Tapes Music Club will be taking their music on the road in January with shows in Saint John, Fredericton, Sackville and Halifax beginning January 6 with a performance at the Imperial Theatre.
January 6 | Imperial Theatre | Saint John, NB
January 7 | Charlotte Street Arts Centre | Fredericton, NB
January 8 | Mel’s Tearoom | Sackville, NB
January 9 | The Carleton | Halifax, NS (two shows: all-ages at 4 p.m./19+ at 7:30 p.m.)
New recordings from the Greville Tapes Music Club will be released January 7.