A Conversation with Nicky of The Wailin' Jennys
Nicky Mehta: Hi, Frank. It's Nicky Mehta from the Jennys calling.
Puremusic: Nicky, it's very nice to hear from you.
NM: It's nice to be speaking with you. How are you doing?
PM: So yeah, I had to veritably stalk you guys down today.
NM: Yeah, I think Cara wanted initially to do this interview, but we had a little bit of trouble trying to track her down.
PM: She's, how you say, AWOL.
NM: Yes, gone AWOL.
PM: Met some guy.
NM: I think she's just resting.
PM: Yeah, because your schedule has got to be pretty challenging right at the moment.
NM: It's pretty crazy right now. I'm just getting some work done and trying to frantically get paperwork finished before we take off again on Friday.
PM: Having had solo careers of varying stature--and I mean all three women are monster artists in their own right, but it's pretty astronomical how the triangulation of the talents is really starting to push you guys to kind of unpredictable heights.
PM: I, for one, think that this could be a huge group.
NM: Oh, cool. [laughs]
PM: I don't know if you read the Puremusic review last month.
NM: It's a great review. Thank you so much for that.
PM: Oh, yeah, I couldn't help myself. And so sometimes you'll write a very good review, and then you'll listen to it ten days later and going, "Oh, I must have been high," or, "Jeez, I sure was excited about it that day." But it's really not that at all. 40 Days sounds better and better every time I listen to it. It's going to be one of the best records of year, from my point of view.
NM: Oh, thanks. Wow, that's great to hear.
PM: How long did that record take to make?
NM: Well, we started the actual physical pre-production of it, not including the writing of songs, in September of 2003. That's when our producer first came to town and we figured out what we were doing. I know we did sessions in October and November, and they weren't the full months, because we did some touring in there. So we'd be in the studio, and then we went on the road for like a week, then we came back and then had few days off, and then we're back in the studio. It was just over a month--it was actually 40 days of exact studio time, which is part of the reason why the album was named 40 Days. But then, after that, Ruth went to Toronto to add on a few more tracks.
PM: What was she adding on, vocal touches or...?
NM: Yeah, she had to do a couple of vocal parts and some keyboard parts, and that was about it. Because we ran out of time. What we tried to do when we knew we were running out of time was to finish up Cara and myself. Then only one of us would need to fly to Toronto, and we could cut down on the expenses. So that's why Ruth went. So she was in Toronto in January, and then the album was mixed and the artwork was done, and I think it was all ready at the end of March. So it was a pretty lengthy process--though a lot of albums take much longer than that.
PM: Did anybody know how good it was really going to turn out?
NM: No. I don't think you really know when you're in the middle of it. But I think we knew we'd found the right person pretty soon into the process.
PM: In [producer] Travers-Smith?
NM: In David Travers-Smith, yeah. We had been exhaustive in our search for a producer. We went through about, I don't know, 10 to 12 people.
PM: Oh, my God, how did you do that?
NM: We listened to people's stuff and then we approached them. Some people we didn't approach, but some we'd ask, "Are you available at these times?" to see what might be possible. We have these friends at a high-end stereo equipment store in Winnipeg who were very eager to help us. So we would go over to the shop and sit and listen to different producers' work on their system.
PM: What a cool idea.
NM: Yeah. It was really neat. That way we could hear it on really good systems and also hear it on our systems, because you have to listen to it on a bunch of different equipment to hear how things translate. And then they were also able to help us because they know sound.
PM: Because they're audiophiles.
NM: Yeah. They could help us to figure out what each person is really good at, and what they not as good it. We had a very specific list of things that our producer had to be good at, and it was very diverse and varied. And they were sort of worried at a certain point that we weren't going to find the right person.
PM: He had to be a monster vocal guy.
NM: Yeah, well, he had to be really great with female vocals, in particular.
NM: He had to be really good with harmony vocals. He had to be excellent with recording acoustic instruments, and with doing roots music. He also had to pull three different styles of songwriting into a cohesive unit, and make it sound like they're the same band.
PM: And they got pulled together remarkably, because you can hear everybody's strains, but the transitions feel really smooth.
NM: Yeah, and that's definitely David. We were really lucky. Early on, we knew we were in good hands.
PM: And then on top of producing, he engineers, mixes, and masters.
PM: That's a special guy.
NM: And doing all of that probably wouldn't have been his choice. Time-wise and budget-wise, it was necessary to use him to do all that. He didn't want to master it. He initially wanted somebody else to do that. He'd done all the work up to that point, and I think he wanted somebody else's ears on it. But we weren't able to do that. And he did an amazing job of mastering it too, so we certainly weren't hurt by that.
PM: I don't know how technical a person you may be, but do you know what his recording format was, or what kind of mics he was using on you guys or...?
NM: I don't really. I wish I followed that more closely--
PM: I mean, is he into a computer-based thing like Protools, or Nuendo?
NM: He used Protools, yeah. Well, actually, he did the bed tracks on Radar, and then he switched it all over to Protools after that.
PM: I see.
NM: I've worked with a number of different people before, and I've never seen anybody mic things so delicately. Instead of putting one mic on a guitar, he will stick four mics on a guitar and position them just so. At the time I was fascinated by the mics he was using, and I just can't remember now what they were. continue