NO MAP OR COMPASS
A CONVERSATION WITH SILLS AND SMITH
Sills And Smith is Jeremy Sills and Frank Smith, both based in Ottawa and both very talented. Since 2011 they have been releasing albums that are distinctly their own sound. They have been making this music on their own terms. This includes their new album, Maps – Burned or Lost, released in January 2018. Their sixth studio album, Maps – Burned or Lost, is a perfect addition to their catalog and demonstrates how this duo continues to grow and explore.
‘I met Jeremy in 2008 through a meditation teacher, Chris Simmons. He was part of a community of meditation. But I met him at The Ottawa Folk Festival. As well as teaching meditation, he was also teaching music and I was lucky enough to have him accept me as a student,’ Frank Smith recently told me during our conversation.
‘We had similar tastes in music and we started working together, which lead to some rough recordings of covers. Eventually we began writing together and we wound up in a recording studio in 2011.
‘No musician works in a vacuum and I grew up liking jazz, classical, folk and prog rock. Of course The Beatles, but also Jethro Tull, The Strawbs, and I love Eno’s ambient music. Also a big fan of Miles Davis, John McLaughlin . . . so many artists.’
Their debut album, Uncertain Vista, was released in 2011 to very positive reviews and garnered them a great deal of attention, especially from college and university stations. Interestingly at this time, Sills & Smith included a third member, Jonathan Edwards. Edwards also produced their first three albums. This change in personnel led Sills & Smith to a new collaborator, one who has been playing with them and producing their albums ever since, Phillip Victor Bova.
‘After our third album, we were looking for a new producer,’ remembers Smith. ‘We contacted Phil because we knew his work and reputation. Also, Phil worked with one of my favourite artists, Ian Tamblyn, who is vastly underrated. But not only is Phil an excellent producer, he is a great player and he could play with Jeremy and I. So we got him over for a rehearsal in 2014.’
Bova picks up the story during our recent conversation. ‘They told me to bring my bass, and we rehearsed, although it felt like a band. So not only was it great to play with them, it makes my life a bit easier as a producer. I can sit inside the band as a player, and having played with them I can imagine the sound they want to achieve in the studio.
‘The thing was that they had great songs. Frank has this gruff voice and Jeremy with his tenor voice and both sang, not one, but both. They could sing separately or in unison, blended together perfectly. And their lyrics, commenting on social issues, they don’t beat you over the head but their thoughts are there and yet their music is very personal. They got me so interested in what they were doing.’
there is no particular
map or compass
As with previous albums, Sills And Smith have utilized some top players for the album, including T. Bruce Wittet (drums and percussion), Don Wallace (electric guitars), Marianne Dumas (keyboards, tambourine), Jesse Stewart (percussion) and John Findlay, who plays guitar on one song (“Miss Us”). It should also be noted that producer Bova played bass, keyboards, strings, tambourine and Hammond Organ.
‘Phil is a genius with figuring out the best players for the album. It is an incredible amount of coordination,’ remarks Smith.
Adds Phil, ‘the musicians who played on this album were amazing, the playing came from the depths of their soul. Most of the players on the album are local musicians, Frank and I would go and listen to artists, like casting a movie. And these musicians who played on the album really got into the songs, into the record.
‘Phil heard the live guitar and voices and thought that strings would sound good on this album, which brings in elements of classical music.’
Others who deserve credit on Maps – Burned or Lost include Jim McDowell (Hammond Organ and Wurlitzer), Petr Cancura (Mandolin), and Brian Tansley (soprano saxophone and flute).
For Frank Smith, music can be and is very personal to him.
‘For me there is no particular map or compass when creating. Music resonates with me, it comes from an emotional centre. Two songs on this album were inspired through pretty deep meditation, “Maps” and “A Freight Train.” The words and melodies came to me while meditating.’
Sills And Smith are a studio band, and have no tours or even live shows lined up to promote their new album. But they do have a new music video for “Maps.”
According to Smith, ‘I was curious about the new Bruce Cockburn album, and I found a video for one of the songs. It featured art by and was put together by an artist, Peter Gullerud, who is a painter in California. I really liked it, so I emailed him and asked if he would do one for our song. The video features his original art that he created for the song.’
Tour or no tour, Sills And Smith continues to make music. According to Frank Smith, they are already thinking about their next album. In the meantime, sit back, and enjoy Maps – Burned or Lost.