North Shore News: Sometimes music is recorded long before a release date but Genera seems to have come together very quickly.
François Houle: There was a tour already in the works. We'd secured funding for a tour of festivals this summer starting on the 23rd in Toronto. Because of the lateness of the recording session we had to have an unbelievably fast turnaround to make sure the CD would be released on time, as it is it won't be released in the States until July.
On the flight back home I was listening to the session tapes and already making notes in terms of mixing and editing. I landed at YVR and took the hard drive to the studio the next morning so that they could load up the sessions and that evening I was in the studio editing and mixing. Within a week we had all that done and then it was off to mastering for another week or two and then off to postproduction and pressing so it was ridiculously fast.
It's not the usual way of doing things. Usually as a musician you like to give yourself a few weeks to distance yourself from the music and the recording session. You have time to come back at it with fresh ears, so to speak. I didn't have that luxury in this case but you know if I had to do it again I probably would use the same approach because the advantage of doing it right away is you still have the feeling of the session, you still know you're still aware of every track that was laid down and how they felt and which ones were very good and which ones were safety takes. As I was editing I was already aware of where the great solos were, where the good takes were, and I was able to fast track the whole thing that way and really going much more with my feelings than an analytical approach. I think the end result shows some of that. There are certainly some raw emotions that are present in the music and I think if I'd taken more time I might have missed that. There's something that can be said for that kind of approach. You always walk away from a session with really strong feelings but you're also exhausted. You put everything into it. In this case I was running on adrenaline I still had energy to see the project through because I had to.
North Shore News: Vancouver's Songlines label is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and you've been there from the beginning. What's that been like working with Tony Reif all these years?
François Houle: It was Tony's first production when we did Et Cetera in '92. Nobody really knew what we were getting into, what we were doing - it was my first band, my first CD and it was Tony's first production for Songlines so it was a long drawn out process. I think it took like a year to get the thing out, to oversee the artwork and the text. We belaboured every aspect of it. It was a real learning experience for everybody.
Fast forward 20 years later and the experience from that first CD has always carried through in all the other projects that I've done with Tony. I don't think we could have done Genera if it hadn't been for this long-term relationship built on 20 years of really trusting each other. Tony made a huge commitment to see this project come to life because we did this without any public funding. It was basically an act of goodwill on his part - he said, 'Don't worry about the money, I'll take care of it, you just go and take care of the music.' Which is not always the case - usually musicians are responsible for a certain amount of fundraising but Tony said, 'Let's do this, let's get it done, let's celebrate our 20 years together.'
And we've done a number of other projects - Benoit himself has released several CDs on Songlines. This long-term collaboration has helped me immensely with my career. It's very rewarding to put out a CD that's in the family so to speak. I've learned to trust Tony's ways of doing things which are not always easy because Tony is in his own way a perfectionist and he'll belabour every single aspect of the production. I am a perfectionist in my music, I think all good musicians are, but in terms of the finer points of producing or sound quality or things like that sometimes if I think the music is good then that's good enough - for Tony the music has to be good but then every other aspect of the production has to be excellent. I've learned to trust that and not just take for granted that my opinion is the final say in what's going to be on the CD and how the CDs going to look and I'm still learning. I think Tony has learned to trust what the musicians want and how they want to see it done so there's a lot of going back and forth, exchanging ideas to get a product out.
It's been a very productive and collaborative process. You see it in the quality of the releases he's had over the last 20 years. It's grown exponentially. Everybody knows about Songlines it seems like. It's one of those labels that's released a lot of important music yet I don't think Songlines or Tony has ever been given their due credit for the body of work produced. If there was a lifetime achievement award to be given to anybody I think Tony should get it.
We always think it's greener in the neighbour's yard. We have something here that's homegrown, that's been nurtured over 20 years that's an invaluable contribution to the world of jazz and creative music. And it's not stopping - it's just going to keep going. We have to acknowledge that and we have to celebrate it.