With help of producer Adam Hogan, they added new colour to their simple and undusted earthy sound
In the first couple of months of 2020, the members of Rube & Rake were slightly panicked as they put the finishing touches on their latest album, “Leaving With Nothing.”
“We gotta get all this done, we gotta get all this done,” singer and guitar player Andrew Laite said of their thought process at the time.
“And then the world stops, and you have months and months and months of, OK, I guess I’m doing nothing now. It’s pretty polarizing to go from being as busy as we’ve been and then just as dead as we’ve been.”
Instead of leaving, even if it was with nothing, they had to stay put with a record.
“We had planned to promote it right across the country starting in April,” Laite said. “We’re still kind of chatting with the venues … but everything is in limbo.”
To put it another way, “It sucked,” said Josh Sandu, the other half of Rube & Rake.
“But right now it’s hard to complain because everyone’s got a rough deal,” Sandu said. “Trying to make a go of playing music, you’re always questioning everything you’re doing because it’s not conventional, it doesn’t pay well and there’s no job security. When even what you do have is completely pulled out from under you, it makes you question it more.”
But with everyone in the same situation, it’s hard to get too upset, he said.
And given they were on their way to listen to the test pressing of their record, the first time the duo has pressed their songs to wax, they were in good spirits.
“It’s so nice to actually have vinyl,” Sandu said. “I feel like it kind of gives closure to the record, actually seeing it on vinyl.”
Performing together since 2014, Sandu and Laite combine the frantic fingerpicking of bluegrass with hushed folk songs, layers of harmony and a tendency of haunting the rare song by accenting and exaggerating an unexpected note.
The best example of the latter tendency, is possibly “From Left to Right,” from their first album, “Back and Forth.” Over what is otherwise a simple country-blues chord progression, just before the verses, the guitar and banjo let an in-between note hang crooked in the air as a deep note is shucked out of a bowed upright bass.
And while songs like “Waking For No One” from the new album share the stripped-down feel of their previous recordings, the addition of drums, organ, lap-steel and electric guitar on songs like "Fleetin Moment," adds a weight not heard on the predecessor.
“These songs felt different in the initial writing phase. They felt bigger even in their infancy,” Laite said. “We didn’t fluke into having someone like Adam Hogan (produce the record), we knew that he could bring colours to it that we wanted to introduce.”
Hogan said going into a studio with someone new can be a scary thing, something he would know well from his years of playing guitar in the band Hey Rosetta!
“I think they felt a comfort level with me where they were going to be OK to show themselves and show their flaws, their limitations,” Hogan said.
Initially, they tracked the record in a house that another local musician, Steve Maloney, was house-sitting.
“You know how it goes these days, people don’t really go into studios that much anymore, you just find a space and make it work,” Hogan said.
Along with engineer Romesh Thavanathan — who was also in Hey Rosetta! — they spent 12 hours a day recording.
“(Romesh) was on a hot streak. He had made three records leading up to that, so he was very much in the studio brain space, which was really wonderful,” Hogan said. “He’s basically like a mobile studio, that guy.”
In terms of adding instruments, Hogan said it’s more about what the song is asking for.
And the creative breakthroughs, no matter how small, are what made it a memorable experience, he said.
“I just listened to it on vinyl, just now,” Hogan said. “It was satisfying, I must say.”
Inviting a band to turn the house he was staying in into a recording studio was a no-brainer for Maloney, he said.
“It was awesome,” Maloney said. “Roll out of bed and make coffee and see two lovely singers and players in your (house).
“A lot of it came pretty naturally. … My memory of it is (that it was) pretty easy, collaborative and fluid, the goal being to amplify the songs to a new place without compromising the core of Rube & Rake.”
After selling out their Friday, Nov. 6 album release at Bannerman Brewing Co. in downtown St. John’s, Rube & Rake added a second show on Thursday, Nov. 5.
While tickets at the door are $30, advanced tickets are $25 and can be purchased online at www.eventbrite.ca/e/second-show-rube-rake-album-release-show-live-at-bannerman-brewing-co-tickets-125719465305.
Andrew Waterman reports on East Coast culture.
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