Kevin Hearn’s new album Cloud Maintenance is about journeys.
From wintery wilderness cabins to sunshine-y cities of love, from the clouds at the edge of space to the centre of the mind, Hearn takes us to all these places and more on Cloud Maintenance’s 10 songs.
Recorded in Toronto’s Orange and Canterbury Studios as well as Hearn’s “cabin in Northern Ontario, on an island, in a forest on a lake, in the dead of winter,” Cloud Maintenance is his second solo album and follows the Barenaked Ladies multi-instrumentalist’s 1997 record Mothball Mint as well as four more recent records with his full band as Kevin Hearn & Thinbuckle.
The inspiration for the album title as well as the album’s cover image is the striking painting Routine Cloud Maintenance by Don Porcella. It’s also the anchor for the song “Tell Me Tell Me.”
“When I was writing this song I had the painting hanging on my wall,” says Hearn. “And it’s basically a group of clouds that are real grimy and it’s two guys in space suits and jet packs, guys or girls, I can’t tell, but they’re cleaning the clouds. So for this song in particular I was thinking, what if a loved one was working out there cleaning clouds, and you don’t see them for months? It’s basically about someone writing to a person they miss, who is out working in space, or perhaps on another planet.”
“See You Again,” a song of heartsick longing for someone, was built on a different kind of travel — the song itself went to Europe and back.
“The drums on ‘See You Again’ are by a drummer/percussionist named Rob Kloet and he plays with one of my favourite bands from Amsterdam called The Nits. I sent him the tracks and he added his parts in Amsterdam,” says Hearn.
“Don’t Shuffle Me Back” is the flipside to “See You Again.” Instead of distant longing, there’s a disappearance, all done with a quirky, compelling touch.
“I guess it’s a relationship song,” says Hearn. “Feeling you’re getting close to someone and then suddenly there is a distance between you. I put it into a humourous context. This guy’s talking into his shoe. Pretending it’s a telephone. It’s a playful song, it’s not meant to be anything heavy.”
What is heavy is Cloud Maintenance’s guest list. Beyond Hearn’s work with Barenaked Ladies and with Thinbuckle he’s also toured as Lou Reed’s band leader and keyboard player, and as pianist with Laurie Anderson. He’s also played with the Rheostatics, the Look People, and even a band with his comedian cousin Harland Williams as, aptly, The Cousins. Many of the friends Hearn made on these journeys helped in Cloud Maintenance’s creation.
Long-time ally Michael Phillip Wojewoda co-produced Cloud Maintenance with Hearn (“We make a good team and love working together. He’s got a great, courageous spirit.”) and Thinbuckle members present and past Brian MacMillan, Chris Gartner, Great Bob Scott, and Derek Orford all contribute. Lou Reed’s drummer Tony Thunder Smith plays on multiple songs, and the smile at the end of the record, the monstrously catchy “Monsters Anonymous” features Jenn Grant, Hawksley Workman and Sahara MacDonald, amongst others.
In a fortuitous bit of timing, The Band’s Garth Hudson helped Hearn on “The House Of Invention,” a song about Aboriginal Canadian painter Norval Morriseau.
“I’m a lover of his paintings. He called his imagination the house of invention. He said when he was trying to find inspiration for his paintings his spirit would travel to the house of invention and that’s where he would find these images for his paintings,” says Hearn. “And I was at the studio working on some overdubs and got a call from Garth. He was in town and wanted to get together.
“I said, ‘I’m in the studio,’ and he said, ‘Well, I’ll come by…’ and he wanted to play, so we set up in the studio and just recorded it. I think that’s the second take. It was very spontaneous. His wife Maude joined in on vocals. As always, it was an honour to play with Garth.”
A backstage introduction was the serendipitous lead to the contribution of Arnold Robinson, a former member of both the Platters and the Nylons.
“He was the bass singer. I think he has a three octave range. I’ve always loved his voice and always wanted to work with him.”
While the rich and varied guest list provides lots of intrigue on Cloud Maintenance, it’s the songs themselves that are the real stars. Whether it’s the ships filled with sugar that cut through the water in “The City Of Love,” or the clacking engine on the tracks during “Northbound Train,” each of Hearn’s songs takes you someplace.
Says Hearn, “The record’s got the cloudy days and the sunny days. So I wanted to have songs that were cheery or reflective, childlike and daydream-like. I was attracted to the idea of sparse arrangements and little stories. I’ve always been a fan of harmonies and vocals so I kind of went to town with them on this record.”
Whether it’s in the clouds or in the wilderness, Kevin Hearn continues to make music in new and interesting ways. This is the journey of Cloud Maintenance.
Cloud Maintenance comes out Dec. 20th through Celery Music.
“Don’t Shuffle Me Back”
“Tell Me Tell Me”
“The House Of Invention”
“See You Again”
“The City Of Love”