There’s more than one way to come at the title of Tavis Triance’s solo debut, A Brief Respite From the Terror of Dying, the singer quick to acknowledge this when he picks up the phone at home on the Sunshine Coast. Ask him a vague leading question like “Do you obsess about it?” and he’s quick with a response.
“Do you mean about dying, or about music?” Triance asks with a laugh. “A little bit of both, actually.”
Those with a pathological fear of their inevitable demise will focus on the Terror of Dying part of the title, and quite understandably so. We’re all going out one day, the best one can hope for being that it happens in a deep sleep.
As for the A Brief Respite part of the equation, that falls under truth in advertising. Clocking in at an economical 36 minutes, the record will indeed drag you away from whatever’s troubling you, whether it be an all-encompassing fear of mortality or simply wondering where in the hell the money for tomorrow’s lunch will come from.
But ask the former Spoon River frontman what the release title really means to him, and you’ll get an entirely different take on things. Over the past few years Triance has had a lot going on in his life, including moving to the Sunshine Coast from Bella Bella via Vancouver to buy a house and having a second kid with his wife. Factor in a full-time teaching job, along with the fact that he’s been making music dating back to his time in Montreal’s Royal Mountain Band, and you start to understand his reasons for making the album, which he recorded with his backing band, the Natural Way.
“When we were having our second child, I was feeling like, ‘Oh my God, this is going to be the last shot for a while,’ ” Triance admits. “It was like, ‘The kids will be here, and I’m gonna have to raise them and all of the things that go with that.’ Going ‘Okay, this could be the end of it for a bit’ sort of terrified me. So I really worked hard over one summer to make this record happen. I went, ‘I gotta get a record done before this happens.’ And I got one in just under the wire.”
That, he’s happy to report, has led to a fresh set of problems.
“It’s opened a whole new can of worms with having to tour the record now that it’s coming out,” Triance says. “That’s something that
I never properly considered.”
He should have, for no other reason than that A Brief Respite From the Terror of Dying deserves every bit of the attention that will be coming its way in the coming months. Like his past Spoon River work, the record draws on everything from paisley-shaded folk to dazed-and-confused rock to outlaw country.
Things start with the easygoing “All You Got Is People”, which suggests a dream afternoon for Triance might involve Tequila Sunrises with Bob Dylan in Laurel Canyon circa ’74. From there it’s the little touches that wow, whether it’s the ghostly prog-jazz guitar in “Shoot Out the Eyes of the Sun”, the teardrop keyboards in “If Beauty Were My Bluebird”, or yacht-rock synths in “Sailin”.
Triance realized he’d be better going it alone when Spoon River—which released two excellent albums during a half-decade run in Vancouver—became a scheduling nightmare. The singer’s wife, Rachel Horkenheimer, played keys in the group, which meant shows became doubly difficult to pull off when kids started arriving. For a while, the couple kept things going, even after moving to Bella Bella. And then things really got crazy.
“What happened with Spoon River was that we all had kids—virtually every single member of the band,” Triance says. “That just sort of made it kind of hard to keep it going with so many kids and all of the responsibilities that come with that. The bass player and synth player were also partners. And then the drummer also had a kid. So there was no way to keep doing this other than starting to do something different.”
Triance is quick to credit recording engineer David Smith and producer Brad Barr (of Barr Brothers fame) with helping shape A Brief Respite From the Terror of Dying. The recognition is deserved, as the album—recorded at Breakglass Studios in Montreal—is indeed a marvel of dramatic flourishes. Take, for example, the swooning brass in “Bye-Bye to the Wicked One”.
“It’s funny—I really wanted a sort of Mexican dime-store romance kind of sound. Not too professional—a little bit cheap-sounding,” Triance recalls. “Brad Barr, who produced the record, wasn’t too sure. He thought maybe I might be doing myself a disservice, but I stuck to my guns on that one, and he was like, ‘Well, this guy’s got a vision, so who am I to argue?’
“But the whole record was made in a great way,” he continues. “We went to Breakglass and were able to record with David Smith, who just got amazing, incredible sounds. We’re so thankful for what he did there. He even went as far as to say ‘Hey, let’s set you all up in one room’—all six of us—’baffle you off, and take your headphones away.’ That created a situation where you could really hear what other people were doing. It ended up being a really cool-sounding record that still has that rawness but also becomes something more with the harmonies and the overdubs.”
That raw and honest quality is also there on the lyrical side of things. Comb through songs and you start to get insights into what Triance might be obsessed with on any given day. The idea that there might be a heaven surfaces more than once, as do drug references that hint Triance—like many of us—had his share of fun before settling down with a family. As for where he finds himself today, there are moments that suggest he has times when it’s all overwhelming; consider the great line “I look at things I wanted to be stacked up like daggers inside of me” in “Queen”. But then you’ll also get flashes that everything is okay, such as “I’m a king with a castle and a wife” in “All You Got Is People”.
“This record is pretty honest and journalistic,” Triance says. “But it isn’t necessarily straight down the line either. While it might not necessarily be an account, it’s definitely cataloguing thoughts and concerns.”
So just as there’s more than one way to think about A Brief Respite From the Terror of Dying’s title, there’s also more than one way to think about his songs. Sometimes it all depends on what you choose to focus on.
“It’s kind of like a pastiche—sometimes flights of fancy, sometimes things, feelings, or thoughts you’re bumping up against, be they reasonable or irrational,” Triance opines. “Definitely, this record is a conversation with myself, and some of my tendencies. There’s a little bit of good angel/bad angel going on because there are polarities in me for sure.”
Tavis Triance plays a release party for A Brief Respite From the Terror of Dying at the Biltmore on Saturday (June 24).