Sound Seekers by Fateema Sayani is published weekly at OttawaMagazine.com. Read Fateema Sayani’s culture column in Ottawa Magazine and follow her on Twitter @fateemasayani
SONGWRITING AND STORYTELLING
Songs on Brock Zeman’s new album, Rotten Tooth, stick with you like a gnawing ache that befits the title. There’s a constant twinge and occasional wince as you get carried into stories of people screwing up and figuring their lives out. As with his previous eight albums, Zeman continues to paint character sketches based of the people he encounters on his travels and around his studio, The Big Muddy, in Lanark, Ont.
“There’s a lot of fiction in my songwriting,” Zeman says. “I take a lot from random conversation. People are amazing and say brilliant things all the time.”
Dogs do too, on occasion. On the tune Roman’s Farwell you can hear what sounds like ambient studio noise. It’s actually Zeman’s old dog Roman barking and carrying on. He died last summer while Zeman was recording the album.
“He was magic,” Zeman says. “When I found out he was sick, I followed him around the house with a microphone. I wanted to be able to hear him anytime I wanted.”
Zeman has quite the bark himself. He sings in a gravelly voice and has always had a dark streak on his albums, both lyrically and in the mood of the music. A song called Mocassin Road from his 2008 album $100 Difference best illustrates that point. It’s one of my favourite tunes.
On this album Zeman’s got stormy songs about regret, followed a little rocker called I’m Going Fishing. There are some mean guitar solos on The Dreamland Moteland a wistful bar-closing slow dance number called Since You Left Town. Meanwhile, Sending Strange Weather started as short story about a wino who believes God has spoken to him.
“I recorded the song about five years ago as a demo, but it didn’t really gel on any record,” Zeman says. “All I ended up redoing was the vocal track. It was a strange experience singing the song with myself from five years earlier doing the harmonies.”
To add more mood to the tunes, Zeman asked musician Mike Yates to play cello on a number of songs on Rotten Tooth. “I like the way it weaves its way through the mix,” Zeman says. “It’s such a pretty instrument, real moody at times too. I don’t know how I went without it for so long.”
FOR BROCK ZEMAN SUPERFANS!
Read about Zeman’s previous album Me Then You in this Sound Seekers post.
Read about Brock Zeman’s collaboration with Charles de Lint (along with a songwriting partnership between Tim Wynne-Jones and JW-Jones) in a column from the Ottawa Magazine print edition here.