Ask members to Pretty Archie what their goal was for their sixth album, and they’ll tell you what every musician should be able to claim: “We made music we’d love to hear.”
It’s a particularly good policy given that the Cape Breton roots music group has kept the eponymous project a secret since it was recorded in the winter of 2021 with a world-class producer in an A-frame house on the shore of Bras d’ Ou Lake, and they aim to play hard on a spring tour and summer festival circuit.
For bassist Colin Gillis and vocalist Brian Cathcart, the songs are still fresh, after a process the former calls “a kind of renaissance” with modern folk-pop touches and a neo-traditional country tone designed to attract more audiences. listeners without losing the band’s trademark rustic textures and heartfelt vocals.
More importantly, Pretty Archie, the record, crackles with a pent-up energy that Cathcart attributes to having had only a handful of opportunities to perform during a two-year span that he and fellow bandmates Matt McNeil, Redmond MacDougall and Scott MacLean believe that the group has only improved in terms of songwriting and interaction.
“Yeah, that sucks!” the singer/guitarist exclaims unreservedly. “We want to play our new songs and release them. Even though this album that’s coming out will be offbeat and a bit more authentic to what we sound like live, it’s still not the same.
“It’s our bread and butter, it’s where people appreciate us and we can interact with the crowd and make fans and make people want to come back and even buy another CD and support us. It all depends on our live performance.
“It was nice to have time to write, but at the same time it’s one of those things…if you really think about it, it could be dark and spiraling,” he laughs.
Fortunately, Pretty Archie had an ally during those dark days of January and February 2021 in producer Mark Howard, a British-born studio vet whose long credits include collaborations with the likes of Willie Nelson, Peter Gabriel, Lucinda Williams, REM and Tragically Hip.
Not only did Howard come to Cape Breton in the dead of winter and self-isolate for two weeks after working with Barenaked Ladies in Toronto, but he later bought a house on the Cabot Trail while touring the island between sessions.
“I understand that in June or July, spending two weeks here and buying a place makes sense,” says Gillis.
“The fact that he bought a place after being here in January and February is something. He really liked it.
He also liked the band, after being introduced by Pretty Archie manager and Curve Music founder Brian Hetherman, and shared his feelings about preserving what makes the band special while taking it a few steps forward. same time.
Gillis and Cathcart knew they were in safe hands when Howard was setting up his portable studio gear in the A-frame, and they saw his computer screensaver showing photos of the producer and engineer alongside of artists with whom he had worked such as Robert Plant, Tom Waits and Bob Dylan.
“Every major artist you could imagine, especially in our genres, over the past 40 years,” says Gillis, with a touch of admiration. “So every once in a while you had to pinch yourself and think, ‘It’s that guy!
“Let’s give him the keys, boys!” »
Howard encouraged the band members to be themselves and practically asked the first track Maritime, which sounds like Bruce Springsteen if he grew up in Glace Bay, to let listeners know where they came from. Along with the new single and video Familiar Feeling, after the antics of close friend Cooper’s dog, it will become a favorite when they finally perform the new songs in Ontario this spring and at a release show in their city. native to Sydney on Maundy Thursday in April. 14.
“There’s just no other way to get rid of that live performance itch,” says Gillis, hoping for a spring thaw, clear roads and an ebb of Omicron from here April.
“There’s nothing like it, so you really have a complete void where that’s such a big part of what I love about the band, let alone what’s good for the band itself.”