A 10-year-project has come to fruition for a musician-producer, originally from Cranbrook, now living in Toronto.
Ryan Granville-Martin grew up in Cranbrook, and moved to Toronto in 1995, eventually getting a music degree from the University of Toronto and starting a new life there. He has gained a reputation as a drummer and producer, and “Mouthparts and Wings,” his debut album, shows he is at the nexus of the Toronto music scene.
“Mouthparts and Wings” is a brooding, dramatic collection of songs, written over 10 years. It is thematically connected, but strikingly eclectic. The style of each song stands out on its own — in part because each song features a different singer, but also because of Granville-Martin’s diverse production methods and varied instrumentation. He has placed thoughtful horn or string arrangements under some songs (“St. Barnabas,” “Violins”), a cello solo comes looping out of the background to claim our attention, vibes share disc space with overdriven electric guitars.
Granville-Martin appears on a number of different instruments (drums are his main instrument) and he is joined by more than a dozen other musicians — friends and colleagues.
The music and lyrics on “Mouthparts and Wings” are largely informed by two life-altering events: the death of Granville-Martin’s brother Aaron in 2001, and the birth of his daughter more recently.
“There was definitely some potency — or immediacy — behind my songwriting in the wake of Aaron’s death,” Granville-Martin said. “A number of songs were influenced by, or directly deal with that experience. Some of those were the songs that came the easiest to me.
“I’ve always been drawn to the dark side in music, so I think that would have come across anyway. But I guess I had something to say, or had something to release.”
The joy of his daughter’s birth was tempered by the difficulties one finds when one is suddenly a new parent. “Those first couple years were really hard for my partner Mia (Sheard) and me,” he said. “We didn’t have a lot of support out here at that time, and we were tired and facing a very steep learning curve and a dramatic about-face from the hours and lifestyle we were accustomed to as musicians.
“And while there is a song about my ill-prepared, yet thrilled reaction to the arrival of my kid, there are a couple tunes dealing with the isolation, frustration and misanthropy spawned by that time, too.”
The album was a long time in the making — more than 10 years. “Some of the tunes were written shortly after Aaron died, which was in 2001. And one or two before that! The very first recording started, I think in late 2003/early 2004. So by the time the album came out, there were certain lyrics that were written by a much younger me. But art is often about capturing a moment and then letting go.”
Granville-Martin used this project to teach himself to engineer and produce. “I wasn’t about to allow inexperience to be an excuse for lowered expectations. So it just meant time.”
The thought-provoking lyrics, coupled with the depth of the orchestration, gives “Mouthparts and Wings” a quality of something new appearing with each repeated listening.
Some of the collaborators on “Mouthparts and Wings” are among the top alt-rock artists in Toronto, if not Canada. Ron Sexsmith, who is gaining long-overdue fame as one of Canada’s great songwriters, sings lead vocals on a track (“All Good Things [Come To Those Who Wait”]), as does Martin Tielli of the Rheostatics (“The Prisoner”). Mia Sheard (Granville-Martin’s partner) sings on “Returning Home,” the final track (a gentle optimistic counterpoint to close the album). Some are members of rising bands who’ve taken the Toronto scene by storm — Daniela Gesundheit of Snowblink (“Welcome Honey”), Gavin Gardiner of The Wooden Sky (“Asteroid”). John Showman is one of Canada’s top violinists, Ford Pier is on guitar and vocals. Colleen Brown, from Edmonton, sings on the imagery-laden song “Eight.”
It’s a considerable gathering of musicians, which despite a dark current running underneath the music, gives the album a feel of celebration at the same time.
Granville-Martin didn’t originally set out to record this way. He wrote the tunes and recorded the bed tracks, but felt his own singing voice didn’t do justice to what he’d done to that point.
That’s when I came up with the idea of having people whose instrument was their voice recording the vocals for me,” he said.
“As to how I got all these musicians and singers involved, some of them I knew and could just call. They’re friends or we’ve toured together. Instrumentally, it was pretty easy. Finding certain singers was more difficult.”
He says it took some research time just to discover the singer. “Because the singer had to fit the tune. The tune always picked the singer. I never approached it from a ‘who would be good for my career’ angle. And with some songs, finding that fit was a challenge.
“I learned that the more I stayed out of the way of the singers, the more they were able to make it their own, which always brings about the best results. I couldn’t be happier with how they all breathed life into these tunes. They really did make them their own.”
“Mouthparts is available for sale physically (shipped within three days) and/or as a download through Granville-Martin’s Bandcamp page: http://ryangranvillemartin.bandcamp.com.