Olivier Clements remembers well the last moment of May 27, 2013, as it slipped away from him and seven of his friends. They had been holed up in Revolution Recording studios in Toronto during Clements’ only evening off on a tour with Aidan Knight. The six feverish hours that ended the day – a collision of sweat and swearing, of Clements’ hip-hop, indie and classically-influenced compositions with his jazz school friends – yielded the richly-layered, engulfing flow of Olivier Clements & Dissonant Histories.
“Literally at 12:01, the engineer’s like: ‘Time’s up. We’re done.’ That was that,” says Clements, back at home in Victoria after one frenetic recording session and six months of post-production.
The categorically-challenging six-track disc is a project that wouldn’t have happened had one of his friends in the studio that night not pushed him to record. Colin Nealis, Knight bandmate and assumably the namesake of Histories’ “Colin’s Always Better Than Me” had seen Clements’ previous attempt to record his octet-backed flugelhorn tracks off the floor at Hermann’s last April. The plan was simple enough: do show, make recording, land grants, live dream. Yet this strategy didn’t account for variables. Equipment malfunction meant not one note recorded.
“What am I going to do? I can’t get press; I can’t do anything without recordings. I might as well get everyone from that show together, have a little Zoom mike, record it and go from there,” says Clements, who was about to leave on an Eastern Canadian tour with Knight at the time.
The new plan, though not terribly different from its predecessor, suddenly appeared too rushed for Clements. He called Nealis.
Nealis made a strong argument: Instead of getting a mediocre rushed recording, they would use their extra day on tour to assemble their friends, established musicians in Toronto, and make something good. They would invest some money and do it the right way.
“He really convinced me that if I half ass it, I won’t be happy with it and it’ll be useless. Then I said I don’t have any money.”
So with a $1,000 loan from Nealis – credited with upright bass and executive production of the record – and the studio time booked, it wasn’t long before Clements, a 2010 graduate of Humber College’s jazz program, handed over to his former classmates the result of nine months alone at a piano with his very black coffee.
“Every note was written out top to bottom in a giant stack of paper. I dropped it on the table and said: ‘Go nuts.’”
Three hours of sound checking and three hours of recording formed the basis of what Clements hears now as a stepping stone, a launching point.
“There was a week when I liked it,” he says. “It’s hard for me to listen to the record without feeling a little nauseous, but at the same time, I’m really proud for that to have been my first swing at the recording thing.”
The guiding principal behind his music, he says, is a desire to reconcile his influences.
“I play almost exclusively with indie-folk bands and that have a very specific feel. My roll in those bands and the way the music is created is unique, but I also love hip hop. I adore that kind of music and it’s a completely different set of musical values and esthetic. And I went to school for jazz, so I have that whole baggage with me. It’s not trying to mash all those things together, but say where do I fit in all of this? And then create music that doesn’t suck.”
And trumping all other influences, is the one closest to home – as in, within his own.
Clements’ father, Gordon Clements is the former head of Jazz Studies at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, multi instrumental classical and jazz performer and festival adjudicator. Add to that resumé bass clarinetist for Dissonant Histories – including when they take on Mad Villain, Q-Tip and perhaps some Portishead at the CD release show March 5.
“I grew up watching him perform, in his footsteps, if you will. He taught me everything I know, so for me to be able to write music and say: ‘Play it like this,’ is awesome. … “It brings a completely different energy to the stage when there’s this weird father-son thing going on.”
While Clements writes with his dad’s sound in mind for bass clarinet, his compositions are very much his own creation – a solitary endeavour that, thanks to painting houses and backing other musicians, he has just finished paying to have produced. Including that $1,000 from Nealis.
Olivier Clements & Dissonant Histories play Hermann’s (753 View) March 5 at 8pm. Tickets, $15, available at Larsen Music and online at olivierclements.com, where you can also purchase the record.