Aidan Knight’s second album Small Reveal (released Oct. 23 on Outside Music) was affected by the dreaded “sophomore slump,” but the collection of expansive, yet intensely intimate songs is far from a disappointment.
“I don’t know who came up with the sophomore slump term, but it was definitely something that was weighing heavily on my mind at some point,” says Knight.
The Victoria-based musician says that writing the follow up to his debut, Versicolour, and its hit song “Jasper” was daunting, and months into recording, he almost decided to scrap what he and his bandmates had created and start again.
Knight, along with Olivier Clements, Julia Wakal, David Barry and Colin Nealis — who all recorded Knight’s music on Versicolour and are now officially members of the band, joining Knight in writing duties — packed hundreds of pounds of recording equipment into a bush cabin on Protection Island for a week last August for the creative session where Small Reveal was born.
“I don’t know the percentage of things that ended up making their way to the album, but it’s most of the backbone. Most of the songs were created there, then blown apart and re-written,” says Knight.
“There was a point in recording, sometime around this time last year, September or October — I didn’t have a mental break or anything — but there was a time that I thought we’d have to restart the whole album in order to make something good and I was really convinced that no one was going to like what we had already made … that whole process of writing and recording was an emotional rollercoaster. One week I was thinking everything was good and the next I never wanted to hear the songs or let anyone else hear them.”
With help from producer and engineer Jonathan Anderson, who worked on Versicolour — and a little soul searching by Knight — the band was able to push through.
“I think that part of my feelings in the middle of making it had to do with more of the idea that I was trying to tell myself or make myself believe that it’s not important what other people think about what you do.”
That sentiment is most clear on the moody “You will See the Good in Everyone,” on which Knight refrains “Am I singing for strangers?”
“I’m glad that I was able to figure out why I was feeling pressured to do a certain thing, or why I felt the need to want to run away from everything we worked on through that whole process. Classic guy thing — fear of commitment.”
After another 10 days of recording sessions in the hallways and living rooms of family homes and in the former church that is now Larsen Music, Knight is following up with a stunning collection of affecting and often uncomfortably honest songs — noticeably absent, though is the boyish charm of a song like “Jasper” — instead Knight offers a more mature and sophisticated selection of “music about making music.” Knight says it was difficult to see the big picture, or theme of the album, while immersed in the recording process. It wasn’t until the band listened to the finished album that the theme emerged — the life of a singer-songwriter.
“I think that has to do thematically with what Small Reveal is about,” says Knight. “It’s not a meta-album, but there’s something really interesting to me — the idea of songs about songwriting, that creative output about creativity. I think something about that just found its way into the songs somehow, listening back to it for the first time and realizing that gave it even more meaning.”
A special treat in Small Reveal is the cinematic instrumentals interspersed throughout — a chance to exhale between songs. These themes add another element to the enthralling lyrical and musical storytelling on this album, yet Knight says he was divided on whether to keep them.
“These instrumentals, these sweeping score-like things, there’s a dangerous line between something that feels thrown in there or pretentious, but when we started listening to the album and started sequencing the tracks, I listened to the album without them and there’s just something about having a pause or a breath in between the songs around those movements and there was also an opportunity for Julia and Colin to arrange some things out. We’re always looking for an opportunity to do something new, try to go for a feeling and I love instrumental music,” he says.
“I think maybe being divided on them has to do with wanting to downplay and not go for the power-move all the time and maintain some sort of façade of humbleness — it’s a Canadian upbringing thing.”(When I call him modest, he replies: “Well, don’t let that go to my head.”)
Another standout is the devastatingly beautiful story of love and loss in the album’s closer, “Margaret Downe.”
Small Reveal was released on Knight’s 26th birthday and came in with a bang — the band’s minivan hit a patch of ice on the highway near Strathmore, Alta and the band had to miss both the CD release day show in Regina and the following day’s show in Winnipeg.
Let’s welcome them home to Victoria for a show at the Alix Goolden that is sure to impress. M