Dreaming: The Prague Sessions — Now Available!

This week we spoke with Allan Gilliland to catch up and discuss his new single “Perryscope” and his brand new album release Dreaming: The Prague Sessions. He talked about his inspiration and what to expect from his new album. 

The song is very dynamic and fun; what was the recording process like? 
Because there were 70 musicians in the room during the whole process, it was a real test in organizational skills and making sure we had what we wanted before moving on. Kudos to conductor Raymond Baril for keeping it all together.

What was your inspiration for the single? 
This entire piece was originally going to be a concerto for saxophone and piano. Unfortunately, Tommy Banks had to withdraw from the project when he got sick and eventually passed away.
So, I was thinking about the balance between the piano and saxophone, and it’s one of the reasons there is a prominent piano part in this and the 2nd movement. I knew I wanted it to be up-tempo and virtuosic. I also wanted it to have a set of chord changes that PJ Perry would have fun improvising on the track. Finally, as I was writing, I thought a lot about the key as I knew PJ would be playing the alto saxophone.

What was the writing process like? 
This piece came quite easily. I have a very strict writing process. I get up every morning at 5 am and write until around 8. With that schedule, it takes me 4-6 months to write a concerto of this scope.

What was it like recording in Prague?
A complete dream! It was a very complicated project to put together, nine people traveling from Canada plus a 65-piece orchestra. Still, it all came together so much better than I hoped, and I’m so proud of everyone who took part.

In the Studio with ROYA

Photo by Roya Yazdanmehr

This past weekend, we visited with Roya Yazdanmehr in the studio while she and co-writer & guitarist Justin Khuong recorded overdubs for the first four songs from her upcoming album. The session was led by Producer and Professor Paul Johnston, with assistance from a number of recording students. 

We asked Roya to reflect on the session, and catch us up on what she’s been doing:

“The project has been on pause for a while so it was exciting to get back into the studio and resume working. It was my first time in the new studio (Studio A in Allard Hall), and it was a beautiful experience. I felt at ease and calm in the space — recording can feel stressful for me, feeling the pressure to get things just right, and I’m grateful for such a supportive team. I have also resumed rehearsals with my full band, in preparation for recording the remainder of the album at the end of October! It feels great to be creating again.”

Roya’s vocals possess a purity of tone that demands attention, dynamically weaving their way through her compositions. Blending the sounds of acoustic guitars, folk rhythms, and jazz infused melodies, Roya encaptures her audiences with direct but poetic encounters.

Watch out for more exciting updates on Roya’s album!

Check Out “Side of the Road” from Jemma & the Good Thing

We checked in with bandleader Jemma from Jemma & The good Thing after the release of their first single, “Side of the Road”. She told us the inspiration behind the song, and explained her songwriting process from her home on Cortes Island.

How does it feel to finally release your first single, “Side of the Road”? Has the band celebrated in any way?
It feels super exciting. It’s just nice to have that digital support, especially right now during the covid era. We also had a really nice band meeting the day of the release…we got on a couple radio stations in Edmonton and in Vancouver, which is really nice. We’re kind of aiming to have one foot in both Alberta and BC because of my musical communities and I think that we’ve sort of succeeded in that sense, so that was a celebratory band meeting.

The song really speaks for itself story-wise, but could you explain to us the inspiration for this tune?
There’s kind of a multi-pronged meaning behind the song, but the main driving inspiration was that I grew up on Cortes Island and did a lot of hitchhiking when I was younger. Recently, since I now have a car and licence, I try to do as much picking up of hitchhikers as I can. A few years ago there was this young, kind of eccentric looking duck farmer. She knocked on our window and asked us for a ride. We were on the way back from Cortes, and so we drove her across the big island on a really long kind of rambly route and we didn’t realize until about forty-five minutes in that she had two little ducks tucked under her arms. They were alive and quacking…and yeah! But the other side meanings are that I did a lot of growing up on the side of the road. And my last prong in the multi-prong meaning is that I just really like picking things up off the side of the road. I’ll ask my partner to screech our car to a halt, and be like, “Stop Dan! I need to pick up that sweater.” Or I’ll find like, dirty scarves on the side of the road and give them a new home. Haha. So it’s a personal story-song.

What was your songwriting process like for “Side of the Road”?
This one was just one of those really satisfying songs that just tumbled out of me. I usually write on my ukulele and guitar, but this one came out on a piano, which is unusual for my songwriting. I guess I had these chords and this rhythm that I was playing with…and the lyrics and the melody all came at the same time. You know, kind of slowly. I’ll have a lyric with a melody and then it just snowballs into fruition. I think I had the whole song in under two hours probably. It was just there. It was so satisfying.

What was the recording process like?
We did a big chunk of the recording in one day, for both songs, and then I think Gareth and I went back to the studio for either one or two days to either track vocals or tweak things. It gave all of us a window into how long it actually takes. We were there really early in the morning and we didn’t leave until really late at night. I know that all of us had had experience with recording students before, but we’d never been in there for fourteen hours in a row. It was really long, and all of us were so happy-tired by the end of it. It was a really great feeling. And then we went for beers. Happy-tired beers. I think for me I felt both supported and pushed in the studio, which I had never felt before. I realize that’s my favourite place to be, especially creatively.

Have you been finding new ways to engage with the music scene both in Edmonton and locally from your home in Cortes Island?
Well, my big engagement was releasing the single. My band and I are hoping we’ll be able to organize a backyard tour next summer. My bandmates were planning on coming out this summer to the island, to do a B.C. – Alberta tour. A big ‘ol road trip together. And that obviously got quashed because of Covid, so we’re hoping we can do sort of a modified version next summer.

Has music always been a large part of your life?

Yeah totally. My great grandmother was a music teacher and my grandma was a professional singer and my mom has a beautiful voice and was always singing around me. I’ve always been seeped in music and I went to alternative schools that always really supported my music. Only in the past ten years have I been actively writing and that’s become a really big part of my identity as a musician.

Kicking Things Off with Farhad Khosravi

Welcome back! This new academic year is sure to be an interesting one, and we’re excited to explore new ways to connect with students, artists, and the community. As everyone gets settled and familiar with this unique semester, we thought it would be a great time to check in with Farhad Khosravi and ask him about his new release, Mosàfer.

Farhad’s outdoor socially-distanced album release party is at the Tree Frog house this Sunday, September 20th at 1:30pm! All AHS guidelines will be in place. Please email mariannewatchel@hotmail.com for tickets and more info.

How has your socially distanced summer been going?
Not the greatest! The hardest part has been all the bad news that we hear from around the world, especially my home country Iran. 
Also, one of my busiest summers for sure. It took me a while to get used to working from home. 

What music have you been listening to recently?
I have been listening to one of my favorite Persian artists, Mohsen Namjoo, a lot recently. He is one of the most creative artists who mixes Persian music and genres from Western music such as jazz, blues, and rock. I’ve been listening to his new album, Motantan, which came out in March this year, so many times. 
I’m also always listening to the romantic and later classical music such as Beethoven’s string quartets, Chopin, Debussy, Arvo Part, Ravel, and so on. Their music is timeless and I always get inspired by their work. 

What is the meaning of Mosàfer, and why did you choose that for your album title?
Mosàfer means “Passenger” or “Traveller” in Persian and Arabic. Some of the pieces of the album are inspired by the poetries of one of my favorite Persian poets, Sohrab Sepehri. He has a famous poem called “Mosafer” which describes a traveler’s journey through the country and viewing everything with a meditative and spiritual eye. A few years ago, a dear friend of mine asked me to play music while she recited this poem for a podcast and that’s how I wrote the track “The Passenger.” Later this poem also inspired the track “Day of Creation.”
Since I really liked these two tracks and this poem, and the name of it, I chose this title for my album since it also captured the theme of someone’s journey through life, which this album is about. 

What were some of the inspirations for the songs you composed for the album?
As I mentioned above, the tracks “The Passenger” and “Day of Creation” were inspired by the poem “Mosafer” by Sohrab Sepehri. The track “Observation Verse” is inspired by one of his other poems with the same name. 
I wrote the track “Day of War: Part I” for the music of a theatre performance which was written by my friend Payam Saeedi and conducted by my other friend Maryam Zarei in 2017. This performance was about the war in Syria and how the media views the events happening in that country. The form of this piece inspired the second part of the track two years later. 

Is there an artist you would like to work with in the future?
I would really love to work with Mohsen Namjoo who I talked about above. I have a few pieces I’m working on that would like him to sing on them. 
I also would love to perform music with my mentor, Kiya Tabassian. He is a musician in every way and I just get inspired by being around him.

Checking in with Allan Gilliland

After the cancellation of his concert at the Winspear Centre, we reached out to Allan Gilliland to hear how he is faring during these uncertain times. We also asked about how he writes his music, and where he wants to take his project in the future:

How has COVID-19 affected you personally?
Many premieres and performances have been cancelled.

What is your motivation to keep writing new music?
To tell you the truth I’m feeling quite unmotivated. With a full-time job as Dean of Fine Arts, my time to write is limited and often under what I call “crushing deadlines”. Turns out I kind of need those to be motivated. When I have no deadline I’m without that drive. Someone once asked Duke Ellington what inspired him to write and he said, “a deadline, and not enough time.”

Is there a particular artist that you would want to work with? Why?
I’ve been so lucky to have worked with some of the finest soloists and ensembles in the world, that being said, I’d love to work with Yo-Yo Ma. Not only is he one of the greatest living cello players, he’s also an artist who is not afraid to cross over into any style or genre. I respect that so much and would love to write “Dreaming of the Masters V” for him.

What do you want to do in music going forward?
I want to continue to collaborate with great artists. Recording The Prague Sessions has been a career highlight and has given me the bug for more recording. I hope to raise money again to hire an orchestra and continue to record my back catalogue of orchestral music as well as new orchestra pieces.

How do you think the COVID-19 situation will impact on the music industry in the future?
The economic impact will be profound and there are so many things we will not even know until it’s well over. My hope though is it will highlight how important the arts are, particularly live performance, for society and how empty our lives have been without it.

Have you been working on music or composing during this time? In what way?
My next big project is a musical based on a book called The Englishman’s Boy. I’m very excited to be working with Vern Theisen (who is a Govern Generals Award winning playwright) and Royce Vavrek (who is a Pulitzer Prize winning lyricist) on this project.