David Leask – The Clarke Hall Sessions Review & Interview
by Makeda Taylor on May 18, 2016
David Leask’s The Clarke Hall Sessions is a testament to David’s abilities to perform live unencumbered. Live performances of this calibre prove that there are no tricks of the trade hidden in the production. In the age of auto-tune and music loops David stands out as a very gifted singer-songwriter. He has very amazing command of both his vocal and guitar instruments. The supporting players are also welcomed additions to the arrangements. David’s songwriting is exquisite. He has an ability to tell stories in a way that do not sound contrived. It was a real enjoyment to engage with this live album. I give this album 4.2 stars out of 5 rating.
You are an extremely gifted songwriter and performer. How long have you been songwriting and performing? When did you know that this was your life calling?
Thank you! I’ve been performing and writing since I was in a high school rock band where we wrote collectively. I guess that’s where I got the bug. The band went their own way after school and I began to write stuff on my own and then collaborated with another musician/songwriter to form another band. I never really stopped chasing songs. When I moved to Canada, I decided to have a crack at doing music full time. I’ve been fortunate to have had a few signals along the way that have continued to fuel the creative flame. For some crazy reason I keep going after all these years. I guess it’s a blessing and a curse but I’ve grown to believe that it’s how I’m meant to fulfill my truest nature.
What inspires you as a songwriter and performer?
As a songwriter, I get inspired when I hear a perfect song and I’m bowled over by the honesty and emotion of the storytelling. As a performer, I am moved by an artist’s authenticity which might lean me more towards artists like Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen over performers with incredible pipes.
You have created a very impressive catalog of music. What was it like to do a live off the floor recording of your newest album? How was this process different to the making of your previous albums?
Thank you. To be honest, I went into the session just expecting to capture some videos for web content but after listening to what we had recorded, I felt like we had captured something pretty cool and maybe it was a record. It probably helped us be in the moment, not overly worrying about it being perfect and I think we caught some magic in the air because of that. I think in today’s Pro Tools world, it’s less common to do a record like this without edits and fix ups but it added a sense of immediacy and I guess in some ways, it was simultaneously scary and liberating! Apart from two fabulous side players in Justin Abedin & Sean O’Connor, the other key player was the hall and its wonderful acoustics, it seemed to give us something back as we performed almost like it was singing along with us.
How much input do you have in the production of your albums? Do you ever hire a producer? If so who have you worked with?
I’ve been playing around with production from rudimentary multi-tracking by bouncing between two tape decks in my high school rock band to working with some amazing engineers in some of the most sophisticated studios in Toronto recording my albums. I love the creativity of it all and always seem to have an opinion! I’ve been fortunate to work with some great producers, engineers and musicians along the way and learned lots and I’m still learning. Working together with Justin Abedin on co-production of my last record “Underneath” was a great experience and part of that came from knowing each other a long time and being able to communicate freely and understand each other. Sam Reid produced my first record 100 Camels and I learned a lot from him as well as audio engineer Michael Banton-Jones and even my old pal Grahame Thompson from back in the days in the UK. Just like songwriting, collaborating on production can help you end up with more than just the sum of the parts”.
You have produced Country and Folk albums…What appeals to you about these genres of music?
I feel both genres have a strong history of honesty to them in the lyric and the storytelling. Contemporary country or folk perhaps less so nowadays but there are still a lot of inspiring truth tellers in both genres. The other thing I love is being able to write and translate a song in these genres organically with just voice and acoustic guitar. It’s how I grew up back in Scotland playing at singalongs in my mom and dad’s living room
Are you happy with the trajectory of your career? How can you take it to the next level?
I’m happy with the trajectory of my career because in a similar way that music is mysterious so is my pathway. It’s not predictable and I don’t mind that, even if it means taking the long road home. I try my best to take it to the next level but for me that means not going upwards but inwards to a deeper level, one where I can see clearer and feel the music I am meant to make. If I get that right then maybe more people will eventually hear about it or I’ll continue to thrive in obscurity!
Social media and email lists are an important way of communicating with an artist’s fans. Do you find this aspect of your career to be rewarding? How much of your real self do you reveal to the listening public?
To me social media and email lists are two different animals. I enjoy crafting an email newsletter to tell people what’s going on and to do it in a way that reflects who I am and where I am at during the moment I write it. I leave it a lot up to instinct (as well as the last minute) as to what I say. It’s a fine balance between letting folks know a little bit more about who you are and not being self centered. Some days perhaps I am better at it than others Social media is even more challenging because whereas my e-list have signed up for my news, something like Facebook is like you opening up conversations with a whole bunch of people from different chapters of your life to whom it may not necessarily be as relevant and it involves multiple conversation responses. I like the privacy of responses via email and feel people open up more in that medium showing more of themselves as I reveal stuff about me and my songs. So email list can be social but in a more private way.
The music industry has been experiencing some challenging times, do you ever get discouraged about the state of affairs? Do you have any advice to give to your fellow singer-songwriters?
If you read every article that comes in your email inbox you’ll be told one minute THE latest & greatest solution on how to make a living in the music business and then the next minute you’ll read an article that tells you CD & download sales are down and streaming rates are too low. It’s all gonna mess with your mind. I believe you have to un-think it, find your own way by understanding what it is you do, who you are and how you can take that to the people in a way that reflects who you are. If you follow the latest strategies but that’s just not you then you may end up changing the way you are and ultimately change the art you make which kind of defeats the purpose of what you wanted to do when you started.
Is Canada supporting the arts enough? Do you view yourself as an artist activist?
I believe Canada has a lot more funding than many other countries around the globe. I’ve been fortunate to have benefited via FACTOR, Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council. Having said that, those grants are harder and harder to get but there are also organizations like the Ontario Music Fund which has recently become a permanent fund that will help artists in this province. I believe it’s good to have the breathing space that a grant can give you to allow you to focus on your art instead of worrying how you are going to pay your next bill.
Your website is exceptional and has quite an interactive and updated feel to it. Who designed it and who maintains it?
I work closely with my wife who is my graphic guru. We use a Bandzoogle template and focus on keeping the design, layout and content clean and relevant. We’ve tried a few different song blog series’ for new album releases and unreleased tracks and I think that has helped keep the content fresh. Generally we just try and treat it like writing a good song and make stuff up as we go!
I appreciate you agreeing to participate in this interview. Any closing thoughts?
Thanks for the thoughtful questions and for all you do to help people find the music.
David Thank you…it is a passion and comes from my heart and soul.