They say that life is something that happens while you’re busy making other plans and, when it comes to Calgary’s cello-embellished pop-purveyors, Axis of Conversation, the old adage definitely holds true. The past three years have been demanding ones for lead vocalist/guitarist Chris dela Torre who, along with bandmates bassist/vocalist Eric Estor, keyboardist/glockenspieler Gerald Dacanay, violinist/keyboardist Shelly Groves, percussionist Matthew Doherty and cellist Cheryl Bergen, has been burning the candle at both ends.
“The actual recording took two-and-a-half years to complete from first day in studio, if you count songwriting it’s even longer than that,” dela Torre relates. “Since before the band started, I’ve wanted to do an album where we had gift of time, to be able to enter into the process with no real deadline and no real parameters. It ended up being too much of that. By time the third anniversary of start the project rolled around, I thought, ‘This is ridiculous!’ but it was also a case where we just had to make it that kind of record. As a group, we have six children between us now, so working at that pace was less of a luxury and more of necessity.”
Pulling together the many-stringed, Axis of Conversation made the decision to move forward with the production of their latest offering, The House of Stay Together, despite the challenge of balancing creative endeavours with meddlesome day-jobs and domestic distractions. What began as an exercise in exploring the themes of teenage love and tempestuous relationships became a 10-track tribute to the band’s own internal struggle to overcome the mundane and craft something of lasting portent.
“We had been working with our engineer, Cody Coates, for quite a while and loved working him with him – he’s like family, but due to everyone’s schedule the task of putting an album together with him was difficult. We had been stuck for a while when we called up local engineer/producer/musician Arran Fisher (Ship Shape, The Summerlad) in the spring of 2012. We thought he’d be a good choice, because he’s done so much work with Woodpigeon, which requires a lot of recording of strings. Even though he and Cody have a totally different style, I think it was a really great working relationship. I spent a long time finalizing the mixes with our friend Reuben Ghose, who produced our first full-length, Delusions of Safety, six years ago. Reuben and I both knew that success of this new album, in terms of it being a step forward for the band, was in the mix.”
From the deft backmasking on the opening track, “We Make Dew,” to the symphonic spree of “Prince’s Island,” The House of Stay Together is a brilliant coming-of-age album for the subtly sophisticated Axis of Conversation. Lyrically mature yet consummately dance-able, the album that took so long to make allows each situation to build and flourish in its own fashion. Fear and acknowledgement dominate the emotive storyline as dela Torre and company come full-circle and hold a mirror up to their collective mortality.
“I think we were subconsciously approaching this album like it was our last,” confesses dela Torre. “Essentially, it’s a document of the six of us working things out in the basement. I’d describe our current sound as one of confidence, especially compared to our first full-length album. We’re no longer that experimental band that was in the midst of the feeling-out process. We’ve gained a lot personal maturity as people and it’s inevitable that those age-related changes will factor into our music. If this was our last album I’d be okay with that because I think we did a really good job.”
Axis of Conversation will release The House of Stay Together at the Palomino on September 13 and at an afternoon, all ages show at the Cliff Bungalow Community Association on September 14.
By Christine Leonard
Photos: Damian Espinosa