With a long history entrenched in the Canadian music scene, the new album, Cover Yer Ears, is Fraser Wayne’s first deep dive into country, an eight-track compilation of sometimes sad but always genuine allegories.
Wayne’s broad musical journey kicked off when he moved to Montreal in 2014, where he fronted the garage rock band The Fuzzy Undertones for two albums, an EP, and a 7” single. Since breaking off to explore his songwriting in the flexible status as a solo artist, he has dabbled in genres ranging from punk and psychedelia, to Americana and spaghetti western.
Cover Yer Ears hones in on its country feel by maintaining a largely acoustic sound filled with plucky guitar melodies and victoriously wailing harmonicas. His goal to “focus on honest songwriting and imaginative storytelling,” one he set when breaking off from the rest of the band, is met through both serious and metaphorical stories within the songs.
“When Fish Were Men” toes this line, offering a reflective, gloomy narrative but told through fish characters, amounting to one continuous analogy with underlying messages of the importance of good work ethic, respecting your family, and keeping up with the status quo. Fraser has explained that this song is based on a traditional Gwich’in story. The Gwich’in are an Athabaskan-speaking First Nations people who live in the northwestern part of North America. He says he is “very inspired by Indigenous storytelling and folk-lore,” and he also has another song from a previous album, titled “Gone With The Wendigo” which tells a creepy tale of another Native folk-legend.
A more directly personal outlook on Fraser’s storytelling is seen on “This House Is Crumbling,” which follows the dissolution of a broken home spun between silvery notes of a banjo. Even on the songs that sound more energetic, darker themes lurk in the shadows. “You Think You’re So Good” is upbeat at first listen, but is about the struggles of mental illness and the external stigmas around such conditions. Title track “Cover Yer Ears” is not much happier, as he sings against an electric guitar’s looping riffs and an unrushed, easygoing drum beat, “my choices have been clouded by all of yer fears / I’ve been running from the pain I’ve been crying yer tears.”
The album is naturally being released under his own label, Fishbum Records, which has the charming motto of “life is a strange kettle of fish, but rock n’ roll will save your soggy soul.” Supporting over a dozen artists ranging from across Canada down to Austin, Texas, Fishbum Records has been Wayne’s other way of making an impact in the music scene both local and abroad. The label also puts on a podcast, Two Fish in a Pod(cast), which is nine episodes in so far.
Wayne sat down with us to tell us more about his musical history, the stories behind Cover Yer Ears, his life as a songwriter, and more.
So where did you grow up, and who or what got you into writing and playing music?
I grew up in Snow Valley, Ontario, which is part of the township of Springwater – about an hour north of Toronto, in the countryside just outside of Barrie. I got into making hip-hop beats as a teenager and used to work with a few rappers in the Toronto area. I’m a huge hip-hop nerd, and I love the art form, but I never found my place in that scene because I wanted to make music like Bob Dylan and Neil Young. I wanted to play with a band. Those were my big influences when I started playing guitar in my late teens – The Byrds, The Grateful Dead, The Beatles, Buffalo Springfield. All that folk-rock and country influenced rock n roll from the 60’s/70’s had a big impact on me growing up.
I put out a couple of records under different monikers before I started The Fuzzy Undertones when I moved to Montreal, which ended up having like 40 different band members over the course of 6 years. This was largely an outlet for me to experiment with different styles, but it evolved into more of a garage band that toured our asses off with a quickly rotating cast of musicians.
Considering you’ve dabbled in a number of styles and genres, how might you describe your current sound and direction to those wondering what Fraser Wayne is all about?
The sound definitely varies from album to album… I guess the most common theme would be the western influence. It bleeds into almost everything I do. I grew up in the countryside and I’m obsessed with western films and cowboy stories, so I guess it makes sense, haha. That being said, I don’t like to be held down by any certain genre, and my music is generally all over the place – folk rock to punk, garage rock to spaghetti western, country ballads, rock n roll. All that great American music! The stuff I’m currently working on definitely has more of a country/folk-rock feel to it. But I also have an electronic project called Max Overdraft, which is more on this goth kinda vibe. I just like to make whatever I’m feeling at the time. It’s like documenting your life and capturing all these different experiences and emotions that you go through. I used to play guitar/bass with Paul Jacobs, LEMONGRAB, and Light Bulb Alley over the years, and I currently play drums with Lovers Suicide.
What does a day in the life of your songwriting process look like?
My songwriting is totally sporadic and has no real discipline to it. I either have it or I don’t, and I can’t force myself to write. It’s almost like I’m a conduit for some other energy that takes over when I write songs. So I know it when I have “it” and I understand when it’s not the right time for me. I usually binge-write, and I’ve noticed it almost always comes after a time of grief or turmoil, or after a major event or change in my life. I’ll end up writing enough songs for a full LP in 1-2 days. There’s no real process. I just gotta let it happen. I like to write under a full moon, if the opportunity presents itself. I find I can get really deep into my spiritual and emotional self at that time of month, and the songs usually write themselves.
How would you describe your lifestyle as a musician?
In the past year, my lifestyle has consisted of a daily battle with depression and Borderline Personality Disorder hahaha… On a lighter note, the pandemic has given me a lot of extra time to pursue other forms of art like painting, drawing, graphic design, video projects, etc. That is the silver lining for me – having that extra time to care for my mental health and try new things musically and artistically.
I’ve been pretty holed up in my apartment, and I enjoy spending time alone or hanging with my partner. Here in Montreal, we have had a curfew enforced for the past six months… It’s been weird, but I record all of my music at home, so I’ve been trying to stay busy with new ideas and sounds. Pre-pandemic, I was touring a lot with The Fuzzy Undertones, playing a lot of shows and festivals. It was kind of overwhelming, but I’ve had many-a-good-time and played with so many great musicians over the years. It’s a hectic life, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Can’t wait to start playing shows again. That’s been a huge hole in my life.
So I was hoping you could talk about your new album, Cover Yer Ears. What’s the inspiration and influence behind it? Any overarching themes or motifs?
Earlier this year, I realized I had about 20-30 new (and old) songs that I hadn’t released or done anything with yet – so I recorded everything live at home on an acoustic guitar and made some decisions about how to split up the songs into different albums. I was originally going to release this part of the collection as a more solemn acoustic / folk record, but as I started the recording process (in my home studio), the songs began to take on a life of their own and I wanted to record drums and percussion and make the songs more fun, even though the subject matter is rather dark at times.
Some of the songs I left pretty raw and only added banjo and percussion, but others started to breathe a new life when I started adding bass, electric guitar, lap-steel, drums, etc. Most of the songs aren’t actually “new” but I feel like this collection of songs contains a lot of emotions centering around the struggle with mental illness, difficult relationship dynamics, and the want to be a better person. Songs of love, loss, redemption, and healing.
What was the most challenging part of writing and/or recording the album? (aside from the obvious Covid issues)
To be honest, the biggest challenge for me has been dealing with my mental health issues and trying to stay focused. I am diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, which can make it extremely difficult for me to manage my emotions in a healthy manner, and during the pandemic it has been hard for me to stay on top of my different projects. I’ve been going to therapy for two years now, but it’s still a struggle, and Covid has definitely made everything worse.
Trying to schedule the drum recordings proved to be a little challenging due to the curfew and social restrictions, but I managed to pull it off! I ended up having to stay at the studio overnight (illegally shh) to finish tracking the drums. But ya gotta do what ya gotta do, haha. It was a really fun process nonetheless, but I definitely suffered some mental health setbacks that threw off my original timeline.
Where was it recorded and who helped bring the concept to life?
I recorded most of the album alone in my little home studio. But this time around, I was really fortunate to have the help of Nick Bland for recording the drums! He is a studio wizard and had some really unique and creative ideas for getting good drum tones. So he engineered the drums at his recording studio (Archive Analog) for all the songs that I play a full drum kit on (“Cover Yer Ears”, “Ballad Of Satan’s Candle”, “Lady Of The Wind”, and “Hard Times”), with some help from myself and our other band mate Jonathan Desroches. My partner, Aly Rain, laid the final pieces to the puzzle with their backing vocals on almost all of the songs. Everything else was recorded, performed, and mixed by me at home. Pat Lefler (ROY, Possum, Vypers) mastered everything to tape at his studio in Toronto. He is a Canadian rock n roll hero.
How do you know when you have a quality song ready to be cut and distributed?
I don’t really think much about the quality. I just like to make whatever I’m feeling at the time, and if people like it, then sweet! It means a lot when people reach out and tell me their interpretation of a song, or how they relate to it, how it makes them feel, etc. But I’m not a perfectionist and I don’t like to think too much about how other people will receive my music. I just have to keep creating.
What are your plans post-album release? Any shows or light touring lined up?
Here in Canada, a lot of places are still locked down. Our curfew was only recently lifted here in Montreal, so there isn’t much live music going on, and I’m not really looking to force anything. We still have a lot of travel restrictions too, so it’s a bit of a bummer for now.
There is the possibility of playing some festivals this autumn, which would be amazing, but I’m trying to not get my hopes up, haha. For now, I’m just working on finishing up the next solo record, and then I’m making plans to record our first full-band album with my backing group – The Black Petunias – at my buddy’s farm on Wolfe Island. I’m hoping to release the band album sometime next year, with my bigger sights being set on touring the US and Europe.