My Dear Little Angle: In studio with the smalls in Burnaby B.C.
By John Stiles
All video captures courtesy of Ian Harvey
The following is an account of time I spent in studio with the smalls during their My Dear Little Angle recording sessions in November of 1998 at Greenhouse Studios in Burnaby, B.C. This is for smalls fans who would like more background on the My Dear Little Angle recording sessions and is for those who are interested in or have not yet seen 'the smalls...er whatever' documentary on Much Music or at the Local Heroes Film Festival in Edmonton. To meet fan requests the original 90 min rough cut is now available. Get it here.
THE SMALLS GUEST STAR IN LITERARY WORK?
LIBRARY AND RADIO SPOT NEWS
Do the smalls make a guest appearance as the hard rocking death metal band, the ills in The Insolent Boy? The novel, published by Insomniac Press, has received good reviews in the Globe and Mail in Canada and Publishers Weekly in the U.S. and The Edmonton Journal and is available in book stores as well as libraries across Canada, including public libraries in Calgary and Edmonton and local libraries in Seattle, LA, Boston and Salt Lake City in the U.S. Get yourself a copy and read the tragi/comic tale about the ills -- Clark, Mr. Sunglasses, Jeff Rook and Jesse. Hear Mike Caldwell quote the 'Clark Lied' chapter from The Insolent Boy during a radio spot for 'the smalls' Goodbye Forever Tour in 2001.
IN STUDIO WITH THE SMALLS IN BURNABY
DIARY ENTRIES: BACKGROUNDER
The My Dear Little Angle recording sessions produced some classics in 'the smalls' oeuvre including Alvarez, My Saddlehorse has Died, Pin, Legba's Cux, My Dear Little Angle and of course the cover Natural Woman, which fully showcases Mike Caldwell's range and vocal pitch. An odd and diverse record with the trademark smalls crunching and jarring guitar sounds the album also shows a sophisticated and powerful emotive side in songs such as Alvarez, What I Need to Carry On and the beautiful and soaring, My Saddle Horse Has Died. I will say that the Alvarez that appears on the album is nowhere as moody and hypnotic the acapella stuff that Mike was doing in studio but I believe that the smalls hired Glenn Robinson because of his 'Metal touch' and professional work with some heavier bands such as VoiVod and bigger stars such as Tori Amos and The Tea Party. In the end, the album is equal parts country, metal and soul and I feel lucky to have been allowed to stand there in the studio with the guys with headphones on watching it all happening.
I love the band and am sad that they are finished and so it has always been my intention to try and document their time in some way and I have tried to do it with a video camera and a novel. To say that the smalls never got their due is not really correct. Bands from Bloody Worm, Duke of Medulla, Punchdrunk, the Corb Lund Band and Nickelback all owe something to 'the smalls'. And their CD`s, all four, The Smalls, To Each a Zone, Waste and Tragedy and the magnificent My Dear Little Angle are available in stores across Canada. So buy them for your kids and tell them about the smalls. As Mike has often said, "there are a bunch of so and so's." But there is only one smalls.
DIARY ENTRIES: GREENHOUSE STUDIOS, BURNABY B.C.
November, 10th 1998
I'm at Greenhouse Studios now with the smalls set to record their fourth album. Glenn Robinson is the producer and he looks like a cross between Steve Jobs and Peter Fonda sitting behind the panel board as the smalls go over music. I'm a little wary of him because he watches me set-up the camera and seems to be a little skeptical of my role in the whole thing, which at times I am skeptical of myself since I have over forty hours of raw footage collecting dust on the shelves of my bed room back in Toronto.
Terry is saying that they want to do an age-enhancement photo to project how the band looks in thirty years as the album cover. Corby shows me a picture he drew of Terry, losing all of his hair with a small tuft on top, bald patch behind, super high widows peaks, everyone got a kick out of it. Glenn talks through the mic in the control panel room and tells Terry to hit the drums harder and Mike, the smalls lead singer is watching it all from the side, shuffling past in a K-WAY style jacket and wearing a moustache which he has shaved one side off. It looks weird and Mike is weird, talented but weird and I try to ignore him and so I look for Corb, who has vanished, I note. Dug is reading quietly to the side and I can never tell if he is happy to see me or not.
There is the feeling that the video I am shooting might not produce footage that will be good enough for television and that the smalls first single will have to be shot on film because the grainy look of my Hi 8 camera isn't good enough. Corby didn't really seem be interested when I say that the intimate and grainy 'road' footage will be a good way to promote the band and so after that we have a minor argument about how of course it is in my interest to promote the 'road' part of the film but the new album is about the music not the road. Corby, with his hat and bushy beard looks like a Vietnam War correspondent - his words - and we sit in a Sikh Temple eating vegetarian food and I tell Corby that he looks like a cross between Charlie Manson and Lemme from Motorhead but acts like an old Danish Prude.
Terry is sitting at the t.v. and playing video games and talking of Mel coming home and takin his booze and pouring it out on him so he had to hide some of it. Glenn is looking bored and sitting on the couch and Glenn talks of 'taking a break bro' and all of us wait for Mike to show up and while we wait, I think of song titles and how I want to interview Mike and how I think its alright, the fact that he went to the Hotel Patricia to finish up the songs but when he came back he gave them to Corby and they weren't finished and it was Corby's responsibility to finish up the rest of the songs. Now I gather that Mike is here and so I hope they can get right to the business of recording again.
I tried writing some poetry but then Mike came upstairs and gave me his lyrics for the album's title song, 'My Dear Little Angle' and it was fitting because Corb told me a story about about how he and Mike found a torn condolence card in an alleyway of East Hastings and the writing inside was grade-five level, all loose handwriting with misspellings and there was a stream of apologies and at the bottom of the card it said, "I'm so sorry my dear little angle". I read Mike's lyrics and they are lush and soulful with biblical and sensual references. He asked me to help with a passage and so we tried 'tribune in flames', 'triumphant in flames', but Mike soon got bored and wandered back downstairs again, mumbling. He got back to lyric writing in the studio with Glenn, who earlier told me and Corby, who were wrestling near the pool table, to 'shut the fuck up' while he was recording. Glenn totally freaked Corby out because Glenn`s 'like '6'7, bro' and he towered over both of us who are both 6'3, easy.
Today I got a call about the camera, about Fed-Ex ing the camera back because the guy I borrowed the camera from back in Toronto needs it. I knew this would happen and that I would get the call halfway through interviews with Dug and Corby.
I'm allowed to use the studio microphone for the final interview with Mike. Glenn tells me that the mic is a twenty-thousand dollar microphone from Little Mountain Studios that was used by James Hettfield from Metallica to record Enter Sandman so I'm not so worried about the sound quality but I am worried about interviewing Mike because he's moody and right now he's coming into the studio with his head down.
We start tentatively, talk of Corby`s side project, the Corb Lund Band, then about a riot episode in a Paris suburb and a high drama band argument which I caught on film and then I ask Mike if he thought that the band would have broken up at that tense instant. He seems bored and looks down and away, says mainly 'yes' and 'no' answers till finally I ask him why he thinks the smalls are a good band. And then for the first time since I interviewed him outside of the van in Lethbridge in 1996, Mike pauses and he talks about being able to 'hear' or 'imagine' where he wants to go with his voice and in that knowledge there is a certainty and confidence which he feels when he plays with the other members of the band. Then he says, almost defiantly, 'Its not such a bad thing to have a talent and use it and be recognized for it... er whatever.' I know then with 'the whatever' that I finally have a title for my film and the understated but low key and likeable style of the band is captured in that 'whatever' and so I know I am going to call the documentary, 'the smalls...er whatever' and that I have the final closing interview with the band member that I have been looking for.
Get The Insolent Boy here
Get the smalls...er whatever here
Get Scouts are Cancelled here