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How the song The Hunter came to life!

How the song The Hunter came to life!

I hope you are doing great, my dear friend! I can’t believe we are already mid-November... Time went by so fast, even if it feels like we were all in a long and never-ending year sometimes, but here we are, Christmas songs playing over the radio, and news of a potential COVID-19 vaccine is offering a little bit of hope... Resolution is not for tomorrow, but any tiny piece of hope feels good nonetheless.

As I like to believe that good news never comes alone, I’m really happy to share a little more about the song “The Hunter” with you, as this is the third vinyl of the five vinyls collection that's about to be drawn in the coming days.

Sharing about The Hunter is quite a challenge for me. I have so much to say and share about this song, as it is one of the cornerstones of Alex’s album “Windows in the Sky”, at least in my opinion. This 14-minute song on the album, which often means 30 minutes live, has been part of almost every concert we played since the very first one we did at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, and I’m always joyfully delighted to notice people’s eyes as Ben, the guitar player in The Long Shadows, leaves his usual place on stage to get on the second drums set beside Moose. That part of the concert is one of my favorites, especially as its musical form is pretty different every night and we never actually know when Alex will signal us that it’s time to transition to that part of the song.

I have the chance to be on the side of the stage which allows me to have a clear view of every musician and Alex, who always dives into that song as if it was the last one he’d ever sing. It pretty much always ends up in pure improvisation, as we all look to Alex guiding us through that eclectic jamming session where the connection with you all in the crowd reaches new heights of letting go and raw emotions… It's a moment where we all truly feel alive, to the point where we now need to have a second Moog available in case Alex, as it happened in London, would be so intense that the Moog won't take any of his pounding strokes no more… Epic!

We also had the great privilege to film an amazing David Lynch-inspired 14-minute video with our amazing friend and video director Jessie Nottola, who came to Quebec to produce the short movie in the Canadian snow. That was nothing short of an incredible experience!

We even had the real pleasure of inviting friends to The Hunter short-movie premiere event we held in Paris on March 13, where Jessie and Alex shared about the song and the video to an intimate packed house of 100 people… That moment was right on the edge of COVID-19 and the new reality, and we barely made it back to Montreal. The day after that joyfully vibrant event, we had to rush home before all the flights got canceled. After being part of the WOW airline bankruptcy fiasco when we got stuck in Iceland at the end of the Lavender Sky music video production, trust me, we didn’t want to stay grounded another time…!

We did our very first pandemic live broadcast performing The Hunter on March 22, around the release of what was our second EP following Summertime Departures, leading to Alex’s album release on May 1st. Only writing it all down feels unreal to me… It's as if we had lived too many emotional sensations to even believe it was only yesterday that everything happened… so where should I start?! From the beginning, I guess…

THE HUNTER
(BY THE SEASIDE WINDOW) 

Alright, so let me bring you back to the spring of 2018, when we were all at Alex’s house in Virginia, just coming back from a week vacation at Alex’s place in Tangier to talk things through - which ultimately became a six-month trip during which we would also have the wonderful opportunity to share recording sessions together, the first times in about 2 years we would be in the same room together, let alone playing music… So that previous communal period in Morocco became a foundation for what we believed could become special going forward. And it was about to be.

So we were all seated in the studio we had just finished setting up, getting ready for what was to become the first final step leading to “Windows in the Sky”. Alex was looking for something more instinctive, with a more human feel than the usual technically-driven way we crafted pretty much every album from Your Favorite Enemies, and it was a challenge for us on many levels. First, it was clear that we couldn’t rely on our past studio experiences, not even on our musicianship, as Alex made it clear from the very beginning that we had to unlearn what we used to rely on, and that he was looking for something real and honest, not some sterile performances. It was obvious for everyone involved at that precise moment that the Alex we knew before he left for Tangier had nothing to do with the Alex standing in the room with us. Well, he still had the same crazy level of passion and a very focused enthusiasm towards breaking cycles and going beyond the invisible, but there was a new peace within him that we had never felt before… and that could be scary!

Now that you know Alex a little more and his unique characteristic of all-or-nothing and nothing-is-ever-over-until-potentially-over, we knew the only thing to expect was the unexpected… and even then...! But since we had experienced something very intense and special all together in Tanger, we knew that whatever may come our way, it would be pure and priceless in the end. It was about preparing ourselves for “it” rather than trying to find what could potentially “fit”, even brilliantly. That was a completely different mindset for us and it wasn’t easy for everyone to find their place in that new environment of “instinct” and musical improvisation conducted through signs given at any moment. But we were all willing to dive in rather than comply. That open and welcoming attitude made the whole difference.

Working on another song with Ben, Alex had found the recording of a super long jam of over 30 minutes around a hypnotic bass riff we had previously played during one of our let go musical moment, weeks prior, at our church studio. There wasn’t any name associated with it. It was live and we could hear Alex call section changes and conduct the band, until he just said: “OK, let’s move on, I can already hear the melodic patterns coming back and our musicianship ambitions trying to force themselves on the song. It makes it boring, safe and it sounds like the name of a prog band we all know he doesn’t like…! So we moved on, until Alex found the recording weeks later and deleted the last part of the song he didn’t like. He deleted it to make sure no safe temptation would come back, I guess!

So it was the very first time we were listening to it. It was obvious that we had also changed in Tangier… It sounded pretty different from anything we would ever do before. I was seriously hoping Alex would give it a try, as it was for me the musical evidence of how significantly creative we could be when the 6 of us are alined together, when we simply are ourselves and enjoy the moment, not trying to act as if our ideas were better than others' or pretending that we are all on the same page when we all have our own “creative” agenda. But most of all, it was fun, and the song was very very good. We all knew it was “it”. So everyone was VERY happy to hear Alex’s voice, in the back of the room...

“I might have an idea. I wrote a poem recently about longing for freedom while being haunted by our past… It’s called The Hunter (By The Seaside Window)…"

And just like that, I knew that song would come alive.

Alex would track his vocal on “Hunter” on another occasion, and I had the amazing privilege to be at his home when he did it. There was Alex, his mother, Stephanie who was there to take some photos, Momoka who tagged along in order to set the upcoming listening sessions of the album in Tokyo, Ben who was engineering the whole recording process, and me. Oh, and Alex’s dogs Leonard and MacKaye. It was relaxed, even though I was a little worried about the schedule. The album wasn’t even completed and we had listening parties in 3 weeks… Welcome to my world...!

The whole recording process for “Windows in The Sky” had been very simple but in an incredibly complicated way! It would have been so easier to record Alex’s vocal at our professional church studio, but he wanted to do it in Virginia, with the less possible gear possible. Alex didn’t want gear and technicals to get in the way of the emotions and he wasn’t looking to create some corporate and safe and generic music. So the way he used to make sure of it was to technically make it impossible. That’s why I believe that Ben did a tremendous job, not only in terms of being able to capture Alex’s sonic vision for his album but also by making sure he supported his uncompromising approach towards it. In retrospect, they both achieved it beyond measure.

So here they were, Ben and Alex standing in the smallest room of his house, with a minimal - if not ridiculously rudimental - amount of gear, getting ready to do what’s the most critical element of any recording; the vocals. All that with Alex's 2 dogs, Leonard and MacKaye, sleeping at his feet… it was a little surreal to say the last, but Ben didn’t seem too worried about it and Alex was totally at peace with it all when he appeared with his lyric sheets informing everyone he was ready to go. I was out of the room 2 minutes after and Alex started doing his thing. Less than an hour after, I saw Ben in the kitchen, having a glass of water...

Me: “Are you good with the soundcheck and everything?”

Ben: “Yes, it’s done.”

Me: “Great! What time are you guys getting back to it?”

Ben: “It’s done, Alex is collecting his things. I just wanted to take some notes…”

Me: “Done? You mean that he already recorded the song?”

Ben: “Yes, he just let go from top to bottom… And that was it.”

Me: “But I heard the dogs bark at some point...”

Ben: “Ah, yeah. Alex was a bit more intense and MacKaye probably thought he wasn’t well, so he jumped on him. And since Alex kept going, he then jumped on me. And since I look at the computer screen, I didn’t see him coming. So he also barked to make sure to get my attention. I’ll fix it later. It’s no big deal, you can even hear me say “AYE AYE” in stupor when MacKaye jumped on me..."

Me: “Wait… MacKaye, jumped on Alex. Barked. Jumped on you. And Alex kept going? What does that even mean?”

Ben: “Alex was in his zone, so it didn’t matter to him. His mother also opened the door after she heard MacKaye to make sure everything was alright!”

Me: “Wow… ok…”

Ben: “Don’t worry bro, it was amazing. Relax a little. I need to record Momoka now, Alex had an idea while recording his vocals… I'll see you later!”

Me: “He had an idea while recording… Ok…”

Then I saw Alex talking to Momoka with what appeared to be some notes on pieces of paper…

I later saw Alex take some more notes while talking with Momoka regarding another song in which he wanted to integrate some of her voice, but as some backward fragments to lay down in the background in some noise effects that would give the impression of sounds artifacts to go along a more mellow, emotional, and saturated sensation to the whole song…

I must have been very tired, because everything felt beautifully strange to me all day long that day!

I saw Alex the next morning, with some more sheets of paper, and he explained to Ben, Stephanie, and me a little more about the meaning of the song:

“Living alone in the mountains for a few weeks now offered me a different perspective on the cycle of life, its appreciation, and its needs for respect. I had to learn what it meant for real hunters to honor the spirit of their prey and was able to imagine the relationship established and maintained with their environment, the soul of the animals feeding and covering their own. There’s nothing noble in taking a life, but “forgiveness is a gift much like love carries you away”, and this song could be a real hymn, even a eulogy, toward the greatest gift there is to offer; forgiveness. As we are both prey and hunter, we need to let go, as much as we have to keep pressing on.”

Everything started to make a little more sense to me at that point, but the whole picture had yet to be revealed… Alex’s way!

OFFICIAL VIDEO

I will share more about The Hunter following Alex’s live vinyl lottery broadcast on Facebook, since there’s a lot more to be shared about this moment that gave birth to the song! 

IMPORTANT: The Hunter LP will be available next Tuesday, November 17, starting at 10am ET for 48 hours! 

In the meantime, I’m inviting you to download the entire EP if you haven’t already done it! 

Thanks for being part of this incredible journey with us! 

Your Host and Friend,
Jeff

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