Some might say it’s madness to flip the script when you have a good thing going. With five albums already under their belt, thousands of fans across the world and a Western Canadian Music Award for roots recording of the year for their 2012 album, Let It Go, the latter could definitely be said for Canadian duo Jon & Roy. But when the guys decided it was time to make some changes as they hit the studio to begin recording their recently released album Riverside, with Roy Vizer trading his typical hand drums for a full kit and Jon Middleton going (partly) electric, swapping out his acoustic guitar for a vintage 1947 Gibson L4 hollow body, it paid off.
After all, for a pair of friends that have been working together for over a decade, change is natural, and it didn’t hinder the creativity. “Our process has definitely evolved over the years,” Jon told me, “but it’s still essentially the same… Riverside came together pretty quickly really.” He also told me about how their collaboration has developed, “In the early days, I would bring ideas or songs to Roy and we would jam them until we were happy with them. Same goes for today, except now we spend a lot more time on the jamming part, figuring out feel and arrangement, and making the songs more suitable for live performance. We found a lot in the beginning that we would record a song and then realize it didn’t translate live.”
Live performance is important to Jon and Roy, who spend a good amount of time touring, and have attracted a growing fan base, eager to hear their laid back brand of roots heavy folk. And that’s ok, because ‘relaxing’ is certainly not an insult to the duo. “A lot of our fans tell us that our music helps them relax and de-stress,” they told me, “we dig that.”
Perhaps then, it would come as a surprise to know that when the guys hit the road, they have hip-hop on heavy rotation, “from Gza, to Cannibal Ox, to People Under the Stairs.” But most of their musical inspiration isn’t too surprising, though it is, as they confess, “all over the map.” “Three big influences,” they share, “are Bob Dylan, Toots and the Maytals, and the Grateful Dead. [We] love 90’s hip-hop as well, early, early blues and many world music sounds: Zimbabwean, Cuban, Ethiopian, Brazilian, Andean and Spanish.”
“Riverside,” the titular single from their latest release, is a blissful summer breeze in the depths of winter. The track sticks to their folk influences, keeping a steady, ambling pace, a perfect fit for the vintage footage of a young boy wandering in the countryside under clear blue skies.
I asked the guys to tell me a little bit about the video, and where the footage came from. Roy explained, “Since Youtube has become the way that a lot of people access music, we figured that it would be nice to have some footage to accompany the music. My brother-in-law, Howard Nirenberg, who is a video editor, came across a site called the Prelinger Archives, and he started sifting through the footage looking for images that would suit the songs from Riverside. There are literally years worth of footage to look through, but he managed to find some really cool nature footage for our video “Ripples” and some totally classic family home video-type stuff for the video “Come Again.” We loved what Howard did, and decided to see what Gordon Hunter could do. Gordon found a video called “Journey through a Day” from 1967, and it really seemed to capture the spirit of the song. That running scene at the end is my favorite, and reminds me of some classic movie scenes from the 80’s. I’m not sure the name of the boy though… he looks like a Billy to me.”
So the video is retro, but is the album? Not really, Roy tells me, “but it has some retro elements: Jon’s guitar is an old Gibson hollow-body from the 40’s, [Vancouver’s] Greenhouse studios has a tone of history, we recorded each part live the way they used to record long ago,” Not to mention, Roy couldn’t resist, “our manager hails from the era of the footage…”
The duo, who will go on tour in the U.S. this spring, say the inspiration is always coming, and the creation process never stops. We may see a new record from Jon & Roy in 2017, but for now, check out the video for “Riverside,” and pick up a copy of their new album here.