Interview: Emerson Drive

Emerson Drive are the perfect example of how hard work leads to success. Together for over 15 years and six albums, the band has forged their career on constant touring and recording, which has led them to winning a loyal following of fans and critical acclaim not only in the major country markets in the USA, but also internationally - particularly in their native Canada and right here in Australia.

We caught up with the group's guitarist Danick Dupelle to talk about the group's latest record Roll, how Roll is the album they've always wanted to make, how they got all of Doc Walker to play on the album, and why they love Australian audiences.

CMC: Roll has been out for almost a month now – what’s the reaction from your fans been like?

DD: It’s been great. It’s been close to two and a half years without a full album from us, so it was exciting to release a brand-new, full-length, eleven song album. And the response has been really great, especially from the first single, ‘She My Kind Of Crazy,’ is doing really, really well. It’s exciting.

CMC: The first single from the album is ‘She’s My Kind Of Crazy’ - I was wondering why the song appears at number 10 on the album? That seems strangely late in the record for it to appear.

DD: It’s just the order of the songs, how it feels. You’ve got to listen to the whole project to see how things stand and feel together between the other songs.

CMC: What’s your favourite song off the record and are there any songs you were surprised by how well they turned out?

DD: Yeah, I’m a little biased – I was a co-writer on 10 out of the 11 songs and I kind of have a special place for all of them. There’s a song that’s a little darker than we’ve ever recorded before. It’s called ‘Love Hangover.’ That song just turned out to stand out a lot. I never thought it would be the song where people would come out and say, “Hey, I love this song!” I mean, for us, it was our dark kind of song on the record. Now I’m like listening to it and I’m like, “Yeah, this is a great song!” and probably one we didn’t think people were going to connect as much with. It’s our little dark, Pink Floyd-ish vibe to the record.

CMC: Doc Walker appear on the first track on the record – it’s not rare to have a single musician have a cameo on a record, but you guys got an entire band! Was that hard to coordinate? Are you guys good friends with them, both being Canadian and all?

DD: Yeah, we’ve been friends with the Doc Walker guys for a lot of years, even from when the band first started and started playing bars. Both of us didn’t have record deals at the time and we started playing the same bar circuit in Canada. We always talked about writing a song together, since 14 years ago, and finally made it happen this last year. I don’t think anyone has ever done that in Canada, two pretty popular bands writing a song together and releasing it as a single. We went into the studio and it was easy because the story of that song reflects both of us. It was a no brainer. It was a cool experience and we can’t wait to see how the song is going to go on the charts.

CMC: You worked with David Kalmusky on producing this album. What did he bring to the table in terms of influencing how the record sounded?

DD: Me and David Kalmusky go way back. I’ve known David for 20-something years. We have the same birthday! David moved down to Nashville and he stayed at my place for a long time and we always talked about doing a record together and finally I think it just came about . He hooked up with Jonathan Cain from Journey, the keyboard player. He built a studio with him (Jonathan Cain wrote ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ and ‘Faithfully’ and was a big part of Journey). So they built this big studio in Nashville and we were the first band to record in that studio. David is just such a talented guy. It was just the perfect timing for him to do this record and us working with him. He had a lot of good influence and good vibe in that studio so it was really cool.

CMC: You’re six albums deep now as Emerson Drive – how did the recording process go for this album as opposed to previous albums. Was it a smooth process, did you find it difficult at all?

DD: No, you know what, for the first time I can say that this is the record I wanted to do. We did it the right way. We co-wrote 10 of the 11 songs. And me having a studio just down the road from David’s place, I started recording all the pre-production and we really took our time. It was a nine month process – writing, going to the studio, working on parts with Mike our drummer, putting a song together, getting a vibe of where it could go, and trying stuff like, “That doesn’t work! Delete, delete!” and try again and come up with the right arrangements.

Before, the earlier process, it would be get together a week before going into the studio and talk about it and listen to some songs and pick] the songs and go to a rehearsal place and work up the song really quick and go into the studio and cut them. We didn’t get the time to really live with the songs.

So for this process, living near the studios, working the songs, getting Brett to come and sing, “Oh it’s not the right key,” “Okay, well let’s change the key. Let’s try something else. A different guitar part. A different feel.” We had that for five months before we went into the studio. So when we went into the studio we had a good idea and we could put David Kalmusky’s ideas on the table and it was my favourite record to do.

CMC: You guys took a couple of years between recordings before you headed into the studio to record Roll. What do you think that gap meant for the song writing and the band’s collective focus when you went back into the studio to record Roll?

DD: Yeah, like I said we were doing a lot of pre-production and so by the time we got into the studio, other ideas would come along. There was one song that we were mixing on this record and - we never sat down as a band, on the floor, with some drinks and having fun and drinking and talking and trying some stuff. And so we decided to do that one night. We needed to get that fun, rocky, swampy, country song. We didn’t care if it’s going to be a single or not – we just like having fun. So we sat down there one night and wrote ‘Show Us What You Got.’ So that was a fun song to record. It was very raw and we just had a blast doing it. It was a different process to other songs on the record.

CMC: You guys were a surprise highlight for Australian fans when you played at CMC Rocks a couple of years ago. When can we hope to see you guys in Australia again?

DD: Well I hope it’s soon. That concert [CMCRocks 2011] was our first trip to Australia and we didn’t know what to expect. “Would the fans know Emerson Drive?” or “Will people know who we are?” and “How many singles do we have down there?” And when we went on stage I could not believe the reaction. I said to a lot of people, “You guys love music, more than anywhere else before.” You guys pay attention to lyrics. People were singing songs that weren’t singles - and that was at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. You know for us, if there’s a festival at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, it’s all empty chairs because people are just waiting for the headliners to get on stage at night. It was just so much fun and I really loved it.

Words: Nathan Wood

Emerson Drive's latest album Roll is out now through Universal and ABC Music.

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