Last November, in a remote cabin on a lake in Ontario, an album was made. That album has now been released and has a very appropriate name: A Stranger Time. The artist behind this album is my good friend Alexz Johnson, who I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with many times now.

Alexz and I have never actually lived in the same city, which is extremely hard to believe for me since we’ve spent more time together the past 3 years than most friends who do live in the same city. And that’s because she does things like fly me to Toronto to spend 2 weeks following her around with a camera. If you’ve never hired someone to follow you around with a camera for 2 weeks, you should try it. It’s fun. I’m available.

This whole Ontario lake cabin album business happened because a producer named Mark Howard (Bob Dylan, U2, Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell, etc.) reached out to Alexz to produce her next album. Mark records in what is now sadly considered an unconventional, even antiquated way: live off the floor. Meaning the song is arranged and then rehearsed by everyone together a few times, then recorded in 1-2 takes. With everyone playing at once. If you didn’t know, that’s not how albums are made anymore. Usually vocals and all instruments are recorded separately, some (or all in the case of some genres) instruments aren’t even “real” but rather software instruments “played” by midi controller or keys on a keyboard, or sometimes, purchased loops. That incredibly polished, perfect timing and instrumentation you hear on songs nowadays is thanks to music not actually being performed live by a musician, but “produced” in software program. A lot of quality is actually lost this way.

Not only does Mark track albums live in the age of over-produced software music, he also does another pretty insane thing that I’ve never seen another producer do… he doesn’t use studios. He has his own mobile studio rig that he can setup literally anywhere with electricity. He rents out castles, cabins, mansions, photo studios and anywhere with a cool vibe to transform into his studio during the album process.

Alexz wanted her album done in Ontario, and thus, the mobile studio was setup in a charming cabin on Eagle Lake near Haliburton, Ontario for a week. I flew in to Toronto, spent an hour on the train getting to Alexz’s apartment and then caught up with her over a glass of red wine. The following day we rented a very uninspiring white car from a depressing big-name rental company, filled up the entire trunk with enough booze to make us look like raging alcoholics to the checkout clerk, and set off three hours north to the cabin. We arrived right after the sun had set, so in the morning the gorgeous view of the lake was a nice surprise. Mark greeted us like old friends, despite never meeting before. And then it was right to work.

This was the same week Donald Trump was nominated to be the next President of the USA. We watched the election unfold on Day 2 in the cabin, muted on the TV while the work carried on, despite the results. As a Floridian, I knew the second Florida went to Trump that it was over. That was very early in the night. It would be many hours before the rest of the cabin crew would accept the outcome. Some of us were shocked and upset, some weren’t. I was the only American in the mix, but Canadians are pretty passionate about US politics, for good reason. They are America’s hat, after all.

The musicians Mark hired to work on the album were world-class, and more importantly, super nice and fun to hang with. When you’re stuck in a cabin with 7 people for a week, it’s super important that they’re all great people. A part from a few trips to the nearby town to get gluten free muffins from the President’s Choice, we basically never left the cabin. On drums was Brady Blade, literally one of the best drummers on the planet.

On bass was Dave McMillan from Big Wreck.

On guitar Mr. Les Cooper

At some point Alexz thought it was a good idea to canoe out into the lake on one of the coldest, windiest days for some photos. All the way out in the center of the lake, I realized we had a little spider hitchhiker. Actually, it was a huge spider hitchhiker. And it was right by Alexz. It took me a minute or two to decide what would be worse: telling her and her freaking out or her seeing it herself and freaking out. You don’t want to freak out in a canoe. So I decided telling her would be best, in a really calming and soothing voice, reminding her not to stand up or make any sudden movements. Lol. She freaked out. I don’t blame her. Our canoe stayed afloat though and we somehow got it back to the dock after an exhausting row against some fierce cross-wind.

Someone thought it was a good idea for me to play piano on a track at some point. It didn’t make it on the album but it was fun to be in front of the camera for a second!

After a week of amazing music and memories, the album was mostly tracked and it was time to pack up and head back to Toronto. We still had one more day of work to do with Les (guitarist) and Mark at a different studio about an hour south of TO, but it was time to say goodbye to Brady Blade, Pete, Shira and Dave and our amazing little cabin on Eagle Lake.

Stay tuned for the documentary I shot of the recording process, coming out soon! And go listen to the album on iTunes: A Stranger Time or Spotify: