There’s a story that goes around about the first time the Montreal trio Tess Roby, Adam Ohr, and Patrick Lee engaged in one of those rare, lightning-struck moments of serendipity that led to their band, Dawn to Dawn.
It’s an intriguing happenstance to capture amid the excitement surrounding release of Postcards from the Sun to the Moon, the trio’s debut LP released last week via Roby’s SSURROUNDSS label.
Roby had heard about The Beat Escape, Ohr’s and Lee’s other band, and kept seeing their posters around Montreal. They didn’t necessarily run in the same circles, but there was a bit of temporal kismet in 2018 when Roby released her debut solo LP, Beacon, the same week The Beat Escape released their album, Life Is Short The Answer’s Long.
With The Beat Escape’s album out there, Roby heard it and couldn’t stop listening.
“I was mind-blown,” Roby told Vehlinggo in a Zoom chat with her and Ohr a couple weeks ago, from their respective homes in Quebec’s most metropolitan city.
That led to some email correspondence and that common refrain that pops up among musicians who find some form of common artistic ground: It would be nice to meet, wouldn’t it? And then eventually Roby and The Beat Escape shared a bill, which was fascinatingly the first time they actually met in person.
Afterward, they were having drinks and, according to Roby, said “we should get together in the studio, since we like each other’s music so much.” This was around June 2018.
“A lot of these things are just said in passing and don’t actually end up happening,” Roby says.
But in this case, they were interested in chasing that shared creative spark and by that November they were in the studio together.
There was a record exchange — basically, Roby gave Ohr and Lee her album and them theirs. But Lee and Ohr had a studio in their apartment and they all set up their synths just in case there was “good energy,” Ohr says.
“I think we knew we were gonna go and jam, but it wasn’t definite,” Ohr said. “We had a coffee and then we were like, all right, let’s go and turn on some synths in the back.”
At the time Roby hadn’t ever been in a studio with other people, which she says “sounds crazy, because now it’s happened quite a lot. At the time it was nerve-wracking [but] nice.”
So they ended up turning on those synths and “the first song came kind of effortlessly,” Ohr says. “It came out of nowhere, which was very strange.”
It ended up being an early version of what would be Dawn to Dawn’s first single, “Meridian,” which they’d go on to release more than two years later.
“We had all of the parts — the drum beat, the bass line, and the chords and vocal parts, in basically 25 minutes,” Ohr said. “Then, of course, it took many hours to put it all together to finish it, but the core song was really there so quickly.”
It was the first time they really hung out and it ended up being an intense 12 hours from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m.
“We didn’t even have a proper dinner, because we were so excited about making this song,” Roby says.
And in order to finish “Meridian,” they ended up getting together again two days later on a Sunday. Five days later they were back at it with a different song.
“These Friday nights in the studio became a ritual,” Roby says. “It was winter and so there wasn’t much else to do.”
In addition to that divine recording session, the act of each of them sharing music they loved with each other furthered the bond and strengthened the cohesion of what would become the Dawn to Dawn project.
“We were showing each other these songs that were life-changing to each of us and then subsequently they became life-changing to each other,” Roby said.
Très Bien Ensemble
The result of years of work, Postcards from the Sun to the Moon, is an extraordinary record that is easily one of the best of 2022. The entire record is laced with mesmerizing synth arrangements barely glued down to some tight rhythms that propulse and hypnotize with equal measure, atop which Roby’s sacred incantations rise and fall with a devastating blend of intimacy and space.
In other words, there is a lot for fans of Roby’s solo work — she most recently released Ideas of Space — and those who dig The Beat Escape’s releases. Roby’s smooth, mezzo-soprano vocals and penchant for cultivating deeply meaningful moods and colors out of thin air are certainly present on the songs of Postcards From The Sun To The Moon. Ohr’s and Lee’s penchant for cultivating a rich tapestry of electronic statements from relatively minimalist arrangements contributes extensively, too. The result is in many ways the best of each member’s creative tendencies.
Continuing to emphasize the collaboration that yielded “Meridian,” Roby says the foundations of their songs are formed in the studio. There isn’t a situation in which Roby might bring in a demo or unrecorded number from her solo work or Lee and Ohr bring an unfinished The Beat Escape cut to the table. Not that this is a guiding principle they’ve written in blood like a Factory Records contract, but it’s how things pan out.
“We weren’t thinking about it much, but I think it was important to us that all the songs were written when we were in the room together,” Roby said. “Which I think is really nice.”
Additionally, Roby says, “a lot of the lyrics and music are rooted in that energy of the three of us being in the studio together.”
Certainly there are additions and edits after the initial tracks are laid down for a given song. You go into the software on your laptop or desktop that’s used to record, produce, edit, and mix songs, and make some tweaks. (Dawn to Dawn use the popular program Ableton.) However, Roby says, the cuts’ “roots” all occur when they’re an ensemble. And initially they crafted their work a lot on Friday nights.
Even with all of this happening, Dawn to Dawn didn’t formally exist. There wasn’t a band name yet nor any overpowering drive to just get that early stuff into the world right away. (Remember that “Meridian” was released a good two years after these events.)
“It wasn’t until there were maybe three or four songs that we realized we had to release them,” Ohr said.
The Friday night recording rituals ceased when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Canada in early 2020. Canada, and certainly Montreal, had some strict protocols for their lockdowns. At one point Montreal had curfews that drastically limited the movement of people.
“We didn’t see each other for two months… and we didn’t even go into the studio for seven or eight months,” Roby said. “It was really sad. I really missed that time we had together.”
They ended up going into the studio again in December 2020, the harsh depths of that first COVID winter. It was the day of the release of “Meridian” and not long after they had solidified things like a name and a plan to grow a fan base for the eventual release of an album. They already had nearly an album’s worth of songs.
In the studio they recorded the exquisite “Samba” and “Stereo.”
“We said, ‘OK, maybe this is the record — maybe we rounded out our set of songs,’” Roby said. “But we still weren’t super sure.”
In the meantime, Roby went to work on her second solo album, Ideas of Space, which she’d go on to release on April 22 on her newly created label SSURROUNDSS. (Last year she left Italians Do It Better, which in 2018 released her debut LP, Beacon.) Ohr and Lee also were working on their own stuff. So the momentum of Dawn to Dawn encountered a light tempering. After all, trying to synchronize three people’s various schedules isn’t any easy task.
However, they ended up finishing up the album in late summer/early autumn 2021, which means the record sat patiently awaiting release for essentially a year until the time was right to set it forth unto the world.
Capturing ‘A Real Energy’
It’s been a rather brutal couple years for musicians trying to make some or all of their living from their craft. It can be easy to get down about the tattered state of touring (especially for groups without major-label backing). The struggle to sell records and in general cut through the noise to reach potential fans is also an all-encompassing endeavour for independent artists.
But for Dawn to Dawn, there were some memorable moments during the making of Postcards that come to mind for the artists that just might offer a bit of a counterweight to all of that.
“The night we made ‘Care,’ was one of the best nights ever,” Roby said, noting that she remembers the exact date clearly because of its resonance: Jan. 25, 2019. “The energy in the studio that night was amazing.”
“Care” marked the first upbeat number they made and there was a particularly special vibe swirling around the room. You’ve maybe felt this: That vibrant kinesis that uplifts and fuels those special nights of revelry and deep connections.
“We were drinking Italian white wine and probably made some fish that night,” Roby says. “It was an amazing, beautiful night.”
And there was a sense of coziness, too, because while there was that energy brought on by the musical heat inside, the situation outside was très froid. It was, according to Roby, one of the coldest nights of the year and just laden with that utter frigidity that graces un hiver à Montréal.
“There was,” Roby said, “a real energy captured in the studio that night.”
This particular winter, the trio plan to work to adapt their songs for a live set. The goal is to play shows in 2023. And Roby plans to keep busy with her record label.
“It feels really good to be carving out this space, especially in the Canadian music scene [in which] there aren’t a lot of labels that are run by women,” Roby said. Running her first label is “a learning process,” she says, “but ultimately it feels good and it feels right. And it’s exciting to think about where it could go.”
Postcards from the Sun to the Moon is out now in digital and CD formats now via SSURROUNDSS. (CDs come with, appropriately, a hand-written post card.) It’s also on your favorite streaming platforms.