Jon Stancer’s new album For The Birds may be his first as a solo artist, but in many ways it draws from his wealth of experience within the Toronto alternative music scene, most notably as guitarist with John Southworth and with his former band Family Ritual. However, For The Birds captures Stancer’s dramatic, creative evolution since then, offering a collection of classic hook-laden pop-rock, while touching on lyrical themes of reclusiveness, regret, revision and rejuvenation.
After taking an extended break from making music, Stancer eventually was drawn to his piano, and soon new songs began taking shape that leant on such primary songwriting influences as Brian Wilson. Stancer brought his demos to producer Jono Grant, and together they set about crafting For The Birds’ compelling sound, augmented by horns, strings and a range of percussion.
It’s the kind of mature, organic pop music rarely heard these days, and it’s impossible not to get swept away by lush tracks such as “Dance In The Sun” and “Now That Summer Is Gone.” It's the introspection in Stancer’s lyrics that seals the deal, particularly effective on the song “Take The Bait,” written as a reaction to the 2015 Bataclan terrorist attack in Paris.
For The Birds is officially available June 23 on iTunes or through jonstancer.com
What inspired you to make this record and what was the process of creating it like?
I hadn’t been inside a recording studio since 2008. I’d had a number of people asking me when I might do something and I owe them a huge debt of gratitude for getting me to think about it a lot. But I felt intimidated; I had been away from it for a long time, so I delayed. When I finally got it together and began writing and working on demos, my confidence was gradually restored. I realized that I could still do it – that I was doing it and getting results – and it was enjoyable. Once Jono got his hands on the songs, everything took off from there. I had pretty decent demos, which gave him a good blueprint and so we picked up together fairly seamlessly from where I had left off. My personal view is that we pretty much coasted through it, although he’d likely laugh at that and proceed to show you data indicating we were sometimes using 130 tracks per song.
How would you describe your overall vision as a songwriter?
Musically, I’ve always tried to come up with melodies that are memorable or singable or hum-able. However you’d like to describe it. If I have a tune in my head one day and it’s gone the next, then it probably wasn’t to be. Lyrically, a lot of my songs tend to originate from something personal, but I’ve tried over the years to make adjustments to make them more relatable. There’s a lot of “I” and “you” in my lyrics, and many of them do start out as a reflection of my experiences, but then I think, there must be others who have had experiences similar to mine. I can tweak the words and maybe revise the story to make the songs a little more universal so that maybe they’ll mean something to someone other than just me.
What songs on the record do you feel particularly stand out and why?
“Take The Bait” is one that moves me. It’s like nothing else on this album, and I think the lyric is particularly good. It’s a bit of stream-of-consciousness, and it came out of something very real and extremely frightening that was happening at the time.
I love “Turn Your Back On Your Regrets” as well, just for the overall sound and vibe. It’s got a few good hooks, and the bridge in that song is one of my favourite moments on the album. “No Right Turns” stands out for me too. It’s got a good groove plus, when I’m driving with my kids, and they see a “no right turns” street sign, they start to sing it. That’s pretty great.
How do you feel the craft of songwriting has changed as technology has advanced?
For me, it’s been the ability not just to write, but to flesh the songs out as they’re being written, which serves to generate many more ideas that can impact the direction the song takes.
Before computers, Logic and Pro Tools, etc., you had your instrument and a pencil and paper, and you may have heard certain arrangement ideas running through the songs in your head, but you weren’t able to test any of those ideas out until you took them into a studio, where time is money.
Now, on a laptop, you have a whole band, with a horn section and a string section and percussionists and more, instantly at your fingertips. A lot of the songs on this record were written as they were demo-ed. That gave me great freedom and flexibility to mould and shape the songs as I was writing them.
What do you recall about your first time performing in public?
I remember this vividly. I was around 10 years old and had just started to learn how to play the guitar. I was on a school trip, and I volunteered to perform in front of my classmates, as well as a bunch of kids from another school that were there with us.
I played an instrumental version of “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”—no singing, just strumming. The whole song. It couldn’t have been very good but at that age, I guess it was ballsy of me to do it, and I remember the very impressed looks and smiles on all of the girls’ faces and thinking, “I’ll be doing this again.”