As it became clear that the covid-19 pandemic was going to wreak serious havoc on the music business and artists alike, Canadian country star Jason McCoy (The Road Hammers) got to work, rather than lick his wounds. From the home base of his farm near Barrie, ON, McCoy connected with friend and local songwriter Jim Payetta to write a song they intended to go global, as their response to a stressful time.
The result is the We Are 1World project, which launched on Friday with the release of the collaborative track We Are One in support of The Red Cross and Global Citizen covid-19 relief efforts, plus a number of other pandemic-related charities.
Joining forces with musicians across the globe to record (from isolation), We Are One is a rousing song of unity, to celebrate the power of one, together in isolation.
It is accompanied by a mosaic video of all artists and musicians performing the track alongside Jason McCoy, and that is a star-studded list. It includes the Harlem Gospel Choir, Ed Robertson (Barenaked Ladies), Gordie Johnson (Big Sugar), Pavlo, Deric Ruttan, Aaron Pritchett, Matty McKay, Tara Slone, Kevin Young (Moist), Dan Davidson, Adam Harvey, Mark Goldenberg (Jackson Browne), Carolyn Dawn Johnson, The Hunter Brothers, Tim Hicks, and Hayley Jensen. Adding an international flavour are Didier Beaumont (France), Zoe Tiganouria (Greece), Jessica Falk (Sweden), and Raghav Mathur (India).
A press release outlines the on-going purpose of the project: "Musicians and singers around the world are encouraged to watch the video, learn the song, then download the lyrics and one of three versions of the backing tracks for free to create/perform their own take of the track.
"Once they have performed and recorded their own version of the song, even if they record it on their phones, they will release their own version by uploading to YouTube and sharing on their own social platforms using the hashtag #weare1worldsong. The idea is to have as many different versions, in as many languages as possible, shared around the world. The We Are 1 World team will then create a second video from all the public submissions of the track."
In a phone interview with FYI yesterday, the always positive McCoy explained more about the initiative. "It is just starting. We rather put the cart before the horse, putting it up on YouTube and our website just to get started. It only came out on iTunes today, but we've already got videos in from China, Ukraine, and Australia, and one from down the road.
"You don’t hear of people giving away the tracks very often. That was our twist to the whole thing, so we're getting lots of e-mails at the website asking 'what are the legalities? We want to use it at our school, what do we do?' We reply 'just take it for free and let her rip.' It is just about having some fun."
The project's website, weare1world.net, features options for donations to the linked charities. "Proceeds from the royalties will go to them too," says McCoy.
McCoy recalls that the writing of the song came relatively smoothly. "There were a couple of early versions we tried and discarded, but as we revised this version we thought ‘Holy smoke, this is something.' It came out great and I’m really happy with it."
"From there, we approached the musicians, like Chris Byrne from the Road Hammers, Clayton Bellamy, who sang on it, and Greg Morrow from Nashville. Then we started on the artists. I was talking about it with my daughter, as New York City was becoming the new epicentre. I said 'I remember the tribute to Aretha Franklin and the Harlem Gospel Choir. They were the best. Can you imagine that?' My daughter found their website and I got a call right back from their manager saying 'that’s a beautiful message to send out to the world.' They recorded their parts in isolation and that was off the hook.
"Everybody lent their time. Nobody got paid, so we'd call people going 'we need this for free, and by tomorrow!"
From composition to recording to release was just 16 days, described by McCoy as "a real whirlwind. I often second-guess things to death. The beauty of this project for me is that it was just a great lesson in letting the music roll. Don’t think about it, go with what feels right, follow your instincts."
He gives credit to producer Russell Broom (Jann Arden) and video producer Sean Smith. “Russell is a good calm guy to have when I’m freaking out. His biggest challenge was getting mic levels sorted, and getting the tones and colours to match, and he did a great job. And without Sean on the video parts, we’d have been sunk.”
"For the video, we said just do your thing. We got everything from super casual to Jessica playing piano atop the frozen lake. Swedes do things over the top! Gordie Johnson was just the flavour we needed. He's like a big wet Saint Bernard coming in with a flaming guitar and making it happen. You need all those flavours."
Unlike so many of his peers, Jason McCoy is in no rush to do the solo live-streaming thing, now that he can't perform in public. "I always feel weird about that. I am involved with a couple of charitable orgs that have asked me to be part of theirs, but I have no plans on my own. As I get a little older, the less I can see of myself on camera the better!"
He does note that the We Are 1World project has helped him deal with social isolation. "It didn’t help family life though cos I have been rather absent. I need now to get back into being attentive as a dad and husband. We’re luckier than most. We have a farm up here, so our kids can walk the dogs or get on a four-wheeler. I feel for kids in condos and apartments."