By Keith Sharp
How ironic is it that as Saskatoon’s Wide Mouth Mason released their eighth studio album, `I Wanna Go With You’ with its togetherness and travel lyrical themes, that a COVID-19 virus would come along and totally disrupt such activities.
On the phone from his Vancouver residence, guitarist/lead vocalist Shaun Verreault expressed his obvious frustration, that he and percussion/vocalist partner Safwan Javed had been stymied after releasing their most blues-based album ever, highlighted by Verreault’s new tri-slide guitar technique in which he plays lap steel and dobro guitars with three slides on his fretting hand.
“We had just released the new album last October and started to reveal it to people but that has now gone away for at least a year,” Verreault bemoaned. “Working with Ryan Dahle (Age Of Electric/Limblifter), the album was recorded live off the floor but now it’s going to be some time before we can play the new album live. It’s definitely frustrating but we do know that the whole musical world is going through it so we will just have to wait for the opportunity for live music to come back.”
To compensate for a lack of live-action, Verreault and Safwan commissioned ace Toronto videographer Theo Kapodistrias to shoot an eclectic video for “Some Kind Of Requiem” which Verreault claims they are delighted by how the video lands between a Sesame Street animated short and a mushroom trip on the verge of going wrong.
“We were thrilled with what Theo did,” Verreault enthused. “It was one of those collaborations, we didn’t even choose the song or give him any direction. We asked him to pick anything off the record that spoke to him and he said the cinematic visual in each line of that song did speak to him and he wanted to play with that and accentuate it.”
Considering it had been nine years since the band’s last opus, their 2011 `No Bad Days’ release that was produced by Big Sugar’s Gordie Johnson, it’s easy to understand Verreault’s frustration. “Safwan and I had made the conscious decision not to miss experiencing the lives of our new children and the business, in general, was going through some drastic changes what with music being downloaded and all of this go fund me stuff happening so we needed to re-evaluate what was going on.”
In the interim, Verreault began co-writing new material with people like Nanaimo blues guitarist David Gogo and Toronto pop star, Shawn Hooks while developing a unique tri-slide guitar technique. “In the beginning, I could only play in a couple of positions with a couple of primary chords. But as I developed this technique, the music I was writing was so inspired, when the title track fell under my finger, it was like, let’s see what happens if we recorded the bulk of this record with variations of this style.”
“I do this thing in Vancouver where I invite musicians who I have never played with before, to get on stage and just start playing,” Verreault informed. “Often the music is just made up on the spot so we had this groove going and I just found these words coming out of my mouth. It worked out so well that we thought we had to take a run at it in the studio.”
Verreault, Javed and bassist Earl Pereira launched Wide Mouth Mason in Saskatoon in 1996 with an independent release, “The Nazarene” that was good enough to attract the attention of Warner Music Canada who signed the trio to a major recording contract and re-released the album with an eponymous title in 1997. The album, fuelled by three singles; “Midnight Rain”, “My Old Self” and “This Mourning” went gold (50,000 units sold), earning the band a Juno nomination for Top New Group in 1998 and their follow up release, `Where I Started” also reached gold status.
However, as the band’s name suggested, Wide Mouth Mason refers to the pots of preserves mixed together by their relatives in Saskatchewan which also referenced their music which encompassed a wide style of pop, rock, jazz, blues and world music.
“I think we were too jazzy for rock people, too bluesy for jazz people and a little too experimental for other people,” Verreault analyzed. “But there was always a cross-section of all of those people in the middle who were going to get what we were all about.”
Things came to a head when the band’s third album “Stew” was picked up by Atlantic Records in the U.S in 2000 which earned them tour dates in support of AC/DC. “Their attitude was, “It’s either Korn on one side or New Kids On The Block on the other side, what are you going to do, to fit into that?”
The band’s response was to release the more blues-oriented `Rained Out Parade’ and walk away from their Atlantic deal to sign a licensing agreement with Curve Records for their 2005 ‘Shot Down Satellites’ release. “I didn’t want to write songs that I didn’t really like,” explained Verreault.
His desire to stretch out and write songs that didn’t necessarily fit the band’s style led to the band taking a sabbatical while Verreault released two solo albums. “My attitude was let’s stretch our wings and try some other experiences. Safwan was going back to university and Earl was going to sing lead vocals on his new project. But when we got back together to work on a new record in 2010 `No Bad Days with Gord Johnson producing, Earl decided he wanted to keep on focusing on his solo thing. As we had a month of dates with ZZ Top scheduled, I asked Gord (Johnson) if he could recommend a replacement bassist, and he said “What about me?”
Following the ZZ Top dates, Wide Mouth Mason took another break to recharge their batteries, but now that they are back in business with `I Wanna Go With You’, Verreault claims the band has been re-energized and are unafraid to chase their mews.
In assessing the band’s legacy so far, Verreault admits Wide Mouth Mason may have confused some people along the way but no matter what they do, they have tried to stretch in as many different directions as they can.
“We have found a little part of the room that isn’t completely painted over with stuff that’ s been done before,” he noted. “We have a never-ending quest to find new things that are exciting to us. In all of our records, there is always something represented that we’ve never done before.”