By Keith Sharp
Kim Mitchell likens the experience of recording his latest solo record `The Big Fantasize’ to a vintage car backing out of its garage for a final spin around the block.
Celebrating his first studio release since his 2007 `Ain`t Life Amazing’ and debuting on Michael Wekerle’s recently launched El Mocambo Records, Mitchell teamed up with noted producer, Greg Wells (21 Pilots, Adele, Katy Perry) who formerly played keyboards for Mitchell’s band, to record his new release.
A chance visit from Wells to Mitchell resulted in Mitchell handing Wells a USB key containing some of his recent compositions.
“Greg called me back and said `please come to Los Angeles, there’s a side of you here that has not been exposed enough in your career,” explained Mitchell on the phone from his Toronto residence. “Had it not been for Greg’s call, this album would not have happened. I liked the stuff I wrote, I was like, yeah, one day I’ll record it, but I kind of knew it would not happen. It was Greg who said, please let’s do this, I love this material.”
“I was like, yes, okay I guess.” Mitchell continued. “I had to question, do I have it in me to record another album. It takes a lot of emotional and physical, and yes, financial effort to do this.”
Unlike previous up-tempo tracks like “Lager And Ale”, “Rockland Wonderland” and “Battlescar”, “The Big Fantasize” is more reflective in nature with more mid-tempo material in the vein of “Easy To Tame” and “All We Are”
“There’s one rock song titled ‘Up 2 B Down’ but I’m not in an ‘I Am A Wild Party’ mode, I’m in my mid-60’s now,” Mitchell noted. “I am happy with all of that rock stuff but this album shows a more mature side of my writing.”
In going through the recording process, Mitchell admits “there were days when I was inspired and there were days when I thought, `what was I thinking to do this’. But that’s all part of the journey and now my journey with this record is done. There’s nothing I can do to control whatever happens next. I don’t lose sleep over it anymore.”
Of the nine tracks featured, the first single “Wishes” is pivotal to the album in that it took Mitchell almost 10 years to complete. Based on a poem by A.C Child which Mitchell stumbled upon in a magazine during a medical visit, Mitchell’s efforts to convert this poem into a song initially proved to be a frustrating experience.
“I wrote the verses but I realized the poem was complete as it was, but it wasn’t a complete song. That’s why the process took me forever,” Mitchell mused. “I am like a song roadie, this song was telling me, no that’s not it, come back some other time.”
It wasn’t until he was into the recording process for `The Big Fantasize’ that Mitchell finally created the song’s missing components. “I stopped playing guitar, I just started to sing the chorus and then I got the melody and it all started to fit,” Mitchell explained. “It was like, Holy Shit, after 10 years. It’s finally finished.”
Of the other tracks, “Georgian Bay” is an ode to the South Lake Huron region and was inspired by Mitchell’s past residence in Collingwood. “It’s a very pretty area” he noted, dropping references to live venues like The Key To Bala and The infamous Wasaga Beach Dardanella Ballroom (that place was so hot, I went to see Big Sugar and I had to leave).
“Old Marriage” features a duet with Ancaster’s Laura Cole while tracks like “Summer Lovers”, “Time To Stay”, “Best I Ever Had” and “Red Horizon” touch on personal relationship issues that Mitchell feels his audience can relate to while “Montgomery” has a country feel to it.
Mitchell’s deal with El Mocambo Records was sparked by his association with the label’s A&R director, Andy Curran whose relationship goes back to 1982 when Mitchell’s former band, Max Webster was on the same Anthem Record’s label as Curran’s Coney Hatch band.
“Both Michael (Wekerle) and myself felt Kim is a Canadian icon and that his legacy needs to carry on,” Curran explained. “Kim’s manager, Tom Berry told me that he had a new record so I mentioned this to Michael and he was over the moon at the opportunity to be involved.”
“I recently worked with Kim on the release of a Max Webster box set for Anthem,” so we already have a good working relationship,” said Curran whose label has also signed Vancouver’s 54-40 and three youngsters from Windsor called Hutch And The Family Curse.
Aware that Mitchell had recorded a more mature, laid-back album, Curran also discovered he had also recorded live versions of four classic hits; “All We Are”, “Rockland Wonderland”, “Lager And Ale” and Max Webster hit “Paradise Skies” which El Mocambo also plans to release as “Big Live” as a bonus EP with the Big Fantasize release. “These are live sessions, remixed by Greg Wells that the world has never heard, they are absolutely amazing,” Curran announced.
Having survived a serious heart attack in 2016, Mitchell could be excused for resting on the laurels of his legacy. Launching out of Sarnia Ontario in 1977 with Max Webster who recorded five hit albums with Anthem Records before moving on to release a further seven solo albums on Alert Records, producing a series of mega-hits like “Patio Lanterns”, “Go For Soda”, “Rockland Wonderland”, ”Rock And Roll Duty” and “Lager And Ale”
The three-time Juno Award winner also spent 11 years as a disc jockey for Toronto’s Q-107 radio station between 2004 and 2015 and says he enjoyed the experience even though the station rarely played his own music. “The real positive for me was that I wore headphones all day,” Mitchell enthused. “I got to rediscover all the records I grew up listening to and it was like, wow! I didn’t know they sounded that good. And I got to sit there and also make some gas money.”
Mitchell is about to add to that legacy by being inducted into Canada’s Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame which he acknowledges is a great honour. “It’s a compliment to be associated with such a group of dysfunctional songwriters (Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Burton Cummings),” he noted, “I feel I am just as dysfunctional as they are.”