As Saint John group Penny Blacks prepare to celebrate the release of their new album, Long Lights, at the Water Street Dinner Theatre this Saturday night, band member Jason Ogden can’t help but reflect on the long road that led to this point.
After having started the project in 2013, the album was subsequently put on hold as Ogden temporarily relocated to Toronto for work. Although the band remained somewhat active – the group released The Silver Screen EP that year, followed by the 2015 EP Moleskine Weather – the geographic divide made recording an album a bit of a difficult, though not impossible, endeavor.
“The recording process really started to get some traction once I moved back to Saint John at the end of 2015,” Ogden says. “When we had originally started recording, the goal was to learn the songs and get the foundation of the record laid down in just a couple of weeks’ time, and then finish the remainder of the album over the course of another couple of weeks.”
Although the timeline may sound ambitious to some, Ogden insists the group was intent on keeping simplicity at the heart of Long Lights. Where the band’s 2011 full-length debut Harbour and The Silver Screen EP was fleshed out with lush instrumentation, he says they took a “warts and all” approach to their new album.
“Almost immediately, we imposed a ‘no crazy overdubs’ rule. A couple of our previous releases got pretty involved in that respect, with multiple guitar tracks, strings, and more, but we deliberately sought to keep things simple this time around. There is a sense of urgency that can be heard in these songs, but we didn’t concern ourselves with minor imperfections or anything like that. It was more about capturing the spirit of the recording rather than striving for perfection with every single take.”
There is an undeniable feeling of team spirit and a band in sync with one another that pours out from Penny Black’s new album from the minute opening track “Black Wool” begins to play. As the group channels Neil Young’s work with Crazy Horse on the track, a deeper dive into the record reveals, numerous other highlights, including the album’s sprawling title track, “The High Tides Motel,” and the subdued, solemn overtones of “Teardrop.”
A veteran of the Saint John music scene, Ogden originally sought musical refuge in Penny Blacks as a sort of solo endeavour, the sound of which was vastly different from his punk-inspired past. His initial expectations for the project were timid at best, but as he began playing more shows as a solo act, other musicians from the scene, including Penny Blacks drummer Clinton Charlton, began to take notice of Ogden’s work and offered their services should he be interested in collaborating.
From there, the seeds of Penny Blacks the band were sown. Though the group’s membership swelled to eight members at one point, the band is currently comprised of Ogden and Charlton, guitarist Chris Braydon, bassist Adam Kierstead and violinist Ali Leonard.
Following the group’s hometown performance on Saturday, they will undertake shows in other Maritime cities before embarking on a brief tour of Ontario and Quebec at the start of November.