Published Jun 11, 2015Icy winds wailed outside of Hawksley Workman's home studio, Burk's Falls, as he wrote and recorded his newly released album, Old Cheetah, earlier this year. But rather than curl up next to a cozy fire, Workman instead found warmth from a glowing, hulking mixing console that had been used in Vancouver's CBC studio from 1977 to 1995, and which the eccentric musician purchased second-hand and shipped all the way to his northern Ontario abode for his new LP's sessions.
"It weighs 2,000 pounds and gives off so much heat that we literally didn't need to use the furnace for most of the winter," the songwriter tells Exclaim! when discussing the gargantuan console, just one of the many vintage gadgets that he used to create the album's offbeat tone.
Workman and producer Steve Bays also employed a Lexicon Primetime delay processor and a Space Echo Roland RE-201 effects unit to give Old Cheetah a raw, analogue sound.
"You can hear it on the sputtering vocals for 'Small Town Dracula,'" Workman says of the Space Echo's eerie effect on his singing for that vaudevillian number.
Workman adds that he and Bays (who also played piano on many Old Cheetah songs) "ran most of the album's vocals and keyboard parts through that old gear. It was like driving a standard automobile, you could feel the intensity that you were adding."
While Workman credits much of Old Cheetah's sound to that yesteryear gear, he attributes far greater accolades to Bays, who not only produced the album but is also Workman's bandmate in the side-project Mounties (along with his biggest claim to fame as the frontman for lauded BC art-punk troop Hot Hot Heat).
"I'd just puke up my guts on the drums or on the lyrics, and then Steve would clean up the mess later," the songwriter says of his haphazard style.
Workman adds that he enjoyed this arrangement far more than self-producing his earlier albums, although he's not sure if he'll recruit Bays to do it again.
"If I could lock Steve up and make him produce my stuff for rest of his life, I would. But I don't want him to wade through all of my insanity. I do know that I'll always work with a great producer from here on out."
Bays says he appreciates Workman's sentiment, adding: "It would be a luxury for him to not self-produce, and instead just be a total freak and have someone else clean it up later. Because he's at his best when he's at his freakiest."
Rather than repeating Old Cheetah's arrangement, Workman says he would prefer to reverse the roles next time and produce Bays' debut "solo singer-songwriter piano record."
While Bays laughs and insists that he's no Billy Joel, he says that he is eager to work with Workman again because "We make a good team. You can hear a lot of overplaying on Old Cheetah. That's us trying impress each other, which only adds to its quirkiness."
Old Cheetah is out now on Six Shooter. You can also see Workman's summer tour schedule here.