Category Archives: Song of the Week

During the time in which Small Sins had stopped touring in 2009, I began work on a new record. Actually, I guess I’m never not working on something that might be a song for a potential record. I made what I thought might be a whole album’s worth of material, but ended up scrapping it to begin on a new vision – the album that would become ‘Pot Calls Kettle Black’ in 2010. With the overflow of demos and B-sides from that album, all the unused material from 2009, and all the other little things I do on the side, it was important to me to showcase the lost material somewhere. So begins the ‘Song Of The Week’ feature. Each week I will be posting and talking about a different song that didn’t make it to the new record. Sometimes this material is under-produced, sometimes it’s a finished product. Some songs just didn’t fit aesthetically with the other material – I tend to veer out of my ‘genre’ by accident from time to time – and some are only 30-second ideas that I never got around to finishing. What they all have in common is a place in my heart – and in that heart, a desire to have all of it heard by someone. Please enjoy.


SONG OF THE WEEK #3 – I Took Her Love For Granted

I Took Her Love For Granted by smallsins

I have so many good memories of Hefner in my life, and there are so many good reasons why it made perfect sense for me to cover this song, but let’s lump them into two categories: emotional and musical.

One of the first really exciting Horseshoe Toronto gigs that The Carnations – my old band – ever got was opening for Hefner the first time they ever came to Canada. We actually ended up playing after them instead of before, and half the audience left before we started, but still, I was so excited to be there at all. I think I must have been nineteen or twenty at the time. Ten years later I can vividly remember most of their set, and I was forever more a fan. Both of my real ‘girlfriends’ in life would also be obsessive Hefner fans. Not all that huge of a coincidence I suppose, but in my mind – and this might make me sound crazy – if someone I wanted to love didn’t like this band, then on some level I wouldn’t ever quite understand her; and then how could a relationship not be futile?

After that first gig, that record (The Fidelity Wars, Too Pure, 1999) would become a regular part of life at the house I lived in. I shared a huge house in Little Italy with six other people, and Hefner seemed to be on the stereo constantly. I think my one roommate Dave must have had a similar love for the band, because some of his best songs started sounding like Hefner. I would later cover one of Dave’s songs – albeit one that doesn’t sound like Hefner at all – and use it as the last track on Mood Swings: ‘Bullet’. I don’t think songs I wrote at the time started sounding like Hefner, but that would change.

I eventually started to bite a bit of Hefner, and here’s where we get to the musical reasons for covering this song. You see, the band was originally this very loose kind of rock/folk band. Totally pop-based, but the recordings weren’t that great, and the players were debatably talented. It was all about the song, and ‘I Took Her Love For Granted’ was one of their better ones. Later on they started to take on an a sort of electronic feel, and here’s where the influence really started kicking in. There is one song in particular from those later years called ‘When The Angels Play Their Drum Machines’ (Dead Media, Too Pure, 2001) that I listened to on repeat for months. It’s all synths and drum machines, in support of what I felt was a perfectly simple pop song. I think a lot of the ‘Small Sins’ sound was based solely on that song. It came along when I was already fiddling with similar sounds at home, unbeknownst to my Carnations bandmates at the time. I don’t want to say I stole anything, but it definitely justified my direction. I think I was close enough to it that I felt like I actually wrote the song. Yeah. Small Sins has Hefner to thank.

But why cover music that is perfect? That would be a waste of time. So I took a song from that loose, early period, and applied a treatment that I thought they might have applied in that later electronic period. A fun exercise that illustrates what it might have sounded like had the song been written at a slightly later phase in the Hefner catalogue. So that’s what this cover attempts to be. I recorded it years after the fact in the basement of my house, which is pretty much the most cramped environment I’ve ever worked in. Steve put those fancy guitars on at the end, as well as helping with some of the delay effects, and voilà. The whole thing came together within a couple of hours, John McEntire would mix it about a year later, and then I would sit on it for another year before playing it for you today. And today is a good day for me too, because in writing this ‘song of the week’ and looking around at some links, I just found that there is a whole new solo album from Darren Hayman – the singer of Hefner – and now I have something to listen to as well. Something for everyone, I guess.

Here is a link to the original if you care to compare:

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Song of the week #2 – North Train

North Train by Todor Kobakov Remix by Small Sins

I don’t want to get too mushy here, because it’s not like I’ll never see Todor again, but the time has come that he is no longer in the band and has been replaced by another tall good-looking Eastern European guy, Jaan Kittask. So, let’s make this Song Of The Week a little love letter, shall we?

When I first met Todor, I immediately knew that I wanted to work with him. We met on the patio of The Diplomatico in Little Italy through mutual friends Dave Ogilvie (a great producer and former member of Skinny Puppy) and Lindy Vopnfjord (a great singer, and the tallest person I know). I think the two of them wanted to impress Dave for one reason or another, so we went back to Todor’s place around the corner to listen to the first tracks of what would later become Major Maker – a band for which I would later become the bass player. We listened loud while Lindy kept yelling, ‘Turn it up! Turn it up!’ And it sounded incredible, and impressed we were.

At the time, Todor had an extremely stripped-down studio set-up in his apartment. It was a very old version of Pro-Tools, with no outboard gear to speak of and maybe just a Shure SM58 as the only mic selection; yet, it sounded amazing. I couldn’t believe how much they were able to achieve sonically with almost no gear. For all you kids out there thinking that some piece of equipment is what’s standing between you and making good music: realize that you are delusional. The sound was achieved by raw talent and good ears, and that’s it. Just listen to that record.

We immediately got together again and recorded ‘She’s The Source’: to this day one of the strongest songs I think I’ve written. A short time after that, I asked Todor if he would join the band. Right off the bat he made it clear that he was happy to help until he became too busy, perhaps for a month or two – but wouldn’t you know it? We got signed to Astralwerks after the first show he ever played with us, and ended up touring for the next three years, literally playing hundreds of shows together.

Small Sins was formed on an album for which I played all the parts, and I would continue to be, for the most part, this ‘one-man band’ kind of guy for recordings. At the beginning I sort of expected that there would be a revolving cast of players, but it didn’t work out that way. The band that played that first show with Todor (incidentally also Brent’s first show) would maintain the same line-up until this day. We became very close, and I am still impressed by the level of commitment of every member of Small Sins. It’s a gig for which Todor was ridiculously over-qualified (did I mention that he also turned out to be the best piano player I’ve ever heard?), but he just kept going nonetheless, like everyone in the band, playing my childish little synth lines with conviction, and class.

He’s been too busy for us for ages, but held on. Finally though, everyone agreed that it was time for Todor to move on and do his own thing: soundtracks, string arrangements (oh yeah, he does amazing string arrangements as well; check out his remix of ‘Stay’) and jaw-dropping solo piano records. Yet the thing that impresses me most musically is his respect for pop music. Usually classically trained, ‘real musicians’ are either grumpy or indifferent towards pop music, but not Todor. You need only listen to ‘Roller Coaster’ by Major Maker to know that this is a man that respects the simplicity of pop music. You will hear about him over and over again in the coming years, I’m sure, but luckily we were able to make this latest album together. It couldn’t have happened without him, or all the other members of the band. Then we called it a day.

Here is a remix I did for one of those fabulous solo piano pieces. All of ‘Pop Music’ is so cinematic, I figured I would do a remix that retained that quality, except that this would be the soundtrack for a much weirder movie. Basically I took a few parts, made them backwards and started adding textures. Turned out….. Interestingly.

Anyway, it’s funny: Todor and I have become such good friends, I sort of can’t remember who I drank with before I knew him. Thank you for everything. It couldn’t have happened without you, we will miss you on the road, but I’ll see you at the bar in an hour.

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Song of the Week #1: Talk Talk

Talk Talk by smallsins

I love pop. My earliest memories of music usually involve 1050 CHUM, which was the local oldies radio station here in Toronto up until about a year ago, when it suddenly went off air and turned into an AM news station. There is a certain pleasure in the utter simplicity of oldies top forty music and lyrics, which is, when perfectly executed, somehow enduringly complex. Such is the intention with a lot of my music, I suppose -although I feel like an asshole even trying to compare myself to something so holy to me. ‘Talk Talk’ was one of those songs that was supposed to be pure pop: pure catchy, quick, to the point and fun.

This one began as a 30-second spot I was asked to do for a cell phone commercial. Music for advertising is something I regularly do on the side (although I won’t tell you what you’ve heard by me for fear of embarrassment). Sometimes I have to sell my soul to make ends meet, but that is another subject altogether. In any case, much of the music I do for spots like this never actually gets used. ‘Talk Talk’ was one such case.

Usually I get too far out of my genre when I’m doing ads to make any material useable for Small Sins, but once in a while I hit on something by accident that is just too tempting not to use. ‘On The Run’ from Mood Swings is an example of this. That was originally a song that Todor and I did together for an ad that never aired. It was such a good beginning of an idea that we couldn’t not use it for something real, so we did a full version and put it on the record.

Also, ‘Talk Talk’ was also one of those songs that you just keep coming back to. Months after the first demo had already been finished, the melody kept popping back into my head. The Clapper must have had the same inclination, because after he heard it, he was bugging me for months me to finish it for a Small Sins record. So Steve, Kevin and I got together in my studio one day and worked out as tight an arrangement as we possibly could, and recorded the full-length version. The song is just over three minutes long, yet somehow we managed to fit in multiple choruses, a bridge, a solo, a key change, and a breakdown. Oh – and an intro and an outro, too. That doesn’t happen too often within three minutes.

So: Steve played guitar, we used old drum samples from another session with Brent, and The Clapper clapped. Four out of five Small Sins members on one track? Also kind of unheard of at the time. And there you have it: the pop gem that is ‘Talk Talk’. Not a lot of galloping horse samples in oldies top forty, and I guess not too many synths and programmed drums either, but somehow I feel this song is an homage to that era.

Realistic MG1 – bass/arpeggios
Omnichord – organ/swipes
Moog Little Phatty – octaves

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