Whose House? Jason’s House

Photo by Callie Lugosi

Four years ago, when musician Jason Tait moved back to Winnipeg after more than a decade in Toronto, he undertook a daunting construction project. Despite having no prior building experience, the former Weakerthans drummer and current Bahamas and John K Samson drummer went about converting his detached garage into a home studio.

“It was basically a lot of trips to the dump and watching a lot of YouTube tutorials,” Tait says. “I had an electrician making sure everything was to code, but I did the work myself. I was hanging drywall, doing insulation and soundproofing.”

Tait took a conscious aesthetic approach to the studio as well.

“I wanted to keep it very minimal,” he says. 

“I intentionally didn’t want to hang art. I hated going into studios and seeing photos of KISS on the walls. It’s not inspiring to me. It actually really bums me out. I don’t want to look at those gross guys. I like how Tom Waits instructs his musicians not to look at anything before they come into the studio. Don’t doodle on the paper before you start drawing.”

The studio space has already gotten lots of use, both by Tait and by his wife and collaborator Julie Penner.

“I wanted to call the studio ‘Comes with the Drummer Studios,’” Tait says. “We did John K Samson’s record here. My wife’s brother played violin on the 12 Years a Slave audiobook. He recorded that here. Julie just did some new Do Make Say Think in here, and now she’s working on Broken Social Scene as well. Lots of different things.”

Gear drawers “We’ve got microphones in one drawer, guitar pedals in the other. I wanted to keep things clean and organized in here, because most studios are basically run by men, so they look terrible. You’ll walk in, there’s these massive windows, a beautiful space, and it’s like, ‘Well, why don’t you throw a couple fucking plants in here?’”

Acoustic guitar “Weakerthans were on tour with Constantines in Peterborough. I saw this in a music shop next door and thought it looked cool. I got Bry Webb to come over. I said, ‘Should I buy this guitar for $200?’ And he says, (imitating Webb) ‘Yuh.’ So I bought it.”

Keyboards “The one on top is a sampling keyboard, the type we used on Reunion Tour. The other is a Korg that has to be reprogrammed. I bought it at a pawn shop for really cheap. What they didn’t know is, back in the day, when the keyboard lost its memory, you had to feed an audio signal into the keyboard to reprogram it. So right now it sounds like a fax machine.”

Vibraphone “I’ve always wanted one. The guy at the Palm Trees show had one last night and I was like, ‘Where did you find one in Winnipeg!?’ When I first lived here it was basically just orchestral players or jazz players who had one, and no kids were allowed to touch it because it’s like a $5,000 instrument. When I’d just moved to Toronto, I remember saying to my wife, ‘Maybe I’ll take a cooking job, save enough to buy one, then quit.’ The next day I went to Long & McQuade to buy drumsticks, and this was on the floor for $800.”

Bell & Howell reel-to-reel tape recorder “This is actually an old tape recorder that’s been modified into a tube amp. It’s a guitar amplifier and potentially a deadly shock hazard. It’s one of those things that I don’t really need, but I bought because it’s so cool. It’s also great for harmonica or reamping drums through.”

Casio DH-100 Wind Controller “This is a ridiculous instrument I got from (musician) Rob Waddell.”

Coles 4038 microphone “When (producer) Ian Blurton came to do Left and Leaving, he brought only one microphone from Toronto. That was the Coles. I thought, ‘This is the coolest microphone ever.’ It was designed by the BBC and was used on a lot of the Beatles’ records. I thought, ‘If I ever get some money, I’m gonna buy one.’ It’s probably the most expensive thing I’ve bought in my life, and I have two. So, as you can imagine, friends borrow them a lot.”

Back wall “This wall is the only real decorating I did. I charred up a bunch of wood with a blowtorch.”

Snare drums “(The drum on the far right) was used on the first Weakerthans record, Fallow. I have a bunch of $25 snares. Those are the ones I used on the Bahamas record we just recorded. (Bahamas singer-songwriter Afie Jurvanen) did some sessions with some notable, incredible musicians. He took those sessions back to Toronto and got me to record on those, which was a dream come true. I can’t say who (the musicians were), he paid for that surprise, and I can’t give it away yet. Basically, it’s people I admired when I was young who are also still very relevant.”

Fender Stratocaster “My brother passed away a couple years ago very suddenly. He was a musician, too. He’d lived in New York since the late ’80s, but we’d meet up on the road. He was playing with Nena, remember 99 Luftballons? We’d meet up in Hamburg and hang out all night drinking. He left behind a bunch of guitars. We gave most away to friends, but I kept a few for myself. I never thought I’d love a Strat so much.”

Published in Volume 71, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 19, 2017)

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