Part 7 is the final chapter of my talk with Dan about the actual recording of Apologies to the Queen Mary.
After we left the session (in Portland) they lost the multitrack version of Shine a Light. So when we got back to Montreal there was no Shine a Light. We had recorded Killing Armies and Shine a Light around the same time and I believe those are on the missing reels. We never got those reels back. So we had to re-record Shine A Light in Montreal. The existing version of that song is recorded on a Mac G-3 with a couple SM 57 mics and Tim Kingsbury playing bass. The version of Shine a Light that came out is not the studio version. We recorded it at our jam space on home recording equipment basically and just slotted it in with the record. Disco Sheets was also recorded this way.
There exists, without much popular discussion, something that I like to call the popped-blue-collar economy. In the telemarketing industry, the number of jobs continues to balloon as people come up with cold-calling schemes and corporations shave away in-house customer service divisions. It’s good work if you can get it, but you usually can’t see the fruits of your labour – there’s no finished product you can behold, no customer you can make smile. Someone else’s busywork, usually, many degrees removed. Over time, it can grind away at you, especially if your dreams are bigger than a cubicle in some office tower or repurposed department store.
A decade ago, for three summers in a row, the only work I could find was at call centres. Both inbound and outbound – whatever the New Brunswick government could lure to the province in order to declare they’d created jobs. (These jovial announcements generally glossed over the fact that our labour was cheaper than elsewhere; companies often came to the province because they could get away with paying us less.) It was mindless work and inconvenient hours. I’d get home at 1 a.m. and binge-watch TV, sometimes until sunrise. Some nights, if I wasn’t exhausted, I’d write freelance stories with hope that I’d someday get a real journalism job – one where I’d call people to tell their stories, not sell them insurance plans they didn’t need.
I still remember the first time I heard “Shine a Light.” I’d gotten a copy of Wolf Parade’s Apologies to the Queen Mary, and inexcusably slept on it for a while – I seem to do that with every album that becomes an all-time favourite – but when iTunes shuffled into this song sometime in 2006, I was floored. The opening riff is pure joy; what could it bring? A flood of synths, for one, then words more defiant than they first seem: Dan Boeckner doesn’t sleep ‘til it’s light; whiles away in an office tower; slogs away on public transit as he heads home to his loved one. Spencer Krug’s backing vocals kick in, no consonants, just sound, a synth of their own. Boeckner admits to waiting on something that’ll never arrive; but then, as Krug’s rejoicing vocals chug along, Boeckner builds another world instead of ceding control.
It’s escapism distilled, a song of unadulterated joy. It was the fist-pumping antidote to every moment I’d spent in a cubicle hating myself. It became my favourite song, and remains one, and turned me on to the rest of Apologies – one of the most fascinating, impressive records so far this century. Boeckner would later reveal, in interviews and in concert, that he, too, had been trapped in telemarketing jobs in Wolf Parade’s early days. He’d lived through the same mind-numbing, fluorescent-lit jobs while he chased far bigger dreams, and the experience shaped the very song that gave me hope of getting out. Eventually, both of us did. Ten years ago, “Shine a Light” was one of the most relatable songs I’d ever heard. Turns out it was more relatable than I could have ever imagined.
Josh O’Kane is a reporter with The Globe and Mail and author of Nowhere With You, a forthcoming book about Joel Plaskett and Thrush Hermit.