To say that Evening Hymns is a two-piece folk-rock band doesn’t quite capture the sheer magnitude of their music. Spectral Dusk, their sophomore album released in August, is more art piece than album. Lead singer and songwriter Jonas Bonnetta penned the record after the passing of his father in 2009. The life-altering loss resulted in a deep reflection of life’s brevity, and ultimately a collection of songs that combine raw honesty and emotion with Bonnetta’s immaculate musicianship. WHERE Ottawa’s Matias Muñoz speaks with him before their show at Mavericks on November 15 about recording Spectral Dusk in Perth, Ontario (about an hour southeast of Ottawa) with bandmate Sylvie Smith and friends, the difficulty of bringing these personal works to life every night on the road, and his relationship with Ottawa.
You recorded Spectral Dusk in a cabin near Perth, Ontario. What drew you to the area?
Well, Sylvie’s parents just bought a place near Perth; it’s about 20 minutes northwest of the town. We approached them about working there, and as artists and musicians themselves, they were super thrilled that we were going to christen it.
What attracted you to this part of the province?
For the most part I really have no interest in recording in studios, so we wanted to do it in a place that sounds good, and that helps us be in touch with our surroundings. And being deep in the woods really put us at ease as musicians, with no landlines and no distractions from the outside. For the type of music we’re making I like to think we don’t need studio production, and I think it has made our record sound great.
Spectral Dusk is deeply personal record. While the album has been well received, have you found it difficult to share it with the world?
I find it pretty difficult live. I mean, the record as a whole was hard to make and that’s why it took such a long time to be released. It got too dark and we had to back off for a while. Once we finished it, we were like “great, we’re done…” forgetting that we then had to go travel the world playing all those songs. Every show conjures up those feelings about my dad. But then after a show someone comes up and tells me they just lost their mom or dad, saying they cried listening to my set because the songs said everything they wish they could have said. That makes it all worthwhile, and it makes it that much heavier because it kind of destroys you a bit hearing those things. But it’s real, and that’s what we like about it.
You have spent a lot of time living life off the beaten path over the last few years. Does living unconventionally help you grow as a musician?
Yeah, I lived in a tent just east of Peterborough all summer working on an art project. It was great. Sylvie and I actually lived up near Perth all winter and will be spending all of this winter there as well. Just having the wood burning smell, cross-country skiing, and quiet reading spaces. It’s pretty much my dream life. I’m at the point in my life where I’m spending five or six months a year on the road and going to all these amazing cities all over the world. So the last thing I want to do in my free time is be in the city.
The Wooden Sky backed you on Spectral Dusk. How did that collaboration come about?
Well, I asked those guys because I love the way they sound. They all met my dad, were with me at the funeral and were crucial through that whole thing. We had a strong connection so it was a no-brainer to collaborate with them. We just did six weeks in Europe and they backed us up on that tour, so we were basically one big seven-piece band a lot of the time.
In what ways is touring in Europe different than Canada?
We haven’t even done that much touring in Canada, to be honest. We’ve done a few legs, but we’ve been in Europe four times in the last two years. When people come to see you play, they come to listen to you and appreciate what you are saying. In North America, it’s sometimes harder to get that intense quiet [atmosphere] that is ideal for our kind of music. [In Europe] we’re in a new, beautiful city every night. And you have that here in Canada too; each place has its own character. We’re trying to put more time into Canada so that we can build our audience here.
You live pretty close to Ottawa, now. What are some of your favourite spots when you’re in the city?
We really enjoy skiing in that area and doing outdoor activities. I also really enjoy going to The Manx for breakfast. I love that place. We played Raw Sugar Café last time we were in town, and the atmosphere in that place is really neat. There’s also Neat (in Burnstown, about an hour east of the city), which I think has some of the best coffee in my opinion. I used to not care for Ottawa that much because I never felt that it had a soul. But as I spend more time there I am really starting to fall in love with the city. We will definitely be coming up there a lot. Plus, Canada’s next Prime Minister Rolf Klausener (frontman of Ottawa band The Acorn) lives there, so it has that going for it too.
Evening Hymns plays Mavericks on November 15. For ticket information visit Spectra Sonic.