How Dan Frechette and Laurel Thomsen’s new album was inspired by the CA wildfires
If you read the titles of the five albums Dan Frechette and Laurel Thomsen have released, Dan and Laurel, New Disguise, Between The Rain, Driving By Candlelight and After The Fire, they kind of tell a story. But it’s the story of After The Fire, their latest album, which has had the greatest impact on the Canadian/American duo.
Dan and Laurel are based near Santa Cruz, CA, and during the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic they hunkered down on their property up in the mountains about 30 minutes out of town to record the new album. No sooner had they finished the basic tracks when a lightning storm started coming through the area.
“Dan had a really strong intuition when the lightning started, this is going to be bad”, recalled Laurel.
Dan was able to contact a couple of friends in Santa Cruz who offered space to store their instruments and recording gear. Another friend offered accommodations at their accessory dwelling unit so when the call came to evacuate, Dan and Laurel’s minds were at ease for their safety. Once established in the ADU, the duo finished up the final bits of recording the album.
“We had nothing to do but look at our town burning down on Facebook,” said Dan. “So we focused on vocals and overdubs. It was good because we were so grateful to have this stuff. I think that feeling made it into the album.”
In the end, their home was spared from the fire, but their recording shack was destroyed.
“When we were looking for an album title, we looked through the songs and saw they had different themes overall but had a similar ‘phoenix rising from the ashes,’ hopeful [feeling],” said Laurel. “And maybe we can come out better in the end.”
The story of how the duo connected in the first place is an example of what can happen when you engage in social media. In 2012, while living in a still snow-covered Winnipeg at the end of May, Dan was scrolling through YouTube when he came across a video he thought was of an old friend but was actually Laurel.
“He clicked on it because I looked like his friend from B.C. who played some fiddle,” Laurel said.
“It knocked me out the way she played,” said Dan. “The sound, the tone, intonation and emotion. I said, ‘Imagine this stuff on my music!'”
A quick email was sent out inquiring if Laurel did remote recording, and what followed was a year-long online collaboration and friendship. Eventually the opportunity presented itself for Dan to do some touring in the States with Laurel.
“I was thinking if it goes well then I’ll invite her to come and play with me in Canada,” said Dan. “It went very well! A couple came up to us at the break and said, ‘Wow, this is really great. How long have you guys been playing together?'”
“We literally met today!” was the response.
Following two successful tours, Dan and Laurel put their respective belongings in storage and hit the road touring non-stop.
“As time went on people [asked], “Do you have a CD?’ so the first album was just the two of us recorded live in a church. It sounded great so we’ve been doing it ever since.”
After all this time together the duo’s method for writing songs remains the same as it was at the beginning when Dan would send Laurel mp3s of his songs.
“Even though we’re now married and together, I say, ‘Can you send me a track?’ and I do an overdub,” said Laurel. “I’ll do 10 different takes, listen back and reflect on what’s the most simple but effective approach. Then I’ll send it back to Dan, over there in the house!”
What has helped Dan and Laurel during these two years of no touring because of the pandemic has been their online teaching. It’s something they appreciate for what it gives them as musicians.
“I’ve been teaching since I was 14,” said Laurel. “I noticed very quickly how having to explain something to someone else made me go deeper with the material, in order to convey it in different ways to different students.”
“What I do as a teacher is get them to where their technique is at a certain point and then introduce some of the ways to make the instrument sing,” Dan added.
For now, their live performances are close to home, either at tourism venues or at functions like weddings.
“As musicians, we have to be flexible,” said Laurel. “That’s what has allowed both of us to be musicians.”
For more on Dan Frechette and Laurel Thomsen, go to danandlaurel.ca.