Home Jason's Jukebox The Chat Room: The Hello Darlins’ Mike Little

The Chat Room: The Hello Darlins’ Mike Little

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Having established themselves as a recent breakthrough artist on the international Americana scene with their debut album Go By Feel, Canadian folk/country/roots collective The Hello Darlins have returned with an even more ambitious collection, a double album entitled The Alders & The Ashes, out March 1 on CD and digital platforms

Led by Romani-Canadian musician Candace Lacina and world-renowned keyboardist Mike Little, The Hello Darlins are comprised of some of Canada’s most in-demand professional session and touring musicians who came together to forge a distinct hybrid of country, gospel and blues that has led to them being referred to as a “one-band Americana Festival.”

That’s again evident throughout The Alders & The Ashes with standout tracks like “Forgiving Cain & Loving Abel” and “Best Worst Mistake” offering folk-y songs about forgiveness and personal struggle, as well as the straight-forward bluegrass track “Died with His Boots On,” a true story about Candace’s grandfather. The Hello Darlins have also included some of their signature vintage-soul style in songs like “Better Days” featuring guest vocalist Dave Fenley, and “Stranger in the Mirror,” sung by beloved troubadour Martin Sexton.

The Alders & The Ashes was recorded at L.A.’s famed United Recording Studios with multi-Grammy winning engineer Ross Hogarth (John Mellencamp, Edgar Winter, Joe Bonamassa, Jewel), and contributions from bassist Bob Glaub (Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, John Fogerty) and drummer Chad Cromwell (Neil Young, Brian Wilson, Dolly Parton). The Hello Darlins were also fortunate to partner for a second time on mixes with Grammy Award winner Mike Poole (Robert Plant, Patti Griffin, Alabama, Dolly Parton, Buddy & Julie Miller).

The title The Alders & The Ashes is symbolic of change and growth, and the Darlins certainly have a lot to be excited for in 2024 already, with two more tours of Europe on the horizon and another album already in the works.

Mike Little took some time to talk more about The Alders & The Ashes, which can be purchased from thehellodarlins.com and Bandcamp.

 

How did your vision for The Alders & The Ashes start coming together, and what was the creative process like?

This was a unique process for me, especially through the lens of a producer because this album began over two years ago. A UK and EU tour had been canceled due to travel restrictions so we decided to write a record. Candace is an incredible writer and lyricist, and I’m always amazed with her focus within that creative space. She also happens to be my wife, and I jokingly love to share that when she’s in a creative state of flow — she will even keep me awake at night, writing lyrics and sharing ideas. If it’s 5 a.m. and I roll over, she’ll be awake and say, ‘Oh good, you’re awake. Let’s sit at the piano, I have an idea!’ I’m thinking, ‘Can I please just have a coffee first?’ That’s how she writes, and it’s actually pretty amazing. She wrote 32 songs in under two weeks, all of which could have been album-worthy, but we finished 19 or so and decided to create the demos and make a plan to record them.

You recorded much of the album in L.A. with some top shelf players and engineers. How were you able to make that happen?

We had the incredible opportunity to record at United Recording Studios before it closed last April. It’s such an honor to be part of the legacy as one of the last records ever made there. We have all done sessions with some musicians from L.A., and through friends like Chad Cromwell, Bob Glaub and Ross Hogarth, we received an invitation to book out Studio B at United. We didn’t want to miss the chance to create in a space that is such a huge piece of music history. The feeling at United was indescribable. The music was truly in the walls and it was a very surreal experience. After five days, we brought the tracks back home and finished the rest of the album in Calgary in our basement studio. For me, it was a perfect balance of a huge studio feel, and something more intimate and homemade.

The band spent a good deal of time on the road last year. Did that influence the new material at all?

Yes, we were on the road for most of the year, something like 187 days. We loved it and can’t wait to get back out again this summer and fall. We had some really special experiences, such as playing in London’s Trafalgar Square for Canada Day, performing at Paradiso Amsterdam with Lucinda Williams, and of course touring and playing Massey Hall with Matt Andersen. It gave us a chance to take some of these songs on the road and see how they translated with live audiences. It was actually kind of an old- school way of sharing music — touring and tightening the songs up before the album is out. There is nothing that can beat time on the road to get a band playing well. I would say that the touring over the last year was almost like a combination of late-touring our first record, Go By Feel, and an early taste of touring this album. And believe it or not, we are already writing and looking ahead to the next one!

What are some of your favourite songs on the album and why?

One of my favourite songs is ‘Stranger In the Mirror’ because it’s a collaboration with Martin Sexton. That’s my personal ‘fan frenzy’ moment because I love him as a musician and love him as a brother even more. And also because it was written in the spirit of Little Feat, and we got to let loose and had some fun, improvising on the extended jam that ends the song. The most emotional and personal track for me is ‘Forgiving Cain and Loving Abel.’ It was written following an extremely difficult time. I lost a very close loved one during the pandemic. Then I learned that someone had taken financial advantage of the situation and a vulnerable person I deeply loved. I was absolutely devastated by the selfishness and greed from such a weak and desperate person. There was no way to make it right, and the only way to heal was through music. The other song that came out of that situation was ‘Devil in The Dark.’ As a blues musician for so many years, I love this track, especially Candace’s vocal delivery and the lyrics, because it speaks the truth. I also love the heart that the musicians put into these songs because they knew the story. In fact, at the end of ‘Forgiving Cain’ you can hear a final crack when the snare head broke because Chad Cromwell was playing with such raw emotion. Music is powerful. It can bring out the best, and even help heal from the worst parts of humanity.

What can fans expect from The Hello Darlins in 2024?

We are so excited for the shows, festivals and tours already lined up, with more dates being added to the calendar right now. We have the honor of being invited to play Tønderfest in Denmark, with Rodney Crowell in the fall, which I am really looking forward to, in part because we are huge fans of Rodney, and I actually just played on a record for him. We also have a full summer of festivals in Canada that will be a lot of fun as well as touring Europe and UK again. We’re also booking shows, creating and preparing for things to come in 2025, so there is a lot to look forward to!

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