For anyone keeping an ear to the ground, Montreal-based Colin Stetson has been kind of hard to miss. With both an EP and full-length release this year, the latter being short-listed for the Polaris Prize, the music press has been scrambling for a peek into the unorthodox world of the solo saxophonist.
Furthermore, Stetson has become renown as of late for his visceral live shows that often end with him looking as if he’d just run a marathon. To describe it in print is to cheapen the sheer effect of the performance. Just try to imagine one man with a giant saxophone (it’s a bass sax, one size larger than a baritone), playing non-stop for an hour while simultaneously creating a terrifying sound by vibrating his vocal chords through a microphone strapped around his neck. You really need to see it to believe it.
This week, ANDY had the chance to borrow a sliver of his time and chat briefly about his whirlwind year. “I could just go on and on. It’s been a pretty good time but also really relentless,” he laughed. The list of his accomplishments in 2011 alone could easily fill more space than I’m allowed for the interview.
This past year has had Stetson working overdrive, committing himself to an unprecedented amount of touring and solo recording, as well as a lush variety of collaborations. He has recently worked with such heavy-hitters as TV on the Radio and Arcade Fire, and is set to spend a large portion of next year touring with Bon Iver.
But when asked what was the most memorable of his collaborations, Stetson cast his memory back almost a decade. “I always have to say that it was the time I spent working with Tom Waits in the early 2000s. Working and recording with him is still my biggest kind of dream-come-true moment,” he explained. “Seeing his process from the inside out is pretty powerful”.
Stetson is a fluent multi-instrumentalist, adept in playing virtually every woodwind and brass instrument. But lately, Stetson’s public image has become intrinsically tied to the monstrous saxophone that he often performs with. “In 2005 I found the bass saxophone. I has always wanted one but hadn’t found one, nor could I afford one.”
He went on to explain that the sheer size and difficulty of the instrument provided the challenge that he had been seeking. “I picked one up and immediately began focusing on it. It really was a lot more difficult to play than I imagined and took long time before I was comfortable performing with it.”
Stetson has also been heavily embraced for the inventive recording techniques demonstrated on his latest album Judges, utilizing the placement of 24 different microphones on his sax and body while abstaining from any digital effects. “When I finally got the idea to record an album, the notion of just recording like other saxophonists was boring to me. Just throwing up a stereo mic in front of a horn was, to me, a really two-dimensional picture of the instrument”.
“What I wanted to do was get a snapshot of each sound as isolated as I could, just like someone who is micing a drum set or a band in a room,” he elaborated.
Amid his many collaborations, Stetson also mentioned that he had been writing more tracks for a future solo release. He hinted that something may even come together for next year, but until then he can be caught crossing Canada as a member of the backing band for Bon Iver.