Toronto. Early 90’s.
There used to be a recording studio in the old Donlands movie theatre, Studio 92. It was owned and run by Norm Barker and several independent artists from Toronto and the surrounding areas recorded their very first demos and albums there. Over the years Norm would go on to record the likes of The Conscience Pilate, Nancy, Despot!, Passion’d Flower, and if memory serves other projects like the Shadows of Laughter, Vaslav, Irish Descendants, The New Despots, and many many more. I suppose the studio might even still be there, but Norm has moved on. But this is a story as much about my early recordings as it is about Norm Barker – he always went out of his way to teach anyone who was interested about recording, and I learned a lot about recording and production from him. These sessions prepared me for recording and producing, and besides being tons of fun, they were a practical learning experiences the likes of which can never be learned in school.
Speaking of which, we were still in high school in the 80’s when I started recording at Studio 92 with my very first band, Innocent Sin. We released our debut album on cassette tape, as did Passion’d Flower a few years later with “Flowers in the Rain”. I sang in Innocent Sin, and played bass in Passion’d Flower. Innocent Sin did not last beyond that first cassette, but Passion’d Flower was truly something special and the line-up kept changing over the years, which I suppose made me more of a bass player and less of a singer around the time of the early 90’s and the first Studio 92 sessions, which were mostly Passion’d Flower sessions not just for “Flowers in the Rain” but also the several “Deaf Condessa” sessions that ensued.
Sometime in 1993 I decided I’d go in on my own, saved up some cash and booked myself a solo session with Norm. Even back then I kinda placed feeling over technique; but this was actually quite ridiculous as I was far from being an accomplished guitar player, and certainly have never been a drummer – “Dark Lake Night” was therefore my very first and last naive attempt at being a one-man-band in the studio. Norm helped as much as he could of course, but the session made it painfully obvious that although I could sing and play some bass, and perhaps hope to get better at the guitar one day, at least the drums were entirely out of my musical lexicon.
Undeterred, for my next solo sessions, I invited my friends Devin Stoneham (who incidentally had been born Devin Barker but was unrelated to Norm) and Vince “Vaslav” Strnad to play drums and guitar, respectively. Vince had played in some bands we knew from school and I think he introduced us to Devin, as well. They ended up also playing in Passion’d Flower in one of its line-ups, arguably the more accomplished one of many trails… but that is another story.
So the 1994 Neil Leyton Studio 92 sessions were a little less naive, and musically more accomplished, and we played the very first Neil Leyton live gig at Lee’s Palace. By then I’d switched to guitar as my main instrument, and had Vince, Devin and his brother Sean, if I’m not mistaken, in the live band line-up. After the demise of the latest Passion’d Flower line-up, I ended up playing bass for Devin’s band, with Justin Peroff on drums. I can’t recall whether we also recorded a session at Studio 92 or not; Justin would go on to form Broken Social Scene with some of the folks from the Nancy, Despot! label camp, Noise Factory… Toronto was buzzing in the 90’s. Tons of great music…
In 1995 I formed The Conscience Pilate with Edward Pond. From 1995 to 1997 that band was the centre of my universe, released an acclaimed debut EP – also recorded at Studio 92: “Living in a Movie Scene” – and then got mired in typically ridiculous record business trappings that served as my street schooling when it came to the business. I tried to keep it going, but the band broke up upon Edward’s departure in ’97 and I recorded and released my very first solo album, “Down Secret Avenue with the Last Lovers”, in ’98.
So, this compilation includes the bulk of my Studio 92 solo recordings from 1993, 1994 and 1996, as well as a Dogs d’Amour cover of the song “Scared of Dying”, which I recorded a bit later, around the time of Secret Avenue, for a Dogs compilation album – I ended up sending in my cover of Tyla’s “Hate Pain” instead, so this recording remained unreleased until now.
It isn’t easy to say this outloud, especially as pertains the earlier tracks, but I hereby invite you to listen in to these early recording sessions, arranged in chronological order as far as memory serves me – and if you hear anything embarassing, feel free to blush along with me! Studio 92 was all about the learning process… life IS a process, not a product.
– Neil Leyton, Lisbon, Summer of 2013
Release date: September 20th 2013 via all fine digital retailers. Cover photo by Lisa Andaloro, live on stage 1995.