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How the lockdown helped Marianas Trench’s singer-songwriter Josh Ramsay to follow his solo record dream

How the lockdown helped Marianas Trench’s singer-songwriter Josh Ramsay to follow his solo record dream

How the lockdown helped Marianas Trench’s singer-songwriter Josh Ramsay to follow his solo record dream

Josh Ramsay may not know what it’s like to run a marathon, but he certainly knows how to work one.

The Marianas Trench singer and songwriter recently released his first 18-track solo album, “The Josh Ramsay Show,” on which he plays every instrument except for the strings.

And it was the arrangement and recording of the orchestra recording on the album’s final song “Miles and Miles,” a tribute to his late father Miles Ramsay that also featured Josh’s sister Sara on vocal, on which he spent an inordinate amount of time completing — almost two months.

“Dude, the recording of that song — oh my god!” Ramsay exclaimed from Vancouver, , where he was packing up his house to move to another location before resuming a Canadian tour with a five-piece band that stopped at the Danforth Music Hall Wednesday.

“It took me three weeks to write it and I wrote it using all sample libraries on a computer, and decided that if we go to a big enough studio, we could record this five-people-at-a-time in chunks.

“It’s actually a 160-piece orchestra, recorded over several days.”

Ramsay says he took a week to record the song, another two weeks to edit it “because we’re trying to get the thing to sound like one orchestra,” and then “eight or nine days” to mix it, the latter process occurring at Bryan Adams’ Vancouver recording studio, The Warehouse.

“We finally finished it — me, Dave ‘Rave’ Ogilvie, the other mixer and Zack Blackstone, the assistant mixer — and we’re so happy, we say, ‘let’s crack open the champagne.’ ”

Before they can celebrate, Adams — who happened to be recording on another floor — came down to hear the final mix.

“We play it to Bryan and he’s very complimentary, and then he asks if he could give us some feedback,” Ramsay recalls. “And we said, ‘sure,’ because it’s Bryan Adams! And he says, ‘when you mix this…’”

“And I say, ‘when we mix it?’ Everybody around the room is falling apart, but he had a point: I was so busy in the middle of the arrangement that I kind of ignored the vocals and assumed they’d be good, and he complained that they weren’t loud enough.

“He was right. It was a little crushing at the moment, but he was right.”

Ramsay said the potential vocal undermix was one of the very few glitches that occurred while making the solo album, which he admits has been on his bucket list for a while, and says the pandemic lockdown gave him the time and motivation to realize it.

“I’ve always planned on doing a solo record where I basically played all the instruments,” admits Ramsay, 36, who has produced Carly Rae Jepsen, co-wrote her massive hit “Call Me Maybe,” and has also written for Nickelback among others.

“But I never got around to it because Mariana’s Trench is a full-time job, and writing for and producing other artists is another full-time job that I’ve got, so I never really had time.

“And then when the beginning of the pandemic happened and it was extreme lockdown, I wanted to work on the next Marianas album but we couldn’t see each other. So, I basically locked myself in a room for a year and made this album.”

The only policy that Ramsay maintained throughout the process was to avoid having his project sound like a Marianas Trench album.

“I don’t think anyone would have appreciated that.”

Instead, he decided to play around “with a bunch of genres that I haven’t gotten to work in as much as I would like to.”

On “The Josh Ramsay Show,” there are plenty of kinds of diverse music he tackles, with numerous guests to lend a helping hand: Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger, Canadian country star Dallas Smith, Toronto powerhouse vocalists Serena Ryder and Fefe Dobson among them.

The album’s opening track, “Lady Mine,” is a high-octane rocker featuring searing guitars, a smoking brass arrangement, a wailing harmonica solo and Kroeger on harmonies.

“That was one of the first songs I wrote for the record,” Ramsay says, adding that the song is the antithesis of the Marianas Trench sound.

“Back in the day, the very first Marianas Trench album comes out in 2006, and at that time I was convinced that it was going to work for us to be a full-on rock band while doing these sort of Queen/Beach Boys styled harmonies. The problem was that the sound of the band was heavy, but because of my in-general-style of writing vocal melodies, rock (radio) stations said, ‘this sounds too pop,’ and pop stations said, ‘this is too rock.’

“Because the one entity that became invested in us at the time was MuchMusic, I made a conscious choice to push our band into the pop realm. But ever since then, I’ve been itching to turn my guitar back up.

“I couldn’t wait to crank that guitar up and do a big heavy guitar riff.”

Kroeger was on board immediately.

“He didn’t even hear the song — he just said, ‘I’m in — send it on over.’ Once he got his voice on there, the song got more exciting.”

Ramsay had already written the midtempo country song “Best Of Me” when he asked Dallas Smith to join him.

“We were in the studio together to do that song and he laid down his vocals in about 10 minutes and looked like he wasn’t even trying,” Ramsay recalls. “He was amazing.”

Fefe Dobson’s involvement on the duet “Delirious” was also a product of post MuchMusic Award celebrations many years ago.

“We were at an after-party at the Horseshoe and we just started hanging out and talking,” Ramsay remembers. “ just really liked her right away — she’s very lovely and a lot of fun. We started thinking, yeah, we should really do something together and we were both really into the idea, but we were also pretty drunk and thinking, ‘yeah, I’m sure nothing will come of this.’

“Fast forward years later, and I thought she’d be great on ‘Delirious,’ so I sent her the song and she came on board pretty quickly. She rewrote the bridge and helped steer the song in the right direction. I think it was a fun collaboration because I feel like Fefe and I are pop artists, but we do it with the soul of a rocker.”

Serena Ryder joins Ramsay for “Beat The Devil,” and the singer says he always wondered how their voices would sound together because of the “grit” factor.

“When she sent me back her vocals — the last chorus of the song where we’re both improvising with each other, I started giggling because I was so happy with what I was hearing.”

Other guests that join “The Josh Ramsay Show” include alt-pop folkies Fionn, singers Ria Mae and Tyler Shaw and DJ Sharkpocalypse, and the album also jumps into big band “Blame It On The Beat” and short instrumental interludes like “The Ballad of Cheeky Valentino.”

“When I was a kid, my dad owned a recording studio and there was also a recording studio at my house, so my earliest memories of making music on my own was being in a studio by myself and just recording various instruments and trying to put together songs. So it kind of brought me back to being a kid, actually.”

That studio, Little Mountain Sound, was home to a number of major recording projects like Aerosmith’s multimillion sellers “Pump” and “Get A Grip;” “Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet” and “New Jersey,” Metallica’s self-titled monster hit album and Mötley Crüe’s “Dr. feel good,”

So it’s little wonder Ramsay wanted to record the album’s final song, “Miles and Miles,” as a tribute to his father.

“One of the big things I learned from my Dad was musical arranging, so if I was going to remember him, I wanted to make sure — musically speaking — it was a pretty big flex on his behalf,” Ramsay notes. “I’m trying to show off what I’ve learned from him.”

As for those pondering Marianas Trench’s future, Ramsay allays any fears for the band’s future with the news that he’s already working on the group’s sixth album.

“This Marianas record is going to be the most narrative idea that I’ve had — it’s really going to be a storytelling record and I’m very excited about it — and everyone in the band is pumped.”

Nick Krewen is a Toronto-based freelance contributor for the Star. Reach him via email: octopus@rogers.com

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