The Hello Darlins are long-standing songwriters and session musicians, Candace Lacina and Mike Little, who release their own full-length debut album Go By Feel on June 11. With a group of top notch musicians this Canadian duo’s blend of country, gospel and blues put the ‘north’ into Americana. YLIAS had the pleasure of talking to Candace and Mike recently about how they came together, their new album and ‘Canadiana’ in general.
First things first, how are you both? How has the past year been?
Candace: It’s certainly been a year of ups and downs. We have had some great moments, but it has been such a reminder that you can make time stand still and also just how time flies when you’re on the run. The past year has felt like ten but it’s a good thing to have time to reflect.
Mike: Yeah, and not take for granted the simple things we used to do like get on an airplane and do a show!
Have there been any positives for you from the past year?
Candace: I agree, we take things for granted in our high paced lifestyle, even time together and with friends so you don’t realise what you have until you’ve lost it. We’ve been in the music industry for many years and connections like us being on stage with our audience, we will never take for granted!
How did the album come about? You’ve been together for some time, since 2016 as the Hello Darlins, so this debut has been a long time coming (and well worth the wait too).
Mike: Candace and I met many years ago in the recording studio because we are both session musicians. We’ve worked on a lot of records, written a lot of songs together and we got married! (C: and we’re still married, even after a pandemic!). So after writing a lot of songs for other artists we thought why don’t we stop, keep some and do our own project? Also, we’ve always been going in different directions so let’s go in the same direction fora a change and have some of those cool experiences together.
You’ve got some fantastic musicians on the album. How did you gather them all together?
Candace: There are incredible musicians everywhere you go and we’re very fortunate to know a lot of them. The level of musicianship required in a recording studio is a different kind of skill set and I think every single one of those musicians on our record put music first. They work at it every day, it’s something very important to them so that’s kinda how we came about them. They became friends and they put their love into the music. We’ve got a lot of Canadian heavies on the record for sure!
Mike: We’ve even got guys like Matt Andersen who features on our song ‘Still Waters’. I was on the road with Matt 20 years ago. He was opening up for a band I was in called The Road Hammers here in Canada. We struck up a friendship and it’s just interesting how, years later, some of these connections come up. We thought, you know who’d be perfect for this song? Matt Andersen! Let’s give him a call and he’s like “I’m in”.
What’s the difference between making your own album and being session musicians? The roles must be very different.
Candace: One thing is that there’s a lot more responsibility. For the first time we are seeing the other side of the lens. When you are leading the project you are taking responsibility for all the planning, co-ordinating and making sure your musicians are taken care of. That’s been a great experience, Mike’s been a band leader for a long while, I have less experience doing that, but I definitely have a new found respect for those who are at the front as opposed to being the support act. Typically we get the show schedule, show up and that’s it!
Did the album turn out as you expected? With all your experience what was the finished article like compared to what you had thought before going into the studio?
Mike: We had the luxury with this record of being able to recut songs two or three times in our own studio where we are sitting right now. If we weren’t happy with something we could recut. But both of us are big fans of energy. That has to be right in the room full of musicians at the time of recording. You can hear that when you bring the record home and listen to it. So we were able to obsess a little bit more on our own record to make those decisions whereas as session musicians you just have to let some things go.
Candace: But we did promise not to become too obsessive about it! Being on the other side can turn you into a perfectionist so you worry too much because the truth is you’re never going to reach complete perfection. At the end of the day I feel really proud of this record but I also feel a bit detached from it. It has a life of its own now.
There’s quite a lot of symbolism on the album. Take for example ‘Aberdeen’ and the accompanying video. Beyond its beautiful location and imagery there’s an underlying sadness. What prompted the song and how did you match it to film?
Candace: As songwriters we have to ‘dig the ditch’ and really work at figuring out the lyrics but every once in a while the heavens open up and a song falls into your lap. The story behind ‘Aberdeen’ is about a friend of ours who was a photographer living in Calgary. She loved chasing storms and was very connected with ‘The Stampede’, our rodeo event here. Very suddenly she got sick and passed away. She impacted so many communities across western Canada and people remembered their connection with her as the year went on. “Aberdeen’ is about friendship that continues beyond that lifeline, symbolised in the video by the fence line. It’s a sad story that we told Joey Landreth who put his whole heart into the vocals.
Mike: I want to say that Candace shot and directed the video. Having the person who conceptualised the song and also made the video brought both together beautifully.
Candace: Her name was Vanessa and she had this ripple effect on so many people. It’s a story about a horse as well and the relationship between the horse and the rider.
What a magnificent tribute you gave your friend. More symbolism comes on ‘Catch That Train’ with its very bohemian feel. What is the history here?
Candace: That goes back to my grandfather who was a musician. He taught me to sing, that’s his violin behind me. To him music and career were intertwined, both were so important to his life. ‘Catch That Train’ is about making the big changes in life, the ones that are most painful and heartbreaking. My grandfather did that in his lifetime, he moved from the US to Canada (there’s more of a story there as he ran rum under the Canadian border!). His was a bohemian lifestyle of connection, community and musicianship that plays on through the new album.
Mike: He had a huge impact on Candace as a musician. He’s around all the time.
To a newcomer, how would you introduce your music?
Mike: I would say that our music is very old school in the way that we rely on real instruments and real vocal harmonies. We don’t use any vocal tuning, edits or tricks of new music. We want it to be authentic, sincere and real.
Candace: What you hear on the album is what you’d hear live. As far as genres go it truly is Americana. We have so many influences as Canadians which come from both true Americana from the US, country music and ‘Canadiana’. We were raised on The Band who were a blend of Canadian and American. Mike is a huge fan of The Band (that wouldn’t be a Band shirt you’re wearing Mike? Big smile as Mike reveals The Band logo!)
There’s a huge amount of influences that we we are calling North Americana!
And so you should! I’m a huge Band fan myself, it all goes back to them but that’s for another day. Do you feel Canada gets a raw deal in terms of publicity despite having so many amazing artists?
Candace: We do!
Mike: I think a lot of people forget how many musicians come from Canada because so many become assimilated into Americana culture. For example, k.d.lang lives here in our city and Joni Mitchell is just down the road. It’s not unusual to see Ian Tyson down at the grocery store. Some people may not know any of these great musicians are Canadian. We do and we are proud of that, and The Band!
A group I was surprised not to have been more frequently associated with you are Cowboy Junkies. You have your own unique vibe but you do share their ethereal sound, real instruments and all around a single mic.
Mike: Thank you, it’s really interesting you should say that. I’m a huge fan of Cowboy Junkies. Dovetailing with what you just said The Trinity Session was recorded in a church in Toronto around one microphone. They weren’t afraid to be just musicians and put their art out for what it is. They didn’t do overdubs or vocal tuning.
Candace: They are the real deal.
Is there a light that will lead to a stage soon?
Candace: There is hope. We’ve got close to 70% of our province vaccinated now so we may see some shows locally this summer. But our focus is on 2022 when, if all goes to plan, our hope is to be on the road. And in your company!. We so want to come over to the UK.
Mike: As soon as possible!
Well, we can’t wait either. Thank you both so much for taking the time to talk to YLIAS and we hope to see you over here very soon. In the meantime all the very best with Go By Feel and stay well.
Candace: We have been humbled by the way the UK has really embraced this kind of music which is fabulous. Thank you so much.
Mike; Thank you Lyndon, we really appreciate it.