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Wide Mouth Mason return to Saskatoon for first time in three years (May 24th and 25th at the Capitol Music Club)

Updated: May 8

by Scott Roos

photos by Deanna Roos/Contingent Colours Photography

It's hard to believe that it's been three years since Wide Mouth Mason last performed in Saskatoon. I had this very in depth chat with guitarist/frontman Shaun Verreault about what the city of Saskatoon means to him, Taylor Swift, the emergence of AI, the accessibility of music via streaming services, as well as the very detailed and specific process that went into the recording of the band's last two full length release: I Want To Go With You and Late Night Walking. The interview in its entirety can be found below.

As part of the venue's 10th Anniversary concert series, Wide Mouth Mason will be playing two dates at the Capitol Music Club. Their appearance on Friday, May 24th is unfortunately sold out but there are still tickets available for their all ages show on Saturday, May 25th HERE. For these shows, bassist Reed Shimozawa will sit in with Wide Mouth Mason founders Shaun Verreault (guitar, vocals) and Safwan Javed (drums).

NSMZ: So you're coming back to, you know, the home province and in the hometown.

I'm trying to think now when was the last time you came through Saskatoon?

Have you been there recently?

Sean Verreault (SV): Our first post lockdown gig was when we played the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival. I guess that was in 2021 maybe, so it has been a while.

NSMZ: Yeah. So I mean, I guess the operative question is, how meaningful of an experience is it, coming back to the very place that, in a sense ,because I know your history with Buds on Broadway, basically, handed you your career?

SV: Yeah. I mean, everything happened for the first time in Saskatoon. Safwan Javed and I doing an impromptu performance at a pep rally at our elementary school was our first time playing together in front of people. The first time we jammed at my place and then his place, first to me on my first acoustic and him on some pots and pans. Then, you know, Earl (Pereira, former bass player) coming over to Saf's parents basement in his Arby's uniform and sweating through it as we jammed. And, as you said, all of those experiences at Buds when we were coming up and that  jammed in a real breeding ground for people who couldn't play in licensed venues to have the experience of playing in front of an actual audience. Down to, you know, when we played Downstairs, when it was this Centennial and opened for Big Sugar and Gordie (Johnson) said, “What are you guys doing for the next couple of months? I'd like you to open the entire Canadian tour for us.” 

All of those things were pivotal moments for us and very much a part of the history of the band. So, yeah, to come back, especially with a new record in tow and, transparently for both of us, to bring our kids back since one of the days (at the Capitol Music Club) is an all ages show and to have them and our families there is going to be beautiful.

NSMZ: Yeah, and I mean, you know, not that I totally creep on your socials but just things come up on my feed, but I saw your daughter's into guitar playing now, which is super cool.

SV: Yeah, man, that's a joy. You know, it's always been around, but for it to be something that's self-driven, maybe it's the Taylor Swift effect. But for it to be something that she's gotten so passionate about, you can imagine how happy that makes me.

NSMZ: Well, it's funny you'd mention that whole Taylor Swift thing because I mean, my daughter picked up a guitar completely on her own to learn a couple of Taylor Swift songs. So, I mean, it's a thing, man, it's a legit phenomena.

SV: I mean, not to say that there isn't some complexity or some movement, but at core, many of her songs are like three to six pretty standard cowboy chords, maybe with the capo thrown on there. And it's a great gateway drug into the power of melody in the way that you can marry things that don't have to be really complex musical things for it to be a song that connects with people.

I mean, you know, I was thinking this morning… how much great stuff there is being made right now from obviously on a large scale, you know, from something massive juggernaut like the Taylor Swift experience, but I was listening to the St. Vincent record, the Brittany Howard record, I love Jason Isbell and Billy Strings and Chris Thiele, and there's just so much amazing music being made that it's kind of a golden age. And because there's no real centralized part of it anymore, I mean, you know, people might go to Spotify or Apple Music to listen, but the road there can be from so many different places now that there's always more to discover. A whole world and branches that you may not be aware of until something tips you off and points you at them.

NSMZ: You know, that reminds me just a few weeks ago, Brittany Howard was playing Coachella, and it was streaming just for free. I mean, obviously the experience of actually being there on site is the ideal, but  life sometimes gets in the way, but it's insanely accessible in this day and age, both, you know, live concerts and, like you said, streaming services and things like that to be able to tap into a lot of the exciting things that are going on too.

SV: Yeah. Where you used to need a curator or maybe an older friend or relative or back in the days of walking around the record, the things that might just jump at you from how cool the cover looked or someone there recommending something. There’s multitude of music to discover now and it's a great time for that.

A few years ago, I got asked by a local theater company here in Vancouver if I could fill the spot in a Dolly Parton musical theater production for playing dobro, which obviously they knew I did a lot of and then claw hammer banjo and mandolin. So I really delved into those in my playing for that project. And then that carried over into, you know, both are on our most recent record Late Night Walking

It's amazing how there’s, like we said, has so many tributaries that you can go off on your musical kind of flow that leads you to places you may not have ever imagined when you were starting many years ago.

NSMZ: You were talking about the, you know, the role of the curator, like, I mean, literally in the 90s when you guys were coming up, I mean, people like relied religiously on compilations like Big Shiny Tunes, which, you know, of course, the biggest selling a Big Shiny Tunes album you guys had a track on (Big Shiny Tunes 2). I can't believe it's been like, and I mean, you know, I suppose we could both call ourselves old, but it's been like 27 years.

SV: It is crazy that there's that much road behind us. And I remember when I subscribed to Columbia Record Club buying gold and platinum cassette tape. It was like 1985 or something. And those compilations again, yeah, and now that there's, there is so much music, you sometimes require a friend to make you a mixtape or turn you on to stuff

to even be aware of it. I remember one time when we were on tour of Saf going, “I understand that the Beatles are the Beatles, but there's some songs I really like and some that I just find corny and don't resonate with me at all. Could you pick out ones you think I would like?” And that was a fun mix tape to make.  And in this world of so many options, that can be vitally important. And the algorithm can sometimes nail it. Sometimes I'll throw on a playlist and then go, all right, show me related stuff. And things will pop up that I haven't heard before, but it is always taken a little more seriously when it's a friend that you trust going, “All right, I'm sending you something, put your headphones on and sit down.”

NSMZ: Oh my God, have you tried this Spotify DJ at all?

SV: I haven't. I haven't done the DJ.

NSMZ: Because if your musical tastes are even  moderately widespread, the DJ plays some pretty weird, pretty varied shit at times. And you're like, oh, it's playing gangster rap. Oh, well, now it's playing the blues. Oh, what's happening here? Now it's playing metal. Yeah, it can be a little all over the place, but it's like, it's freaky, though, man. AI is getting ridiculously out of hand.

SV: I just saw a poster that came out for a festival we're doing this summer, which was obviously AI generated. And in many cases, it's like, well, festivals are, you know, hanging on by the skin of their teeth in many instances. So if there is some upside to it is that, if there are no other options, you can come up with some, you know, creative things that you dictate and collaborate on it with. I mean, it goes back to the cyborg discussion of how much is coming from people and how much is machine learning in AI?I mean, auto tune is a form of AI, and it's been used for quite some time. You know, is a calculator AI?

There's varying degrees of it, but we've sort of come to rely on these different tools

to summarize things or to present us with options sometimes. But yeah, somewhere in the middle, the combination of it assisting human insight and querying, I find interesting and useful. Like a rhyming dictionary, you know, is it showing all the options that rhyme with this word? I'll still make the decision or make up hybridized things somewhere deeper than that, but time saver and inspiring to have it at your fingertips sometimes.

NSMZ: Well, I, you know, use electronic means just to keep my writing

from being redundant. Like if I want to use a word that has a similar meaning,

but I can't think of one. I just go into Google and look up synonyms.

I hear you there.

So 2019, I Want To Go With You, you know,  that was your “stompy blues” record.

Now, I mean  I know before that, No Bad Days came out in 2011, so there was an eight year span. This time around though, I mean, you released this most recent record in October of 2023. So, I mean, I guess the operative question is like, you know, was that maybe COVID that might have prolonged it or did the four years seem like maybe a natural progression to  release an album like, where was your mind there?

SV: Great question. I mean, the break after No Bad Days was very family centric. I was bound and determined to not be seeing any first steps on my phone in the parking lot of a venue I played ten times, you know? And then obviously we were all going all guns blazing when I Want to Go With You came out and then everything shut down. Then our first show back, being the Jazz Festival in Saskatoon in 2021, being the first show we had played in years at that point. (The pandemic) was a great opportunity in many ways to fill up notebooks with ideas and to rediscover a thing that I used to do when I was 13, which was put a record on my headphones and plug a guitar in and play along with it. And actually, relying on me, the algorithm to go, all right, I'm going to pretend this is that old TV show Quantum Leap and whatever song comes up on the shuffle, I have to imagine that I've popped on the stage with that band and I have to figure out how to play something that fits in with the music that I'm listening to.

It really honed my ears and, and chops at a time where there weren't any other things going on musically. Then I started differentiating the days by arranging and figuring out how to play on the three-slide lap steel, just a different song pretty much every day. It might be, it was, you know, John Lennon's birthday, so I had arranged a Beatles song or Blake Mills put a record out. So I'd cover Blake Mills song and really figure out how to arrange the vocal part and the guitar part and the rhythm part and figure out how to do that and really stretching myself, like daring myself to go “I bet you couldn't figure out ‘Panama’ by Van Halen, or ‘Hot For Teacher’ or something and going, well, what else do I have to do? You know, it's not like I have shows to go play.”

So it ended up being a really fertile time creatively (during the pandemic).  I couldn't have played like I did on Late Night Walking without having all that time to really dig into the instrument and discover new ways of doing things and branching out that way. So in the end, I've seen a lot of my peers and friends play in the last little while where their voices are … like I saw a Big Sugar a couple of weeks ago. And Gordy's playing and voice was as strong if not stronger than I've ever heard it. I saw the Black Crowes, you know, that same week and Chris's voice. I mean, I would have pegged Chris for someone who would have screamed himself out just a few years ago.

I wonder if the break during COVID restored some muscular elasticity or vocal cord elasticity. Like maybe in some ways that break not only made everyone appreciate everything when it came back, but I think it might have recharged people's bodies in their physical instruments in some ways that we're seeing the benefits of right now.

Verreault's "tri-slide" technique. He has been perfecting this technique the last several years and heavily leaned into it during the I Want To Go With You sessions.

NSMZ: So this record, Late Night Walking, seems maybe a little more plugged in than I Want To Go With You was. Is that a fair assessment?

SV: Definitely. We've never really sat down with a game plan when we go into,

Maybe a little bit on Stew we did. Our plan with Gordie (Johnson) was, you know, let's really explore the Stevie Wonder and Prince side of us, where before that we kind of just followed our muse all around, like an algorithm shuffling through a little bit of this, a little bit of that,

and a song like this.

Before we did I Want to Go With You, and part of that came down to, as I was just developing the lap steel style, I really only could do a few things reliably in tune. And that lent itself to pretty simple chord structures and groove and exploring the blues side of writing and playing. Every time I'd sit down to do it or do a show, like, okay, I hit the ditch a few times on this thing, but it was like learning a new language and then just going, “Well, I'm going to move to France, and I have to speak French, and then therefore I'll get better at it” versus conjugating verbs in an English-speaking city, and not really having a chance to try it out.

So in the process of learning that technique and developing it, the songs that I was writing were naturally kind of that way. And it dawned on us that we'd never really sat down, I've said the phrase before, blues is like the middle 10 letters of our alphabet as a band, but we'd never really explored and pointed ourselves at it as, all right, if we were going to make this a cohesive piece from beginning to end and focus on that side of what we do, what would that sound like? Less the Stevie (Ray Vaughn) and Jimmy (Hendrix) kind of strad on that position kind of style of it, but more of the going back kind of earlier than that, to the, you know, solo person with a resonator guitar, or that kind of side of blues music that I love so much on such an influence, and what would that sound like if we did that as a band?

So as it happened, we went in and tracked that with just Saf and I playing together at

Ryan Dahle's studio when it was here in Vancouver off commercial drive, and then he would overdub some bass or Darren Parris who was touring with us quite often at the time would overdub some bass, and we wanted it on purpose to stay a stripped down and raw sound. We'd only do one or two takes of something and let it breathe and be imperfect. And that kind of carried over into when, after writing a lot over the pandemic, we went to Ryan's new place, which is on Mayne Island off the coast here in Vancouver, this beautiful place in nature and the mountains and the woods, and kind of went,” All right, this time let's the sort of genre muse meander, and whatever the songs tell us they want, whether that's Led Zeppelin III, like folk elements, or turn the Marshals up and get way louder and raunchier than we allowed it to get on I Want To Go With You. Let's just be what happens and follow it anywhere”. So we followed the same plot of just Saf and I tracking, with me singing and playing and him playing drums, because we found that it let us be really agile, and we could improvise while we were recording, and there wasn't a third person who needed to try and follow along. Especially because the tri-slide looks so weird, and no one but me knows really what it's related to. It wasn't like a bassist could look at my fingers and go, “Ah, you're going to a G there.”

So we tracked it with just the two of us, and then we ended up sending the file to Gordie Johnson at his studio outside of Austin, and it was like getting camera film developed. So we would send it and then forget about it for a week or so, and then our inbox would start filling up with, all right, here's what he heard on this one, here's what he heard on this one, and the surprise and delight of his choices and his tones was just awesome, and the different places he took it we were so thrilled with, that I think that also leant itself to some of the heavier sounds. If Gordy's playing something that's going to have some weight and some stomp to it, it really made some of those songs heavier and girthier.

NSMZ: Yeah, I mean, it's interesting to hear about that evolutionary progression between, you know, I Want To Go With You  and Late Night Walking, for sure, man, that's cool.

So, you know, I don't want to keep you much longer, but I mean, just a couple of questions that I normally ask everybody that sort of normally yields pretty interesting responses if you’d humour me.

All right, okay, so the first one is, who is Sean Verrault?

SV: Oh, man. Sean Verreault is a father. He's a husband. He's a guy who is a restless evolver as a musician. I think that's been the thing that's consistent in my life and music. I'm always looking for a new thing that I've never done, chords I've never played together, a new technique… whether that's what I would sound like if I didn't allow myself a pick for a year? What would I sound like if I didn't get pedals for this tour? And some of that is the inspiration from Prince in that I loved that every record he even looked different. He had different hair and different clothes and maybe played a different guitar or not played a specific guitar on that record.

So who am I? I'm a dad. I'm a husband. I'm a guy in a band and I'm a restless evolver as a creative person.

NSMZ: You know what I can really appreciate about what you just said is the family came first, which I would imagine is really hard to do, especially, I mean, even in a reduced touring schedule that's admirable.

SV: Well, thank you, man. I think there are enough cautionary tales in music. I've seen enough “behind the music” episodes to see people that go, ”It was a really fun ride, but there was a point where, you know, where the road owed us nothing, where we'd had the highs and lows of it and there wasn't anything it could really throw at us that we hadn't already experienced.” You've got to follow your heart and your inspiration to where it leads you and being parents and being involved in that has been a wellspring of creativity. Now, as you saw, as my daughter has gotten more into music, it's inspired me. She wrote an EP and self-recorded it and we released it a couple of years ago. In the midst of that, I was like, “God damn, I have songs I've been working on for months now that I haven't finished and she's just finished four songs this afternoon” and it kind of kicked my ass to go, “Come on, man, you’re an experienced songwriter here. You get to work.”

NSMZ: Okay, so question number two. I mean, you know, I guess it depends on how you determine the start date, but I mean, some places say that your active year was 95. Some people go by the release of the first album, which would have been 1996. But I mean, you know, going on 30 years now as Wide Mouth Mason, why at this point in time should people care about what you guys are doing?

SV: Hmm, great question. I don't know if they need to. I mean, there's so many choices out there. I will say, having done a tour across the country in November and December when right after the record came out, I felt like we were in front of a lot of people who'd seen us many years ago who were coming maybe because of Big Shiny Tunes or because they'd seen us live a bunch of times, who would come up after and go, “You know, I met my wife at your show. This is my son, Mason. He plays guitar now”, and they were beautiful moments and it was gratifying to hear them say that, “You sing better than you ever have. You guys are tighter than you've ever been. The energy was great.”

The other piece is partly to do with guitar changes and how things had to be structured

and partly as a statement. On our last tour, we played seven songs that were no older than,

I Want To Go With You to start the show as a way of going, “look, we've been up to some things”. Either because of the pandemic or just algorithms or people's lives or, you know, there is a decentralized sort of radio thing that were on as much or record company reps in every city on a major label isn't part of our world anymore, and they don't exist anymore in that same way that there's a lot of work that we've done that people might not have heard. The fact that people were singing along with new to them songs by the second chorus, or that they were cheering for, you know, two or three of the songs off the new record as hard as they were cheering for “Midnight rain” or “My Old Self”, was really, it made us feel like we're on to something that's pretty compelling right now.

So I would say if you're interested, if you're not that’s cool, but if you're interested, don't take it from the person who's biased. Artists always feel like the most recent thing they're working on is their favorite, because it's the newest, but take it from from Gordie Johnson, who's seen us play hundreds of times from us touring together, who produced records for us in 2000 and played on this last one, who called me going,” What the hell happened? These are the best songs you've ever written in your life. This is the best you guys have ever played together in your lives. I don't know what changed or what happened, but I know you, and I've known you for decades, and this is your best work.”

For Ryan Dahle, who worked on these last couple records with us to go, “This is my favorite thing you guys have ever done.” And to people who've come to the shows going, “You know, what I bought, the new record.” I came to hear “Mary Mary”, and I'm leaving with Late Night Walking because I want to hear “Habitual” over and over again. It feels like there have been enough voices saying, that aren't mine, that we're onto something pretty unique and compelling right now, and it's worth lending an ear to if you're interested in that kind of thing.

NSMZ: Right on, man, well, listen, I won't keep you too much longer, but I know I'll be out to see you at the Capitol Music Club, and I'm really looking forward to it. I haven't seen you guys play since Edmonton Rockfest in 2019. So this will be fun. This will be fun.

SV: Yeah, come up and say, hey, it'd be great to see you.

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