Day 5: Patrick Canning on Creative Ritual and the RPM as Unique Creative Fuel

"After completing the first couple rpm challenges," he says, "it became less about it being a 'challenge' where I'm proving to myself or to others that I can do a thing, and more about the importance of a creative ritual in one's life."

It’s official, after 10 fast and furious Februaries, the NL RPM Challenge has produced more than 1000 local albums. This year, about 130 local albums were written and recorded in the month of February, and every weekday for the rest of the month the Editor of the Overcast will haphazardly select and feature one, to merely skim the surface of what was released. See the full list here. Feel free to fire along some fun facts about yours to chad@theovercast.ca (with the understanding this series can only cover 17-18% of albums released).

Day 5: Sad Tax’s Radical Pastel Mercy

Patrick Canning has been RPM-ing every year since the start; he produced 1 in the first year, and has recorded one of his own every year since year 2, making Radical Pastel Mercy his 9th RPM.

In particular, his records have always struck awe in musicians and music writers for their sheer originality. A lot of musicians can be good at what they do, but a lot of good musicians can’t be innovative and new at what they do. But originality is clearly not a struggle for Canning: he offers up something utterly all his own every year.

“After completing the first couple rpm challenges,” he says, “it became less about it being a ‘challenge’ where I’m proving to myself or to others that I can do a thing, and more about the importance of a creative ritual in one’s life.”

He compares the process to “a type of lent, where I create a thing for the world that nobody really asked for, and celebrate by listening to what everybody else in my life made in that same time.”

“Having an annual project, with a strict deadline, and a defined goal with a significantly sized community of participants and supporters, with an emphasis on completion and participation as opposed to reward or potential commercial success, turns out is a recipe for inspiration.”

He sees the facts that that he has “strained and poked at my latest non-rpm album for like 3 or 4 years now,” as proof of that statement.

“When you eliminate the need to do things ‘right’ or the ‘best way,’ and make everything about what is the best way I can do things ‘right now’ because I only got 28 days to make at least 10 songs or 35 minutes of content, it actually focuses you and opens you up to all sorts of creative solutions you wouldn’t have thought of before.”

As much as any local musician, Canning has been pushing music into unfamiliar territories without any clear influence or genre. His impressively large catalogue of music is as vast as it is innovative. This year, he has created something in keeping with his sound, but something that is also more cohesive than usual, or somethign that is maybe even that contentious word: accessible.

In his own words, Canning says this year’s Sad Tax album “feels the most like a standard Sad Tax album out of all of them.” He attributes that to a late start, which meant less time to play around and experiment, resulting in an album he calls “a bit more tune-oriented and little less soundscapey and experimental than a typical Sad Tax album.”

“Every year I try to learn something new from the process, usually something technical, like a new way to work with midi files, or a new way to mix vocals or whatever. This year I had to wait 8 days before I could start on it, so I could finish up a different project … so I had to get to the nitty gritty of writing tunes right off the bat.”

You’d never tell he was 8 days late to start. The album is 13 tracks long instead of the required 10, and all of them are richly rendered. If you know anything about songwriting and recording, and you hear this album, it’s clear he likely did little else all February long.

“That’s my partner’s complaint about RPM every year,” he jokes. “It takes over everything. I don’t like half-assing these things; the challenge for me each year isn’t just finishing 10 songs or whatever, it’s making an album that I’m actually proud of and actually represents what I’m capable of as an artist and producer.”

Which is a lot, here’s another track off the album:

Canning says he wants a “finished” album at the end of the month, “and that goes for all aspects of it, including album art and packaging. I try not to neglect domestic and other work responsibilities, but it does eat up my month pretty thoroughly.”

Another purely fun reason to anticipate Canning’s RPM every year is his consistency in playing on words in the album names. Each RPM of his uses the initials of RPM in its title. For instance, this year’s record is called Radical Pastel Mercy. There’s no real method to the titles, just a few rules.

“I can’t use any words I’ve used in a previous RPM, and I usually have one or two words I want to use, this year it was ‘Mercy.’ Then I just cycle through possible r and p words until something sticks.”

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