On the Record: Joel Thomas Hynes, Dead Man’s Melodies

Joel Thomas Hynes spent the winter racking up literary accolades, and staring in a new TV show he wrote, called Little Dog. Instead of taking  break, he's touring and promoting a new album, Dead Man's Melodies. 

Joel Thomas Hynes spent the winter racking up literary accolades, and staring in a new TV show he wrote, called Little Dog. Instead of taking  break, he’s touring and promoting a new album, Dead Man’s Melodies.

He’s garnering some high praise while he’s at it. As an example, Bob Mersereau of top100Canadianblog wrote, “Usually, people in one artistic discipline who try to move into music end up sounding like they’re on holiday. Hynes sounds like he’s belonged there all along.”

If I made you pick a favourite song off the album, which would you pick? Any reason why?

I think my favourite track on the album turned out to be Last Call, the third track. It was written during the recording of the album to balance things out a little. It’s fun to perform and funny. It’s only got two chords but it’s a tough song to execute in that character. It’s the only song on the album that I do solo, so I jokingly refer to it as the token ballad on the record. But if you’ve ever been stuck to the bar at CBTG’s at closing time wondering how the hell your night and your life went so far off the rails, then maybe it’s not so much of a joke afterall.

And another favourite?

I’m really happy with the last song – Everybody Loves You (When You’re Dead). I wrote it a few years back and, despite the lyrical content, always conceived of it as a celebratory barroom folky singalong type of deal. But I could never pull it off on my own. But it really fell into place in a surprising way when the whole band got in on it. It’s really fun to sing.

Is there a song on here that’s a little different for you, or that you questioned including?

There are songs that were recorded and even mastered but that I pulled from the record at the last minute. One in particular, Nothing to Write Home About, was a little too introspective and personal and raw. It fit in with the album concept, and lyrically connected to the other songs, but it wasn’t the right sound. And it stood out to the point where people singled it out as their favorite when they listened to a pre-release of the album. So I pulled it because I felt it threw the album off balance. It’s available now on my Soundcloud page if anyone is interested in spinning it, and you’ll see why I yanked it.

Which one of these songs came out the hardest, or was the longest in the crafting? Why?

Cain was probably the toughest to write. I was really hell-bent on writing an historic, biblical song and I’ve always loved Cain’s story so I set out to write a song from his perspective. It took me a couple of weeks of really forcing it – rewriting lyrics, cracking the progressions, trying different keys, waking up in the middle of the night and recording new parts.

It was exhausting, but I wouldn’t bail on it. I just obsessed over it for two whole weeks. I finished it one night in Toronto, then got on a plane that evening. When I sat down in my seat on the plane I whipped out my notebook and wrote The Sky Is Falling, just about as fast as my hand could move across the page. Got home and played it like I’d played it before a hundred times. And very little about the song changed from the time it was written to the time it was recorded.

So, it’s a mystery. One song took me two weeks of steady writing and editing, and an hour after it was finished this other song, also a biblically leaning, character-driven song, just popped out of my head in ten minutes. And both songs are equal.

Share a random fact about one of your songs on this album, or the album itself.

Seven Years, which I wrote in rehab in 2010, was recorded exactly seven years to the day I quit drinking. With that in mind, it becomes even more eerie – it’s like a message from the future written to a former self BY that former self. I don’t know. There’s also a line from Cervantes in there. A lot of the songs on the album have at least one literary reference that can be fun to uncover.

And if your album collection was on fire, what’s one album you’d run into the flames for?

Ummm, I think I’d just spare my lungs and my eyebrows and hope that it’s on Itunes. Like my new album is!

There are many ways to evaluate a song. But for you, what’s one trait that makes a great song a great song? Name a song you love that fits that bill.

I think the performance is the key for me. I’m often surprised to discover that some of the best classic songs are as simple as they are.

I’ve struggled a lot with insecurities around the guitar because I’m relatively new to the instrument. So for me, the writing and the delivery are my strengths. So I lean towards unconventional performers for that reason.

Ultimately I’m willing to listen to anyone who’s got something real to say. I like a good story, even if it’s not an obvious one. And I’m a sucker for emotional performances, either funny or heartfelt or desperate or angry, doesn’t matter to me. I like it when songwriters step up into their own voice.

I’d have to call out one of my favorite songs – One More Cup of Coffee, from Dylan’s 1976 masterpiece, Desire.Even with everything he’d already recorded by then, he still somehow managed to step up into a new version of himself. His voice and performance is otherworldly on that album. And the songs, structurally, are relatively simple.

Other than music, name something else you love these days.

I love hating Donald Trump. I love first novels. I love waking up with my dog standing on my face. I love rolling into a new city or country that I’ve never been to before. I love working with artists who challenge me to step outside my comfort zone. Love working on camera. Love giving over to a creative thought and dropping everything to see it through. Love a few people! I love getting older. I love fixing something under the hood of my truck that years ago I’d have been afraid to attempt. I love being in a position to help someone – either someone who is desperately marginalized or someone who’s moving a couch or someone who’s trying to get a project off the ground, trying to get a first novel published. Or just someone who’s trying to finish a jumbo pizza. I love rolling into St. John’s after a few months away and sleeping for three days. I love telling outrageous lies and waiting for it to get back to me. I’ve been drinking a can of coke for breakfast every morning these days too, and I gotta say, I love it more than coffee. You just have to let yourself have it.

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