Six Questions for Kris and Dee

Kris and Dee, Six Questions, Kingston, OntarioKris and Dee met in 2003 and when Kris Abbott (The Pursuit of Happiness) joined Dee McNeil’s band, The Strap Ons.  Their relationship went from musical to personal and the couple married in 2005.  They have been making music together as superfolk duo, Kris and Dee since 2007.  They released their first full-length album in 2011 and have been unstoppable ever since.  The first release, Still Here Inside has been met with critical acclaim, with the title track being selected for the Starbucks Worldwide Playlist.  They followed it up in 2013 with Bloom, which was selected by CBC Music’s Mark Rheaume as a Top Pick for the year.  On April 14th, Kris and Dee released A Great Long Game – their third full-length album in less than five years.  Since its release, the album has been getting rave reviews, lots of play on CBC and has been climbing the CFRC weekly Top 30 list (they’re currently sitting at #2).  In addition to the non-stop music making, these two both work part-time jobs and have recently taken on a mentorship for this year’s Crystal Ball, which will take place in October at The K Rock Centre.

Catch Kris and Dee’s album release on Saturday, May 23rd at The Mansion with opener, Jay Harris.  Doors open at 7:30pm with music starting at 8pm.  Tickets are $10 at the door.

1. You have been working at an incredible pace, releasing 3 albums in under 5 years. Anyone who has been involved in the process of writing and recording an album knows what an incredible feat that is. What challenges did you encounter while balancing your music making with your careers and other parts of your life? Do you envision keeping up this pace in the years to come?

Our sort of motto is “Live, write, record, repeat”. The living part was a challenge this time around for sure. We had a death in the family, Kris had some health issues (is great now!) and Dee who is a prof at Queens had a course load more demanding than she has ever had before. Music was healing and inspiring and always the consistent thing and space for us to meet upon. It is who we are both as a couple and as individuals. We had some of the best shows we ever played during this crazy time. Perhaps the crazy times made us appreciate the music even more. Perhaps also leading to the concept of using all our influences on this record and not holding back.

2. A Great Long Game takes you in some new directions. For starters, you play all the instruments on this album, you recorded and produced it yourselves and Kris co-mixed the album with Trevor Henderson. What made you decide to take on so many roles this time around? What have you learned from the experience? Will you do it again?

We have always wanted to make our music as sustainable as possible, but it happened naturally this time that we take on more roles. The concept for this record was that we play everything ourselves, no guest musicians or band and that we use all our influences without holding back. Folk, rock, pop, country, electronic. At one point we even explored techno but it just didn’t fit the record so we bailed on including that influence LOL!. The songs were fully written and arranged as a duo and then we booked a few days at The Bathouse to get the process started so that Kris could be fully creative and not have to focus on engineering. Basically we jammed out ideas and parts that we could later ‘mine’ then we took the files back to our studio to continue working on the record. Having the luxury of taking our time in our own studio allowed us to revisit the parts and re-record ideas as we fine tuned them. It was great fun for us to play instruments other than acoustics. Dee for example used to play bass and drums in previous bands as her main instruments and hasn’t had that chance in Kris and Dee. She really enjoyed the opportunity to work on the songs from a rhythm perspective. Then our friend Trevor Henderson who really supported our Do It Yourself concept really encouraged us to go a step further and to mix the record ourselves. He recognized that this was a new area of engineering for Kris and offered to mix the record with Kris so that it stayed within our concept but could mentor the process. He went above and beyond, it was an amazing experience and with his help we can definitely say that the songs on this record are mixed how we want. The learning experience was incredible. Just the right amount of terrifying to make you get out of bed at the crack of dawn and learn new things then rewarding enough to say, yes we will definitely do this again. We can be 100% self sufficient if that is the way we want to go next time, which is a nice feeling.

3. What do you love most about living, working and making music in Kingston?

Well for starters the water here was a big draw for the decision to move here. When we bought our home and we were driving here on the weekends to work on it before moving in we would be absolutely giddy over the fact that we could walk down to the big water of Lake Ontario whenever we wanted. Also, as small town girls, we love the fact that Kingston is a city with a small town feel. That is so appealing to us and it has felt like home here even before we even moved here. The music and arts scene is a big draw for us too. There is so much going on and we are constantly floored about the number of exceptional musicians and bands and artists. We’re discovering new acts all the time and we’re really proud to be a part of it.  The sense of community that comes with this is amazing.

4. Last time we spoke you told us about your process for songwriting. In short, Dee often comes up with lyrics or a concept and a melody line, and Kris adds to it with a musical metaphor. You also added that often songs come together with a more steam-of-consciousness approach – so in other words, jamming it out. Is this the same style of writing you used when creating A Great Long Game? How has your approach to writing changed or evolved from one album to the next?

Our songwriting process is similar yes in many ways and yes it has also evolved too. Dee still often starts the ball rolling with a concept or lyrics. This time around there was a lot more concept discussion during the writing. There were times also when Kris knew to let Dee go even further before she stepped in. A lot of Dee’s process is internal. Sometimes she carries the song for a long time before she starts to externalize it. Kris has a sharper instinct now about Dee’s process and when to jump in or wait. We met over coffees in the morning while looking out into the back yard or walked down to the beach to talk out the songs or in the porch at the end of the day. We definitely found again that the rhythm of the water has an influence on that chill tempo and sound we have. Also we seem to know now what we want from the song much earlier on in the process and so on this record we made radical changes on songs when we knew they weren’t working. As an example, we played Chosen Few as an uptempo folk rock song live and when we started to prepare for recording we played it in our living room on just a piano and about 5 times slower. That changed it entirely. We recorded Chosen Few in one take live off the floor. That one song is the only song that we didn’t revamp in our studio for the remainder of the recording process. So I guess it’s fair to say that after three albums we have a comfortable enough songwriting process that is a go-to place to start but really we still like to remain open to the individual journey of each song and what it is trying to say.

5. You are having an official release party for A Great Long Game on May 23rd at The Mansion. What other shows do you have lined up over the next while? Is there anything you are particularly looking forward to?

We are really excited to be playing this record live!! For our CD Release show we will be playing with a 6 piece band (Wil McGonegal, Van Sheen, Duncan Holt, Sticky Henderson) and we will play the record from start to finish. It is so exciting to hear the tunes in the air sounding much like they are on the record. We also love playing them as a duo and have some cool versions and surprises for our duo tour performances. As a duo we are playing Eastern and Western Ontario on the headlining stages at Ottawa Westfest in June (Sarah Harmer, Craig Cardiff, Rae Spoon, The Acorn, Lynne Myles) and London Home County Music and Art Festival in July (Grapes of Wrath, Skydiggers, Sarah Slean, Martha Wainwright, Danny Michel). We have a show coming up on May 31 at The Blacksheep Inn in Wakefield with Lynne Hanson and Kirsten Jones and we are also planning CD Release Shows in Ottawa, Prince Edward County, Toronto and London.

6. I know you are just at the beginning of the adventure that comes with releasing a new album but, based on your abundant output, I have to ask, what’s next for Kris and Dee?

Like we say “Live, write, record, repeat” so firstly we want to live this summer and have some fun on this tour! We also have a super great relationship with Janice McLean who always helps us to visualize our music in terms of packaging, promo etc. She directed the video for Never What You Think and we are making plans with her for more videos and visual art ideas related to A Great Long Game. We have a huge gratitude and appreciation for live music fans and anyone who comes out to see us play, so right now our main focus is on giving them the best show we can and putting our whole hearts into making it a memorable experience.

Danielle Lennon

Danielle Lennon is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. She was the Editor, Community Event Coordinator and Contributor at-large (2008-2018). She is otherwise employed as a section violinist with the Kingston Symphony, violin teacher, studio musician and cat lover. Learn more about Danielle...

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