The dark happy of Kris & Dee

Dee McNeil and Kris Abbott of Kris & Dee (supplied photo).

Kingston pop-folk duo Kris & Dee discuss their new album, Browse Line, and the album release party this Sunday, November 10.

Sixteen years ago, Canadian band The Pursuit of Happiness was wrapping a tour and, after years of record label troubles and declining sales, hadn’t made any future plans. Guitarist Kris Abbott was packing up her guitar after the gig, wondering if she’d ever take it out of the case again. 

A friend convinced Abbott to go see another band after the show, the London, Ontario-based The Strap-ons, an “all-girl punk band that was playing in a gay bar down in the ghetto.”  There, Abbott was introduced to bassist Dee McNeil.

“Our friend said ‘You need to see Kris play, she’s in The Pursuit of Happiness,” said McNeil. “I’d seen them play a million times, but I couldn’t imagine that the person that I had seen on the stage was this soft-spoken blonde girl, you know, with such a small stature. It was definitely a fangirl moment.”

The two stayed in touch over the course of a year, with Abbott eventually joining The Strap-ons for a time. Abbott and McNeil were drawn to each other both musically and romantically. 

“We started writing songs together,” said Abbott. “And then we got married and moved to Kingston to be closer to family. We bought our house in 2006 before we even had jobs here.”

That house, a well-maintained and unassuming house in Reddendale, is where Abbott and McNeil, known professionally as Kris & Dee, have lived ever since, and where they recorded their new album, Browse Line.

The album, which was released on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019, was produced by Aaron Holmberg, technical director of The Isabel and former house engineer at The Tragically Hip’s Bathouse Studios. 

“He’s so easy to be around,” said McNeil. “There’s never any heaviness or tension. He doesn’t let you get in your own head where you’re like ‘Oh, this sucks, I can’t get this part right.’ Everything’s always just great and he’s just fun to be around.”

Abbott, who has worked with legendary producers like Todd Rundgren (The Band, Patti Smith) and Ed Stasium (The Ramones, The Smithereens), and who has produced and engineered previous Kris & Dee records, was happy to let Holmberg take charge.

“There’s a big trust factor for me,” said Abbott. “We didn’t initially start off asking him to be the producer, we just wanted some engineering help, but we’ve had this amazing history together and we all really get each other really well. When we were talking about how the record would sound, he knew right away it was going to be a dark happy vibe, and, to us, it was like ‘well, yeah, that’s what we do.’ So we knew that he was just the perfect person to know what to do to push our music in the right direction. Having him felt very natural and organic. It was very, very easy to trust him as our leader.

Even though McNeil leads a busy life outside as the Director of Medicine at Kingston Health Sciences Centre, she finds time to do the majority of the songwriting.

“When we first started writing together, being the main words person, I think I tried to say everything the song needed to say with words. Three verses, a chorus, a bridge,” said McNeil. “As time has gone on, I write a lot of space now, and I just try and say basically one thing, one cohesive thing, and then I save a lot of space for Kris, because she can say the same thing with her guitar”

“Dee came to the table with everything way farther along in the process than in the past,” said Abbott. “In the past, what we would do is almost a write and rewrite phase. When she’d come to me with a song, I would sort of scramble things up a bit, make some suggestions, and then it would go back and forth and almost rewrite the song twice before it became what it is. But this time she brought the songs so much more complete, so it kind of gave me a different role to figure out more about what each song needs. I also discovered in this process that I love playing piano and organ, and I think that had an influence on the music a lot.”

Kris & Dee are celebrating the release of their album with a special concert this Sunday, Nov. 10, at the RCAF 416 Wing at the Norman Rogers Airport. Kingston singer-songwriter Megan Hamilton is opening the show. While the RCAF is not well-known as a music venue, it was an easy choice for the occasion.

“We were there for a wedding,” said Abbott. “We knew we wanted the album release to be kind of a glorified house concert, and during the reception we were like, ‘Oh my God, this would be like the ultimate place to do this!’ It’s kind of like an old country dance hall in a way. We wanted to approach it differently than your kind of straight-up sort of traditional performance. We wanted a real experience and somewhere where everyone can feel comfortable.”

Kris & Dee often perform as a duo, but for this show, they’ll be playing with a six-piece band of some of Kingston’s best musicians: Ken Hall on organ, Van Sheen on guitar, Duncan Holt on drums, and Sticky Henderson on bass.

“We’re going to go on around 3:30 p.m. and play the record from top to bottom,” said Abbott. “Then we’ll do some of the Kris & Dee faves from some of the previous records.

Advance tickets are $15 and are available now through Eventbrite. Doors open at 2:30 p.m.

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