By Carl Begai
Photographer-turned-musician Omer Cordell doesn’t suffer from delusions of grandeur. He does, however, possess an artistic streak that saw him go from tackling the bass as a hobby to a full album of prog-metal tweaked Pink Floydian-esque songs. A full year in the making, Trailight went from being a blip on social media radar as Cordell began assembling the necessary pieces to an intense musical experience unleashed at the end of May 2015. The do-it-himself experience included a 30 minute behind-the-scenes documentary of the production (found on YouTube) and extensive track-by-track breakdowns all prior to the album release (issued via Facebook), far more than most signed band are able or willing to produce… and for a fanbase that had yet to be established. That’s about to change, as Trailight is slowly but surely gaining some well deserved momentum.
“The Trailight album is the result of a conversation I had with a good friend of mine,” Cordell begins. “I originally released what I call a glorified demo with a bunch of instrumental stuff that I performed myself. That was when I was just starting to play music. What inspired me to do it was an interview I read with a bass player I really like – I started playing bass about four-and-a-half years ago – and he said the best way to explore yourself as a musician is to write music. I thought that was a great piece of advice, so I went out and bought some crappy gear, and taught myself how to record.”
Cordell admits that at the time he had no idea what he was doing or how to go about it. His learning-by-doing approach would pay off in spades when it came time to mix and master the official Trailight debut, The Primitive Mountain. But more on that later…
“I played everything myself on my first attempt – there was no singing on the material – and I compiled a bunch of stuff and over the course of about a year that I wanted to share with people. It was an experiment, really; bedroom demos that made it into CD form. Nothing to write home about, but a handful of people really dug it so that gave me the confidence and push to work on the real debut, which is The Primitive Mountain. It was more popular amongst fellow bassist in the Spector community who were liking the tones and effect. They dug it so I released it as my first thing.”
“A conversation that I had with a friend after the fact turned out to be the most honest review of my music. He said, ‘What you did was great, but imagine if you were to hire musicians that are really great at what they do. Sure, you can play drums, but are you a great drummer? You can play guitar, but are you a great guitarist? How much more can you bring to the table as a performer?’ I really took that to heart. He planted the idea to get other people involved.”
Thus, the Trailight line-up fills in any perceived blanks with vocalist Dave Padden (ex-Annihilator, Terror Syndrome), drummer Ryan van Poederooyen (Devin Townsend Project, Terror Syndrome), guitarists Jed Simon (Scar The Martyr, ex-Strapping Young Lad), Christofer Malmström (Darkane, Non Human Level) and Corey McBain, and members of Sound Of The Sun. This isn’t a wishlist of performers so much as Cordell having the good fortune of being able to tap into a healthy Canadian west coast (for the most part) scene.
“When I was first starting to think about doing this project, considering the vibe and riffs I was coming up with – ‘A Thousand Years’ was the first song I wrote – I knew who I wanted to play drums on it. Ryan has known me as a photographer for years, so when I called him up it was like ‘This may come as a surprise, but I’m making music now…’ (laughs). I asked if he’d be interested in playing on it and he wanted to hear the demos, but he had a bunch of touring to finish with Devin and then record the DVP double album. After that he had time to do my stuff.”
Van Poederooyen knocked out the tracks for Townsend’s Z² album – 20 songs in all, divided into Sky Blue and Dark Matters – over an intense two days. The Trailight session was a business-as-usual walk in the park for the veteran drummer.
“Ryan came back from Devin’s album recording, learned my songs in about a week or 10 days, we had one day of pre-production where I had a chance to hear what he would be doing in the studio. Three days later we were in the studio and 10 hours later he was done recording. When we were finished I knew why I’d gotten Ryan to do it. He not only fits stylistically, he was also such an immense help with the whole process. I was basically flying blind. I’d been to the studios lots of times back when Strapping was around to take photos, but I’d never actually recorded in one before, so Ryan was helpful in guiding me.”
As Trailight’s mastermind, Cordell was faced with keeping a death grip on his vision for the music against deference to the considerable experience of the musicians he chose to work with.
“It was a little bit of both,” he admits. “For example, I sent Ryan the demos with programmed drums and told him those were the beats that I wanted from song to song in terms of vibe. When we got together at his jam space I told him I wanted a little bit more here and little less there, but of course he had the room he needed for self-expression to give the songs that Ryan VP sound. The idea was that he could so whatever he wanted as long as he adhered to the beat changes and the overall vibe. Ryan put a lot of himself into the album, and he did have creative freedom.”
“The same thing with Dave. Corey is the one that suggested I get Dave to sing, and he said ‘You have no idea what this guy is capable of.’ The thing is that when he suggested Dave, I had the most profound feeling that he was the right guy for the job. At that point I wouldn’t consider anybody else. I hadn’t heard him, I hadn’t met him, but intuitively I had a very profound feeling. The first time I met him is when I picked him up at his house for the Trailight recordings. Working with Dave ended up being great and more. To be honest, I was never a huge Annihilator fan, so when I finally did hear his stuff with Annihilator I knew he could sing. And I knew from what he did with Terror Syndrome that he could wail, but my God, what he did on the Trailight album… I think – and I’ve heard other people say it – this is Dave’s best work. It encompasses all of his creative abilities.”
Cordell also took on outside help to produce The Primitive Mountain, a long and drawn out process that slowly deteriorated as the songs were being mixed. He eventually opted to take on the task of mixing and mastering himself; a daunting task on one hand, but the only option left if the album was going to live up to his expectations. Rather than a play-by-play of events, Cordell channels Metallica to sum up the situation.
“As far as the mix of the album, the first batch of songs that I sent you sound like St. Anger, and the final mixes sound like the Black album.”
Breaking down The Primitive Mountain, folks have and will draw lines to an assortment of albums and artists for the sake of comparison. Some people consider it blasphemy to utter the Ocean Machine name during such an exercise, but some of the darker Trailight moments share a similar headspace with songs like ‘Funeral’, ‘Bastard’, ‘Seventh Wave’ and ‘Regulator’. If you’re unfamiliar the record, which has been deemed one of Devin Townsend’s best works by a gazillion people, it’s time to go back to school and take a listen.
“I know that album is held in very high regard and has a legacy, so that’s a very huge compliment,” says Cordell. “It’s been many years since I’ve heard it, I’ll have to go back and check it out. When Ryan was recording he said that some of the music reminded him of Faith No More, other people have said they feel some Dream Theater, Tool or Anathema. The one thing that I had in mind when I was writing this album was that I wanted to make an album I’ll love listening to. But not only that, I wanted to make something that encompasses everything I like about music.”
Although it might look like a big budget production on paper, The Primitive Mountain was in fact built from the ground up by Cordell. No label support, no big-budget promo campaigns, no high profile art director or worldwide distribution deals, Trailight is a completely independent labour of love.
“That is very true, my friend,” Cordell laughs. “In every sense, 100% done by me. I’ve had all this incredible talent come in but the writing, funding, production, mixing, artwork, video, the meagre amount of promotion that I try to do, it’s all me. Everything started and ended with this little desk in my office (laughs).”
Live photos by Duncan Turner
Support independent music and pick up the new Trailight album via Bandcamp here. Audio samples of all tracks are available.
Check out 30 minute documentary The Making Of The Primitive Mountain here.
For information and updates on Trailight go to this location.