On his debut solo release, For The Birds, singer/songwriter Jon Stancer dabs his brush in many musical palettes. Produced by Jono Grant (John Southworth), the album is a collection of lush and lavish, hook-laden rock ‘n’ pop, connected by lyrical themes that touch on reclusiveness and resurgence, regret, revision and rejuvenation.
A veteran vocalist and guitarist within Toronto’s alternative music scene, Stancer had been on an ‘indefinite hiatus’ when in 2015, he acquiesced to a compelling and growing urge to make an album. For several months, he wrote and recorded demos in his home studio. He then called on Grant to produce, and the two began working at Grant’s Victory Drive Studio in downtown Toronto.
“First and foremost, I wanted to make music again,” Stancer says. “For a while, it seemed a very daunting prospect – writing a bunch of songs after not doing that for several years, reacquainting with the studio environment… I put it off for a while, a little intimidated. But ultimately, the desire to do it outweighed any insecurities.”
The results on For The Birds cast a wide net, boasting an array of sounds and tapping into varied musical landscapes. The album contains all of the basic ingredients for great rock and roll: energetic drums, buoyant bass lines, bright acoustic and shiny electric guitars, piano and organ. The addition of horns, strings and a range of percussion, along with various sonic nuances create what Stancer describes as, “a pop record, I think—in the traditional sense. If not pop, I really don’t know what single genre it fits into. It’s a well-rounded collection of songs.”
Among the standout tracks are “Turn Your Back On Your Regrets,” inspired by Stancer’s ambition to return to music-making. “I like that it’s personal and relatable” he says, “…to anyone who wallows or frets about things in their lives that have or haven’t happened – which is pretty much everyone, isn’t it?” Similarly, “Dance In The Sun” deals with overcoming the obstacles on the way to finding true happiness, its joyful arrangement and heavy sonic sprinklings encapsulating the record’s overall sound.
“Perfect Place To Hide” praises the benefits of occasional isolation as a respite from a complicated world. The song was conceived as a lullaby for children; a slow, jazzy piece intended for an upright bass and some brushes and a snare drum. The song was completely transformed however, after Stancer set it to a drum loop, sped up the tempo, and added organ, Fender Rhodes, percussion, horns and more. Now, an up-tempo, almost ‘danceable’ track, it comes across as chaotic and otherworldly, rather than tranquil and intimate, as initially envisioned.
“Take The Bait,” is perhaps the most unique-sounding song on the record. Written in part in response to the Bataclan attack in Paris, Stancer’s stream-of-consciousness lyrics recall his being in a bar and watching news reports of the tragedy on television as a baseball game was also in progress on an adjacent screen. The song contains the lyric, “This is all for the birds,” whose ambiguity prompted it to be used as the album’s title.
“No Right Turns”, about contemplating a reckless night of debauchery and the potential fallout is another key track as is “Heart Of My Mind” a song of despondence with a desperate yearning to take a sad song and make it better, which Stancer refers to as a ‘soul-pleaser’.
From a production standpoint, Stancer has delved into similarly mottled territory before, notably with songwriting collaborative Family Ritual’s 1999 album Saloon—which spawned several songs licensed for productions by HBO, Disney, The USA Network and CBC—and as a guitarist and vocalist on John Southworth’s 1997 debut release, Mars Pennsylvania.
“Both of those records were peppered with numerous influences, featured an assortment of instruments and incorporated fairly intricate and expansive arrangements,” he says. “I absorbed a lot about composing and arranging during that time.”
Stancer, in fact, first started writing original material in his early teens and began exploring different recording methods a few years later. By the time of the Family Ritual album, he was a staunch Brian Wilson admirer with goals to create similar, multi-layered pop. Those aspirations were somewhat in play when he began to write the songs on For The Birds.
“Much of the album was written as the demos were being recorded, something I hadn’t done much of before – and that was a very effective and liberating process, which allowed me to flesh out the songs with different instruments and develop the lyrics based on the mood or vibe that the music was conveying.” he says. “As the recordings evolved, we could hear many different possible treatments; moments and bits within that called out to be featured with a horn, or maybe a harp, what have you – and you want to try a lot of those ideas out to see what works. Jono is so good that most of them do, so weeding stuff out wasn’t much of an issue. The cutting room floor was considerably bare.”
Stancer adds, “I’m happy to mix it up. I love many different types of music and I’m just bonding all of that together in what I do. I’ve always been attracted to and influenced by other artists who do the same.”