This album is dedicated to the memory of Jay Smith. Jay was a best friend, mentor, and a supporter of my music since we met in 2008 when my band won a battle of the bands in Sydney, NS and as a result got to write together. I remember showing up at his house on a Tuesday night that summer, nervous to write with a man that was such a part of my musical DNA. Growing up in Cape Breton, I had watched him put on rock and roll clinics at all-ages shows since I was fourteen years old. I showed up at Jay’s with a bottle of vodka at 7pm and left at 2am with half of a song (“Last Thing”), a serious buzz on, and a feeling that me and Jay would become really good friends. For the rest of that week, I spent every night sitting around a fire in their backyard with Jay and his wife Allie. These were my first co-writing sessions.
In February of last year, I invited Jay to come to my parents’ cottage to do some writing for this album, in the midst of a dark period in his life. We worked on a song which eventually became “Like A Knife” on the first day. Having dinner with my family that evening, my parents and I talked about how we had spent every Christmas at my grandparents’ house before my grandfather had passed away. I remember after a short silence saying, “all the things you can’t get back,” and what I would give to relive one of those childhood nights. After dinner I showered and came out with a sketch of the first three verses of “Draws Blood” and brought them to Jay and Dave Sampson. Jay added the final verse:
All the things you can’t get back
And you can’t let go if it’s still attached
Everybody needs to shed some skin
But I don’t know where to begin
But draw blood
At the time we probably all high-fived, proud of how these last few lines finished a song about regret and longing. Jay left the next morning to go visit his kids in Sydney, calling me that night to thank me for the previous few days, grateful for the hang out and the chance to get away from the outside world. The last time I saw Jay was a few weeks later in Toronto, where we spent the night passing around two guitars between a few songwriters, playing “Draws Blood” together for one last time before him telling me how proud he was of the song. Jay died Tuesday, March 27th, the morning after my 28th birthday.
In the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to travel the continent writing songs with many amazing artists and this album is a collection of my favourites. For me, the album feels like it is split into two parts: the first half of the albums’ songs were written prior to Jay’s passing. The back half (with the exception of “Pick Me Up, Dust Me Off”) were written with Jay or very near to the time of his death. “Pick Me Up, Dust Me Off” seems to fit as the closing track, a sendoff to anyone who passes away too soon and all the people they leave behind. Jay was always one of the first people to hear any of my finished recordings, often followed by him asking me if I was ready to take over the world. Jay always seemed to believe more in me than he believed in himself, but I was always looking up to him, wishing I could have a shred of his talent.
As we age, hopes and dreams we once had break apart, unrealized, ideas that never quite hit their stride. To me, “Draws Blood” is about what we lose in life and the way we hold ourselves as we carry this pain forward, still trying to find the joy that makes every day worth living.
Co-producers Howie Beck and Jason Collett helped me fulfill this vision through the amazing team of musicians on the album. I can’t imagine a team of creative people better suited to bring these songs to life. Thank you all for your hard work and dedication.
Jay, you are terribly missed, and I hope these songs you created and inspired make you proud. Until we meet again.