When Joshua Van Tassel steps into the studio (which, he can now proudly say, is no longer based within his home) for a day’s work, he checks all connection to the outside world at the door.
“I don’t have any internet in the studio and I turn my phone off the second I walk in,” said the Canadian multi-instrumentalist.
Following suit, anyone else in attendance leaves their cell phone in a neat pile on a shelf near the door so that nobody is tempted to break the golden rule.
“I want to be there, I don’t want to be connected at all,” said Van Tassel. “I want to be present and give 100 per cent of my attention, and I want that from everybody else — if you’re here and you want to do this, let’s do it for real.”
Much like his organic, bare-bones approach to creating art, the content of Van Tassel’s product is heavily influenced by Maritime sonic tradition. Born and raised in rural Nova Scotia, the inclusion of predominantly acoustic instrumentation has always been the law of the land.
“The maritimes have a really strong songwriter tradition and a really strong folk tradition in general, and a lot of really good acoustic guitar players,” he said.
In a triumphant effort to create a marriage between old-world and new-world vibes, Van Tassel takes care to nurture and perfect that balance. “I’m interested in bridging the gap between really pretty, traditional-sounding, earthy folk songs and a more modern recording technique.”
Armed with the acoustic guitar as his auditory weapon and “portable writing tool,” Van Tassel not only composes each of his albums, but produces, engineers and mixes them to boot. Being at the helm of his own projects has allowed the musician to develop and acquaint himself with his medium.
“It’s a way to try out lots of things in a no-pressure situation,” he said. “If I make mistakes, it only affects me.”
True to its name, the content of his latest album, Dream Date, is heavily based in the disjointed nature of dreams. “When I set out to make this album, I tried to picture a really specific scene in my mind, like I’m scoring a movie,” he said. “Let’s say you’re dreaming. Sometimes, it’s almost like there’s no connectivity — you’re in one scene, then you’re in another, and your brain doesn’t really notice. It doesn’t make you go, ‘Okay, why am I now in this spaceship? I was just in a desert.’”
Following this blueprint, Van Tassel constructed the record as if each scene in the album was part of a string of organized chaos, “[blending] it in a way sonically that has that effect — now, [you’re] somewhere else, but it doesn’t feel foreign or strange. You’re being lead.”
“The Warmest Heart,” one of the album’s most acclaimed numbers, was built with a very specific scene in mind: a father and daughter stand on a sunny, picturesque beach, surrounded by water infested with mechanical fish.
Though they’re on a day trip together, she is ignored by her father while he works on his phone. She finds companionship in a mechanical skeleton, which she is intent on showing her father, but he refuses to pay her any mind. Soon, the skeleton begins coming to life, along with the robotic fish, and she becomes master of her imaginary mechanical domain.
Paired with resonating vocals and rolling soundscape of sinister bells and lightly twinkling background details, “The Warmest Heart” is one of many tracks that embodies all that Van Tassel has aimed for.
“I’m trying to make music that is completely respectful of an acoustic tradition, but at the same time recognizing that there are so many tools available to us with technology,” he said. “We can make sounds that we couldn’t really make before.”
Joshua Van Tassel plays Casa del Popolo on Wednesday, Apr. 3 at 8:30 p.m.