In the studio: Laying down tracks with Lynne Hanson and producer Jim Bryson

Jim Bryson and Lynne Hanson in Bryson's Stittsville studio. Photo: Peter Robb

When Ottawa’s Lynne Hanson was thinking about recording her latest album of roots music called Just Words, she wanted to find a producer who would work with her without working on her.

She had had that kind of experience before and she didn’t want that again. She was looking for a collaborator willing to listen to her ideas.

She didn’t have to look too far. In fact, she found her man in Stittsville.

Jim Bryson is a singer songwriter and man about music who lives just beyond the fringe as they say. In his backyard, on a quiet suburban street, he’s built a wooden sound palace, a blockhouse of backbeats … a veritable tower of tunes. Behind its sound-proofed door is a recording studio with lots of mics, rcording gear, a sound booth and an array of Bryson’s guitars.

The interplay between producer and performer is a critical one when a recording is being made.

“If you feel you have found someone you believe will be good for the project, you just have to jump into the deep end,” she said. Now that the record is out and available, ARTSFILE wanted to find out more about the process of making it so we asked. By the way Hanson and her band will perform the 11 songs on Just Words — and more — at the Les Lye Studio at Centrepointe on Feb. 21 at 8 p.m.

“Honestly I feel like I have been blessed with this record. I really feel these are the best songs I have ever had and I have some ridiculously talented musicians on the record. And Jim produced it.”

Hanson doesn’t go into the studio with a lot of music in hand.

“I changed my process in 2014. I may have one or two songs but the rest, I literally book studio time and then I have a deadline that I write toward,” she said.

“The tendency for a lot of songwriters I know is that they feel they have to have a bunch of songs and then I’m going in. I have found that I am so busy with the business of music it’s hard to carve out time.”

As a creator, she’s always writing. “Even if I don’t take a note or write down a line, there is something going on in my mind” sometimes from just eavesdropping on a conversation. It comes with experience.

Working with a producer becomes central to the process.

“This is not the first record I have made and I know the comfort level I need as a performer and as a songwriter. When I bring my songs to somebody, I want to know there is going to be a lot of care given to the project and that it’s going to be important.”

She had never worked with Bryson before this CD. She knew him to say hi.

So she reached out, did some demos with Bryson and found that “I loved Jim’s creative sense. It was important, as an artist, it was important to be in a room with another artist.”

Bryson brought a lot of value to the work and a wealth of knowledge.

Trust is important but Bryson said there is a sense as a producer you are a carrier of something precious.

With singers the words are important and “you want to make sure the songs are a vehicle for the message.”

He does bring experience and a musical sensibility to the table and his role is to make a  song bigger, Hanson said. But you are working with the songwriter’s aesthetic.

“We talked about records she liked, records that you like the sounds of and you play them and use them as touchstones.

But on this record, he said, “we never chased a sound.” He brings a light hand.

“I am not coming into the process saying this is what it’s going to sound like and I am going to do this. What was good about working with Lynne was the release of ego. That was important to get somewhere as well.

“One of the first things she said to me was that she was not going to be super territorial about things.” That helps when you are working on a budget.

He likes to get the studio fully mic’d and that allows frees the process.

“They are bringing in their whole thing. I’m just trying to make it so that I enjoy it.”

Hanson says this was by far the easiest record I have ever made.

“When I wanted to bring the project to Jim, I trusted what I thought he could bring to it already. That’s a big deal.

Equally important was the fact the she says she wanted something that was different from “what I hear. I knew I could get that from Jim.”

She also felt that she could raise her voice when she needed to.

“If you know what you want, you don’t need someone to make a record for you. You just need an engineer,” Bryson said. “If you work with a producer, I believe it’s a partnership that you are agreeing upon. It’s music. We’re not stopping the fires in Australia here.”

Bryson said he got into producing because “I’m impatient. I like to do things really fast. And I found that people weren’t listening to me sometimes.”

He had an experience where he work with a producer with a big personality and the result was a good record but it wasn’t something he would have made.

Over time he realized he liked the process of listening in to music.

“I never planned to be a full-time musician or a producer.” That allowed him to just fall into the work. He used to produce records in his basement. He built his studio some four years ago to move all his stuff out of the house, making. His learning process was “definitely DIY.”

For Hanson, it was “I’m gonna do my job and you’re gonna do yours and at the end of the day we are going to have a great sounding record. At this point in my career, I hired him to be a producer. He had free rein unless he went to far.

“There were a few songs that weren’t what I would do, but I didn’t hire him to do what I would do.

“He was going to drive the bus and where we ended up was where I wanted to end up. It was a process that felt very much like it was based on respect and that’s not necessarily what I have always gotten as a woman in this industry. You aren’t always listened to. You can get bullied in the studio.”

They talked more about what Hanson didn’t want than what she wanted, Bryson said. She described instances in a studio where she wasn’t being heard, so he said he would check in to make sure all was well.

For Hanson, this record marks an evolution.

“This is me being a grown-up songwriter. The melodies and the song structures are more developed. It’s more intentional.”

There is a risk in being too rehearsed, so they paid attention to that maxim.

“At the end of the day a record is a story in and of itself. My albums are set lists and they are built like that. Each song sounds very different. It is also a moment in time,” Hanson said.

“You release singles because you are supposed to, but I am still of the belief that there are people who actually want to listen to something (more). I really do feel that the collection of songs does reflect me as an artist today.”

Hanson is also a poet and this record will have a collection of her poetry along with lyrics and other products such as a vinyl record copies of which were in her car on this day. These are some of the things she does to develop to advance her business.

The work on the record started a year ago and it was mastered by June 2019. Now Just Words is out in the world and going on the road.

Lynne Hanson
Where: Les Lye Studio, Centrepointe
When: Feb 21 at 8 p.m.
Tickets and more information:

Share Post
Written by

Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.