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Interviews, Music

Escaping with Evening Hymns and “Spectral Dusk”

By: Sarah MacDonald and Chris D’Alessandro –

Sylvie Smith and Jonas Bonnetta of Evening Hymns

There are a series of moments in life that are hard and painful and tragically cause an emotional impasse, which begs for an escape, a release, a way out. It is when life strikes fast and rough, bringing you to your knees and imploring it, whatever is, to stop and let the pain go.

In these situations, escape is good for one’s soul (and for one’s music.)

Or so, that’s the sentiment of Evening Hymns’ stunning new record, Spectral Dusk, and the attitude Jona Bonnetta, songwriter and mountain man-in-chief, grappled with during the recording of it. Bonnetta, coping with the lengthy illness and subsequent passing of his father during the end of recording of his previous record Spirit Guides, found himself in a place of limbo where he could either live in a world of grief or move beyond it to a place of acceptance and peace. The in-between is often the hardest.

In that place of grief and the never-ending strength of disbelief of how simple it is to have someone in your life and the next second they are gone, Bonnetta found solace in music; in the power of creative fulfillment to help move past the pain.

“I want to create something, whether it’s about a break up, or loosing someone,” says Bonnetta. “I have to live with that every night of my life. This is what I thought about every day.”

Speaking to Aesthetic Magazine before the release of Spectral Dusk, Bonnetta slyly declared how vast this latest effort was, saying “[Spectral Dusk] has been the most important thing I’ll ever do.”

With such a weighty proclamation, is it worth the hype?

It is, in fact, worth that and so much more. Spectral Dusk is one of those records with the unbelievable capability to draw the listener in with the smallest of white noise, like on “Intro”, for example, before expanding into field recordings and soon soothing, honeyed tones. It’s bittersweet because the entire record deals with the heaviest of topics; of life and death and family and how to deal with all of it, but it does so in such a lovely, welcoming way. It celebrates all of the things part and parcel of existing on this earth, of the trials we endure, and parses it in such a way can that resonates with the listener. Bonnetta’s lyrics lure you in and you stay for the journey, which is exactly what he wanted.

Bonnetta says the record should be listened to from beginning to end in order to truly appreciate and understand it.

“Hopefully the entire thing is an experience the listener can escape into.  Field recordings of actual environments were a great way to promote that idea of escapism.”

In order to create something escapist, Bonnetta had to escape. And so, he packed up his life and trekked to Perth, Ontario and lived in a cabin surrounded by snow and good friends (Toronto’s The Wooden Sky and his partner in crime, Sylvie Smith), tinkering and recording and working through his sorrow. Some photos and videos of the process are posted to Evening Hymns’ Tumblr page. They show Bonnetta cutting up firewood, playing hockey, quietly sitting and playing guitar and friends helping a friend get through a difficult part of his life. They show a life and the record reflects that very sentiment.

“Hopefully the entire thing is an experience the listener can escape into.”

Though he may seem jubilant about the end result and the process of recording something so cathartic, every song, every session, bears a strong burden and the seemingly impossible notion of acceptance.

“It’s not just a single case of crash and burn; it’s over and over again,” says Bonnetta. “As soon as you start to feel good, you have to go back and record and it brings up all the images again, so when you feel good you don’t want to go back.”

Evening Hymns' new album "Spectral Dusk," the follow-up to their 2009 album "Spirit Guides", deals with Bonnetta's loss of his father, life, love and moving on.

Evening Hymns’ new album “Spectral Dusk,” the follow-up to their 2009 album “Spirit Guides”, deals with Bonnetta’s loss of his father, life, love and moving on.

While Bonnetta characterizes Spectral Dusk as an escapist record, it is truly a very personal farewell record meant for his father. It does become a celebratory piece on family and love and life and all of the things that sustain us, focusing on his own relationship with all of these things through the bond he formed with his father.

“As soon as you start to feel good, you have to go back and record and it brings up all the images again.”

“It’s about us, me and him,” says Bonnetta. “Death, loss and hope; snap shots of our family connections.”

“Every song, like “Arrows” for example, speaks to loss and how long I will have to be not ‘ok’. “Family Tree” is about family situations and all the weird things that come out of the woodwork about your extended family when someone dies.”

Producing and releasing the album it is only part of the journey. The next step is a tour beyond the Atlantic Ocean with The Wooden Sky. Touring for the better part of a month and a half with their good friends, Evening Hymns are looking forward to being back in the old, venerable beauty of Europe, as their sound is suited for the quiet appreciation European audiences have to offer.

“We do have a foot hold in Toronto and we’re finding venues here that thrive on intimacy, but working the quieter rooms is always nicer, compared to being eaten alive somewhere else,” says Bonnetta.

“We’ve been really well received in Europe; we’ve really been able to make a go of it.  There’s an appreciation of the music in Europe that we don’t have in Canada.”

Canadian audiences can look forward to a tour in October.

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