“Adam Mowery told me that everyone in Saint John looks like they’re having the worst day of their life, and this is a good corner to observe that. That’s why I sit here,” says Mike Trask sitting in the diner on the corner of Union and Waterloo, or for the geographically-minded, the intersection of Strip Club and Sally Ann. The unobtrusive diner with its large windows makes for one of the best locations in town for inconspicuous character watching, and it’s become the go-to spot in Saint John for Mike and his band, The Precious Memories.
I first encountered Mike at Fredericton’s Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival in the fall of 2007. At the time he was still playing with his former band, Mudhill. It was a year that had felt inundated with overproduced, heavily synthesized albums, and the raw rock and blues of Mudhill left me awed. There were no xylophones or ukuleles, just distortion pedals, and the howl of Mike’s voice, like he had been raised to eat gravel from the day he was born. This was boot-stomping music. “People liked that band. I can’t deny that. The band was always fun to play with, and people always received it well. I miss that band. I don’t mean to speak ill of it, I had a great time. For some reason, it seems harder these days for people to know what I’m doing, but more people ask these days. Back then people always seemed to know what I was doing. It’s kind of weird that way.”
“I’ve never longed to sing. If I lost my voice permanently I would be less upset than if I had lost my hearing. It has never meant anything to me. Still doesn’t. I’d always rather hear other people sing my songs.”
“I don’t know if I quite realised how heavy it was. Looking back now it’s like, ‘holy f*ck!’ It’s very heavy shit. It seems shocking now that I would ever do that, with those pedals and those sounds. If I were to do heavy now I’d do it literally exploding an amp, rather than using pedals to get there.”
Though Mudhill proved popular (outside my own gushing fandom), seeing radio play and touring, Mike felt that stylistically it wasn’t hitting the spot. Ultimately it put an end to the band. “The thing is, I listen to rock and roll, like Elvis, Bill Hailey. I don’t listen to AC/DC or ZZ Top. I don’t own their records or put them on, but that’s what everyone was comparing us to. Obviously my aim was way off where I was landing. It kind of rubbed me wrong a little bit. Lyrically and melodically, which is where I pride myself, none of that was getting noticed for the guitars, and the aggression, and whatever misguided energy. I don’t resent being compared, but in the same breath I don’t want to be compared to them. If you can put out a clear representation of yourself then you have less chance of getting put in a position that you can’t keep up.”
“I knew I was never going to make another heavy rock record again, and that’s where it was going. So we had to stop the band.”
“After Mudhill I did a solo record that was done on a machine from 1957. That was really rootsy, folky, country, and that still didn’t really show everything I wanted to do either. I suppose Precious Memories, selfishly, is an attempt to show all my sides. It’s really me trying to put whatever I want in, without people expecting anything other than the Precious Memories.”
The resulting band is a collection of formidable talent drawn from Grand Manan to Halifax, all solo artists in their own right. Where Mike dominated as the frontman for Mudhill, he’s taken a half-step back on The Precious Memories. It’s allowed everyone to distinctly contribute to a larger vocal mosaic, with David R Elliot’s brash tones, Kim D’Ambrogi playing Mama Bear, and Adam Mowery filling the role of Art Garfunkel, Mike’s own voice can become the not-too-distant rumble of thunder. It’s a rare balance that has successfully allowed them to perform some lyrical storytelling, and allowed Mike to range stylistically, from Cohen-esque ballads, to CCR-like stompers, all the way to the psychedelic inspired rock of Jefferson Airplane.
While Mike is comfortable sharing the stage vocally, he’s penned all of their songs along with the band’s source of inspiration: founding (and comparatively silent) member, artist Benjamin Allain, “We started going back and forth between him painting and me writing. I’d give him a song, and he’d paint another picture, and then I’d write from that, and that’s how the band started. Every song for Precious Memories is inspired by Ben’s paintings. He comes to every show he can and paints with us, and we auction the painting off. The next album, when it comes time, will be done again, back and forth, with his art. He’s a part of the band when he can be. Obviously we do shows without him, because he’s not actually a part of the band. But his vibe and energy is a huge part of where we’re going. He paints these weird crazy paintings, and throughout the set we’re looking at them, and it’s really inspires where we go.”
Mike Trask and The Precious Memories are Mike Trask (of course), Adam Mowery (bass, vocals), Kim D’Ambrogi (vocals), David R Elliott (bass, vocals ), Owen Steel (drums), and Benjamin Allain (arts). They can be found on Facebook, performing shows around the Maritimes this summer, and on an unabashedly non-stop rotation on my stereo.