Hearing Double with The LYNNeS

Feature photo by Brittany Gawley

A cold wind blows down Bank Street. Ottawa doesn’t have tumbleweeds but a Loblaws bag waltzes with the wind and vanishes around a corner. A streetlight flickers as two musicians slinging six strings step into the winter sleet. Both are singer-songwriters. Both came with an arsenal of melodies. The Morricone orchestration reaches a fever pitch. Somewhere a mongrel dog howls. The clock on the Peace Tower chimes high noon.

They reach for their guitars.

A Lynn and a Lynne.

There can be only one.

Ok, so maybe it didn’t happen quite that way. Perhaps it wasn’t a western showdown and the first meeting between Ottawa musicians Lynn Miles and Lynne Hanson took place at the Centrepointe Theatre far from Dodge City. That’s not to say there wasn’t a bit of tension waiting to be sliced with one line from the always sharp wit of veteran Miles. She'd be in the music making game for awhile and never had to contend with another Lynn(e) on the block. Back in ’87 she was teaching voice lessons at the Ottawa Folklore Centre and shopping around a nine-song demo. Since then she’d played every juke-joint in O-town, headlined festivals, strummed and crooned on the National Arts Centre stage and won herself a Juno. If you loved music in Ottawa you had to know Lynn.

Photo by Jason Vaughan

While Miles had some mileage on her musical odometer, Hanson was just filling up her first tank of gas in 2006 when she released her debut album Things I Miss. She started playing guitar as a teen, taking the blues, roots and dusty boot stompin’ tunes and washing it all in a mud bath she’d call “porch music with a little red dirt”.

Though not then familiar with her music, the newcomer did know that the woman walking her way was on the bill that night. Standing face to face backstage at the Centrepointe any thought of playful banter over their first names, collaboration or even a brisk handshake of musicianship were quickly squashed like a bug on a kitchen countertop by the first words Miles said to her.

“This town isn't big enough for two Lynn(e)s.”

Hanson had a dangling moment that may have felt like an eternity to decide if Miles was joking. If she was, she played her cards close to her chest. Without another word, she walked away to do her set leaving the other Lynne to wonder if she should change her name or catch the first bus out of town and start a new life in Dog River.

To say it was a rocky start would be like saying there’s a lot of sand in the Sahara or The Works sure does have a lot of burger selections. Yeah, it wasn’t friends at first sight though Miles recalls it wasn’t the name that stuck in her craw but Hanson’s rabid love all things Montreal Canadians.

“Everyone knows I really don't like hockey all that much.  After she agreed to give up this childhood obsession we became the friends we are today,” says Miles.

The shedding of a sports dynasty paved a smoother path for the two musicians though at the outset it seemed like their first names were all that they had in common. Miles was a trained vocalist. Hanson learned to sing in the shower. Miles liked slow, breezy tunes but Hanson loved to wedge herself into a good groove and stay there awhile. Miles thought rhymes should, you know, actually rhyme while Hanson believed you can mash the words together like a mixed-up jigsaw if you just hammered down hard enough.

Despite their differences, Hanson asked Miles to sing some backup harmony on Things I Miss. While the latter jokes that she took the gig because of the pay, she relays that during the recording, and after the album came out, she really paid attention to Hanson’s songs, impressed by where she was at so early in her career.

“I learned Lynne Hanson's brain is even bigger than she thought it was,” say Miles, who would go on to producer Hanson’s second album River of Sand and follow-up release 7 Deadly Spins. As for Hanson, well, she learned it’s best to never, ever text Miles before noon.

Both busy fostering solo careers, they did find time to tour with one another including a memorable night in Ireland where both hung out after a show in the hotel bar with some locals.

“Lynne watched the sun come up, drank her body weight in Guinness and we had to break into her room and pour her into the car so we could make our BBC interview later that morning,” recalls Miles. “Thankfully she has been sober now for more than six years and no longer behaves like a rock star.”

One would think it’d only be a matter of time before the two started recording with one another but it actually took a decade. The duo’s debut as The LYNNeS, Heartbreak Song For The Radio, is set to be released February 2. You could say the last 10 years has been a trial run for the two heartbreak poets, a chance to shape their haunting but gritty harmonies into what would eventually become this album, one that was recorded in a more classic fashion than modern studio offerings.

“We recorded the album to tape.  All the bed track were done live off the floor, and most of my vocals as well. It was an energizing experience but also terrifying as there's not much room for error without having to go back and redo the whole thing,” explains Hanson. “I think recording with superb musicians made it work, and the analog nature of the recording resulted in a really warm, genuine sound.”

The LYNNeS also turned to KickStarter to help fund the project, surprised by the level of support they received.

“We are really grateful to our fans for coming through the way they did so that we could make the record that we envisioned,” says Hanson.

Each song on the album is a co-writing, producing and collaborative effort that is admittedly a new experience for them. While they have worked together in a studio setting before, the new territory feels fresh for the two friends. Their musicianship extends beyond their vocals as one, the other or both play acoustic and electric guitars, piano, harmonica, mandolin and even some percussion on the album. You really get a sense of how well they play off one another on a track like “Recipe for Diaster”. Of course, each of their styles are showcased with Miles getting her tearjerkers like the title track and Hanson getting into her groove with cuts like “Halfway to Happy”. If both their guitars weren’t enough, you can also hear Juno-winning guitarist Kevin Breit on “Don’t Look Down” and “Dark Waltz”.

Their sense of fun just naturally makes it into the show which can sometimes seem like an old vaudeville routine.  Though there was some concern that their friendship might take a hit if they moved into a more professional relationship, you can tell during their banter for this interview and their stage shows that, if anything, it’s strengthened.

Hanson says that Miles has been very forgiving in their friendship. “I can be a handful to be around and Lynn has the patience to wait out my tornado-like approach to our project to get to the really good stuff.”

Miles, however, may have an ulterior motive.

“If this whole music thing doesn't work out for me, Lynne says I can live in her garage.”