Jaw Slinky: A Joel of All Trades

All photos by Andre Gagne.

“This is my Jeep,” the musician in shades said reaching for the door. There was very little time for pleasantries. Even with the sunglasses you could tell he was exhausted. I shuffled my photography bag over my shoulder and slid in expecting my shoes to be buried by fast-food bags, loose change and scratched CDs but, outside of the two guitar cases in the back, this thing was spotless. This guy’s organized, I thought. I suppose, given the circumstances, he has to be.

“So, how long do you think this’ll take?” he asks, his tired eyes on the road. He spoke with a sense of urgency, a man who has 29 hours of things to do but only 24 hours in a day. It was clear a photo shoot with me wasn’t high on the agenda. With a band to rehearse, a show in a few days, a video to shoot and a new album to promote, I was surprised he didn’t take the camera out of my hand and snap the photos himself, vanishing up the road in a cloud of dust leaving me to wonder if he was ever really there.

Meet Joel Sauvé. His new album Mezzanine was produced, recorded, mixed and mastered by Joel Sauvé. It also features guitars and vocals by Sauvé, drums by Sauvé, Joel Sauvé on bass guitar, flutes and harmonica, all recorded in a studio built by Joel Sauvé with videos shot by, you guessed it, Joel Sauvé. He also goes by the stage name Jaw Slinky and, yeah, he’s got things to do. He always has things to do. It’s like the man wasn’t manufactured with an off switch.

Both Sauvé and I grew up in Cornwall, Ontario. Our paths wouldn’t cross until many years later when, walking into a local bar, I heard him on stage belting out a rocked out cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” that almost made me forget the original was a pop song. As a teen, when I was reaching for my Nintendo controller, Sauvé was reaching for his guitar…and his bass…and his drum sticks. Trying to master as much as he could was sort of a trend with him. In school, not satisfied with one sport, Sauvé played, and excelled, at all of them. This Jack, or Joel, of all trades would take a similar approach to music, wanting to be a guitar player but being edged towards the bass at jams by his already guitarist friends.

Joel (9 of 10)b web“I was handed the bass and was a little apprehensive about it because, well, let’s face it, the bass isn’t cool when you're 14-15 years old.  You want the guitar.” recalls Sauvé.  “I devoted my time to learn the bass lines for what we were doing anyway and I learned to love it.  We also had a singer at the time that would jam with us but eventually he decided he couldn’t devote his time to our little get-togethers, so I stepped up and said: “I’ll sing.”  And so I started working on my vocals while playing the bass – which is pretty much like taping one hand on your head while rubbing your belly with the other.  It taught me a lot about coordination.”

After these sessions, with everyone gone, Sauvé would sit behind the drum kit and start teaching himself how to play that as well. He’d spend hours pressing stop, play and rewind on a cassette player listening to bands like Pearl Jam or The Tea Party and trying to mimic exact notes or chords. Even though he didn’t know he was doing it then, this was how he developed and trained his ear.

He played his first gig in front of a crowd at Cornwall’s Aultsville Hall and, later that same year, in a local bar where he wasn’t even old enough to buy a drink. Cornwall, like it did for a lot of us, suddenly felt really small and Sauvé moved to Montreal where he studied music at Concordia. He later found work in a music store, started to do sound in a local club and, of course, formed a band.

“Concordia taught me the theory and history of music.  However, working as a server, sound man, open-mic/jam night host and just performing in the Montreal bars taught me the beat of the city when it came to understanding the rhythm of the musical nightlife and scene.”

After his first two bands dissolved, Sauvé found himself back in Cornwall playing gigs of mostly cover tunes nearly every weekend while teaching music on the side. There, things just weren’t moving fast enough.

“I’ve always said that once you come back to Cornwall, it’s like Velcro – you get stuck,” he explains. The pull back to a bigger city –with the help of his girlfriend, Jill, who lived in one– had him packing it all up again and moving to Ottawa, a place Sauvé feels is one he can possibly settle into.

Joel (3 of 10) webIt was here that he decided to go solo and create an alternate persona. Using his initials, and inspired by his own crooked jaw, he settled on Jaw Slinky. He had a name, now he needed a studio and, when you’re Joel Sauvé, you don’t just rent time in one, you build your own. After striking a deal with Jill –she got the third bedroom and he got the basement– Stuck in a Tin Can Studios was created, functioning out of their east-end townhouse where Sauvé spent countless hours learning software and studying YouTube tutorials to piece the place together.

“Sometimes you just can’t rely on anyone else to do something for you or, for that matter, the right way,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to have my own studio so I took it upon myself to just do it.  It was quite the unique process because being by yourself, recording in a studio is, for lack of a better word, weird.  There is no one there to encourage you or to tell you to do a take again. You have to be the one to say that the take was good enough and move on.”

Being a multi-instrumentalist, Sauvé always wanted to try to record an album himself. To him, it was about reaching another level. Mezzanine became that level. From the moment the opening punch of power chords from “Led by the Light of the Devil” hit you, well, square on the jaw, you’ll find it hard to believe this wasn’t produced in a huge studio, let alone that everything you’re hearing is by the same guy. The album is a testament to Sauvé’s detail oriented, focused vision.

Joel (10 of 10)b webSome stand outs include the blues-based “Dynasty” as well as “Crossfire,” a rocked out track with some catchy rhythm guitar. Sauvé releases his grip on you a little with the gentler “Hummingbird” which evokes some late 60’s prog-rock with a wistful flute that carries you through the upbeat track, flying. Though much of the album speaks of loss and betrayal, Sauvé explains that these are elements from his past that finally found a way to break out of him, little voices that needed to be heard before fading out.

“Some themes are better left for other people’s interpretation.  I’ve been in dark places. For some reason, I have an easier time completing a song about loss and deception, than I do about good and happy things.  The songs on the record that share these themes may have happened years ago to me, but I still needed to put them down and lay them to rest since they were never previously recorded.”

Though it’d be interesting to see him try to pull it off alone, Sauvé will be backed by a band for a coming CD release party on May 20 in Barrhaven’s Greenfield’s Pub. No, he didn’t build the venue, but I wouldn’t put it past him. Watching the Jeep drive off towards rehearsals, video tweaking and whatever other one of the dozen things Sauvé had to complete before the show, I realized that a guy like Jaw Slinky is somebody who makes you feel you just have to be doing more in life, moving forward, challenging yourself. There is always a higher level to reach for.

“I think the theme of rising above and pushing through speaks for itself as in everyone can relate to a situation that they have gone through,” says Sauvé. “This album was definitely a cathartic experience for me.  I killed many birds with one stone – recording a full-length record on my own, getting those songs out of my head and building my own studio, and learning a whole bunch of things about myself along the way.”Joel (6 of 10)web

Tickets for the show can be purchased by writing info.jawslinky@gmail.com. You have one guess who’s looking after those ticket sales.