Ten years ago, Greg Halpin started to turn inward. A Québec-based singer-songwriter and liberal arts student, Halpin had played in a few indie rock bands, toured, recorded, and mixed with heavyweights in the local music scene.
But restless nights spent in sparsely populated barrooms and the pressures of collaboration got in the way of the music. The perfectionism of digital recording was killing the energy of performing live. So Halpin brought the music from the barroom to the bedroom.
Halpin’s album Notes from a Bedroom represents that inward turn away from public venues and into the intimacy of the bedroom. In the past year, Halpin has been playing concerts in bedrooms all across North America, bringing his music into private spaces.
On March 28, he performed in a room in the Sir Daniel Wilson Residence at University College as part of a lineup of Toronto shows that have taken place over the last few weeks.
Halpin and I met in Bar Mercurio to discuss his project. Sporting a bushy beard, a silkscreened Bob Dylan t-shirt, and a guitar in tow, he talked me through the genesis of the project.
Halpin told me that touring with indie rock groups had signified its own set of challenges.
“You can’t expect a big crowd unless you have some backing behind you, publicizing,” Halpin said. The initial small crowds grew as people spread the word. “And that’s just the way you have to do it… that’s how it starts. You have to play to those ten people and hopefully the next time they bring a friend.”
The idea for Notes from a Bedroom was simple — take 10 years of song sketches, lyrics, and experience, and strip the music down to its core. A friend had given Halpin a cassette tape recorder around the same time that he had just started getting into Bob Dylan. The idea of lo-fi recording and authentic, personal music complete with imperfections appealed to him.
He pitched his idea to a big-name producer, Howard Bilerman, who played on Arcade Fire’s first album, Funeral, and helped produce musicians such as Leonard Cohen, Wolf Parade, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
Bilerman liked it and mentored Halpin throughout the process. Halpin recorded his tracks on cassette tape, letting ambient noise filter in and bringing back the raw, live energy that Bilerman had been enthused about as well. “So many of the things he was saying seemed to really click with the ideas for that album,” Halpin said.
The idea of the bedroom as an intimate space resonated with Halpin’s own feelings about music. “The intimacy of it, and kind of letting someone into my bedroom… is what songwriting is to me, and I think what it is to a lot of people,” Halpin noted.
The music “comes from a pretty private place,” he said. “I think that’s what I like about music, when they’re able to articulate something and get it across in an emotional way, that’s what I can connect to, and that I feel like ‘Oh, I felt that before but I’ve never talked about it.’”
But to forge that connection, Halpin sought solitude. “As much as this is about trying to connect to people,” he said, “it’s like long days spent just on my own and it’s pretty lonely, and that comes through in a lot of the songs.”
With eight to 10 hours of practice a day and endless revisions, the process was quite isolating.
Halpin’s concert in the Sir Daniel Wilson Residence broke down some of those barriers, and his long process of internal reflection resulted in a definite connection for the audience. Though the Toronto leg of the Notes from a Bedroom tour has concluded, Halpin will surely be continuing these unique performances in bedrooms nationwide.