Published Apr 03, 2014Tucked away on the edge of the Halifax Regional Municipality, the surfers braving the Atlantic's frigid temperatures are the sign you're almost at the small bungalow Seth Smith and Nancy Urich call home.
Walking through the front door, visitors are faced with a split-level set of stairs. Head up to find a typical suburban household; downstairs is an altogether different story. Along with providing a roof over the heads of Smith, Urich and their brand new baby boy, this isolated bungalow is also home to Fundog Studio, where, as Dog Day, the couple recorded last year's Fade Out, and its 2011 predecessor, Deformer, amongst the litany of creative projects the two always have on the go. "Downstairs," says Smith, "is where the fun begins."
Smith and Urich bought the house a few years ago, after enduring cramped Halifax apartments for years. "We wanted a place where we could have a studio, have some gear set up and also have some privacy." They found the perfect spot in Pennant, NS, a tiny enclave 25 minutes outside the city, just past popular surf spot Crystal Crescent Beach. "Nobody goes past the beach," says Smith. "The only people that do either live here or are going to bury a body."
Urich's art studio, as well as the office activities for Fundog Records, occupy one of three downstairs rooms. The control room is evenly split between recording equipment and Smith's graphic design home studio. It opens up into the giant main room, which the two use as a jam space. Amplifiers and band posters hide much of the wood paneling that covers the walls, while a giant '70s circular rug that belonged to Smith's mother covers the floor. "There's a lot of broken gear. I'm an avid collector of junk. My dad has a big junkyard and I guess I got that from him because I'm always accumulating."
Most of the amps are Urich's; Smith collected amps for years but recently pawned most of them for cash. He retains his prized Marshall JCM 800 that's lasted through all his music endeavours. The Pearl drum kit he bought as a teenager — Pantera's signature model — has also withstood the test of time.
The art of recording, rather than capturing a performance, is what drives Smith's interest. As such, he records in pieces, using Logic on his Apple laptop to manipulate tracks after the fact, often with magnetic tape. "I'll use tape for every recording, whether it's just for delay effects or recording drums or mixing the whole thing down to tape. I just love the fluidity of tape."
He embraces sounds that professionals would deem "undesirable. Like distortion and un-tuned instruments." A tinkerer, he's amassed a small army of broken effects pedals, four-tracks and pre-amps. "I've always been the guy in my band who's the fixer when stuff breaks," he says. "But I never really quite fix it and sometimes I make it worse. But you'll get some interesting sounds."
Fittingly, none of their guitars cost more than $200. The guitar Smith used on Dog Day's last tour was paid for with a six-pack, and his current favourite was given to him by his father who found it in a South Carolina dumpster, its neck snapped off completely.
He cites Steve Albini as a major influence. And a brief mentorship under the wing of producer John Agnello, while Dog Day were recording their 2009 album, Concentration, with the Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. engineer, proved particularly fruitful. "I use more of his techniques than any other's I've learned along the way."
Between Dog Day, the label, Smith's burgeoning film career (he released his debut feature, Lowlife, in 2012) and his graphic design work with Paul Hammond as Yo Rodeo, there's been little time to record other bands at Fundog. Halifax garage rockers Cold Warps' 2012 seven-inch, "Slimer," was the last non-family project recorded in the space.
The couple's already busy creative schedules are now compounded with the addition of their first child, leading the new parents to set Dog Day aside for the time being. "Doing this kid thing, like all our projects, we want to do it right. So we're giving our music some distance so we can work on this until we feel ready to go back to it."
But don't expect their creative juices to run dry. Urich continues to paint and run the label, while Smith has been trading experimental noise tracks with Chad VanGaalen via email. He's working on a record that he describes as being in a similar vein to his 2009 lo-fi solo record, New Problems, and he promises new music from himself and Urich, even if it's not as Dog Day. "Nancy and I will definitely be doing something soon," he says. "We tend to do music a lot. It's a big part of our life."