At Home with Alan Doyle

2020 was supposed to be a busy year for Alan Doyle, with plans for both a book tour and a 5-leg international concert tour. Like all of us, COVID-19 forced him to reschedule his agenda. However, it did not stop him from working his arse off to bring people together with song and story. Recently we caught up with the singer/songwriter/author from his home studio in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

How has 2020 been for you? When last we spoke, you were getting ready to go on tour.

It was one of the most unique years of my life. We played a gig on March 8th in Vancouver, in the first of what was to be five legs of the Rough Side Out tour. We flew home the next day for 10 days off, with a plan to reconvene in Mississauga. Of course, none of that happened. I went from March 9th until just a couple of weeks ago without playing a gig - the longest span that I have gone since I was 11 years old. So, I turned my attention to things that we could do, including a bunch of charity work online for the Dollar a Day Foundation, recording an album over the Internet with some friends and finishing another book. I am glad, actually, that I had things to turn my attention to, because now - as we enter what feels like another break in stride - we have something new out there for people to enjoy

Last time, you were still deciding what your third book would be about. What did you end up going with?

Well, here is the funny thing; I had just started a longer, travel-related discovery book. Of course, as soon as it became apparent that travel was going to be impossible, I put that whole project on hold. However, around a week later, Penguin Random House called me and said, ‘we would really like to put a title out from you this fall. We think people are really going to need it and enjoy it - is there anything light and humorous you might be able to do in a month?’ I said I could probably manage a book of short, funny stories that are somewhat disconnected, but are somehow connected as well. The book became All Together Now. There is a mix of a few stories from my young life growing up in Petty Harbour and the unique characters and a few crazy things that we did. And then there is a bunch of road stories from interesting experiences that I have had touring around the world for the last 20 years - some of which I handled really well, and some of which I handled very poorly. For me, writing the book was a good mental health break. It gave me something to focus on and do - and laugh about while I was writing. The book itself is crafted to remind us what a night out at the pub is like, like we are all sitting around, telling stories. Hopefully, when people read it, they will feel a little bit more connected.

You were also working on the Songs from Home EP.

That was a project that MusicNL started just after the shutdown. Me, Rachel Cousins, the Ennis Sisters, The Fortunate Ones, and The Once all got together and did a record, primarily over the Internet while in lockdown. We recorded five songs - one by each of us - that I produced, and then I produced a sixth one called It’s Okay that we all sang on together. The result of all that is Songs From Home, which came just a short while ago.

The music video for It’s Okay feels a lot like what everyone has been going through as of late.

Yeah, it was a joy to virtually connect and gather in whatever way was possible at the time - to be in the same room with those guys, even though we were not in the same room. 

What were the challenges involved with the recording?

Well, I have done work a lot like this before. I have been working virtually with people since 2010 - I started when I was on the Robin Hood film set. The composer was in Germany, and I was in England. So, with Songs From Home, I said, ‘I think if we all learn from each other, and I show you how I have been doing this for the last decade, we could actually work together very closely without actually being in the same room.’ I showed the other artists how to set up a home studio that was virtually connected to others, and how we could all seamlessly record and perform on the same project together, virtually simultaneously.

You brought your expertise to the project.

Heh, that sounds like a strong word for anything I know how to do! It was super nice to get something out during this time, and to demonstrate what we Newfoundlanders can do, even when the chips are down. I found that very exciting. It was also a great learning experience, as will happen any time you gather that much talent under one (virtual) umbrella. You constantly learn new things from each other. It is just one of the great joys of doing a collaborative thing like this, no matter how you do it.

You live-streamed some concerts, too.

Yeah, and they did very well. We had people from, I think, 27 countries around the world jump on and watch us play here in St. John’s. It was a real trip to bring Newfoundland songs to Russia, and Germany, and Egypt! I have streamed simpler things before but setting up a five-to-six camera shoot, with a full lighting and audio rig - basically, producing a mini television show for two and a half hours - that was really the first time.

What about live-streaming a whole concert felt new or stood out to you?

The desire for people to be in a room that they can’t be in is something that we were trying to satisfy. As opposed to television, where people are content to sit and listen, the trick to the live-stream world - and we were lucky enough to have so many people in the audience, all socially distanced - is to create an environment where the viewer would love to be in that room. And you give them as close an experience as you can.

Assuming that we return to some sort of normal over the coming while, what is on your agenda for the months ahead?

Oh, I don’t know, and I would be a fool to guess. It is, though, in all honesty, the question of the day. I have lots of fun stuff to do; more records, more books, and I am working on a musical for the Charlottetown Festival. I have no trouble occupying my time with fun and interesting things. What they are going to be will depend on what we are allowed to do, as we inch our way back towards our lives on the road and on-stage. I don’t think we are going to get to do that at least until the summer, and perhaps even not until much later than that. If I had one wish for 2021, it would be exactly the same wish I had for 2020 - to get out on the road and have everybody come to our concerts. But I have no interest in doing it if we can’t do it safely. Once we can, I will resume business as usual. But one of the greatest opportunities of the whole COVID-19 thing afforded me is a summer - about eight or nine weeks in a row - where I simply took time off to be with my family. I have not had a summer off since I was 12. We had great weather, and it was a beautiful, wonderful time. Plus, I built a bunch of decks in my backyard! However, I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t desperately, desperately miss touring and being on-stage, or on a tour bus with my best of friends. I dearly miss it, I do - but such is life right now, and we will make the most of it.

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