The thoughts on the wall
Making this album has been one huge ambivalent experience. First off, back in 2013, my father had written, recorded, and produced several new songs more or less on his own. He told me that he wanted to go to a local mastering studio to master the demo recordings and release them as a new Jan Groth album. It seemed like he was in a hurry.
He had always been writing songs and making home recordings, and after he retired from his job as a teacher in 2008, he’d been more creative and was producing more new material than previously.
He now had more time to record and experiment with the hardware and software that he had acquired over the years. He devoted most of his time to working in the studio, tweaking little details and making his demos sound as good as possible. The result was a nice little compilation of songs that he presented to us on my mother’s birthday, April 8th 2013.
Fourteen songs, in almost as many genres. He was musically schizophrenic. Blues, country, bluegrass, pop, rock, soul, gospel, and all in between. He simply loved it, and he never dwelled on one particular style for too long. In his studio he had all he needed to record everything except for drums, so all beats were programmed using software and samples.
When he played me the songs, I immediately liked what I heard. Fact is, I loved them! Of the entire extended family, my father and I were always the two who were the most alike musically. Growing up, he played me Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard, Ray Charles, Larry Norman, and even though I discovered The Beatles on my own, he had all the records for me to steal, which I did. Sure, we had our differences, but when he released Circle Of Love back in 1982 (when I was five years old) I instantly became a fan of my father’s work, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Though these new songs he had written were everything that we agreed upon musically, they lacked something. I told him that I wanted to produce his new album, and record everything in professional studios, with musicians that we knew, liked, and trusted. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always heard people telling my father: “If you ever need ‘some instrument’ on your album, please let me know. I’d love to be on a Jan Groth album!” And when I told my father to write down a list with all the names of those he wanted to play on the album, and that I would contact them, he almost immediately agreed to let me produce this album. I believe he had to think a little about letting “junior” have this major responsibility and be in charge of his “new baby”. I eventually did a couple of changes to some of the demo tracks, and he seemed to love it, and gave me the honor, so in the summer of 2013 we jumped right into it.
In August, Jan was diagnosed with kidney cancer, and he wanted to put the production on hold for a while. But I kept working on it, and showed him new stuff almost on a daily basis, partly because it was such a cool project, but mainly to keep his mood and spirit up. Many of the songs on this album focus on the inevitable issue of getting old(er). I remember he told me a few years back that he felt it was so strange to see that unfamiliar “old man” in the mirror every morning – who was he? My father had an energy level way above everyone else I’ve ever known, especially when he was on stage, so I don’t think he really enjoyed becoming older, and he got really scared about getting sick. He’d never been seriously ill before, so this all came as a shock to him and us, and it was a totally new situation for our family. The strongest one was suddenly the weakest one.
We still kept working on the songs, and the evening before he went to have one of his kidneys removed, he recorded the vocals for Where Did My Days Go on his own. I dare not even think about what went through his mind while he recorded those words. The surgery went well, and we all kind of thought that he’d made it, so work on the album continued.
We recorded tracks with four different drummers, five bass players, a whole bunch of guitar players, singers, and keyboard players and we worked in eight different studios. We also recorded banjos, analog synths, and even Mellotron. I always wanted to work with real live strings, something we did twice on this album! If you read through the cover credits, you will find so many of my father’s friends there. It’s simply a joy to hear all these wonderful people’s contributions working together so perfectly on this album.
Eventually the mixing process started, and it was during this time that Jan started getting really sick. He was an active part of the mixing of the first four songs, but the next three he okayed from his hospital bed. The last one he approved with just a thumbs-up; he was too fatigued to speak. This was less than a week before he passed away.
I know that he loved this album. He was so proud of it, and I know that he really loved what I had done with his songs. He told others, and he wrote it in mails. I think he tried telling me too, but I’m sad to say that I was just too busy working to pay attention to his kind remarks. Several people have come up to me after his passing, telling me that he said that this would be his best album ever… and I agree. It has been really hard to listen to and work with some of the songs after August 27th 2014, but I know that this is the album that my father wanted.
When the burden of time was no longer the same kind of issue, I added a few guitars that were originally on his wish list, and we took extra time to get the track Speak It sounding according to our plan, since this is a very special song! As it turned out, Speak It would become the last song ever recorded by the original Aunt Mary lineup. Ketil Stensvik, Aunt Mary’s drummer, died in April 2015.
My brother Stephan produced the track What Does It Take To Wake Up, and made the genius decision to ask our mom, Lise, to sing harmonies on this beautiful song, which also features our brother Andreas on additional vocals, our brother Thomas on theremin, and myself on guitar. Every single person from my father’s closest family sharing their talents on one track. Oh, yeah, plus our lawyer, Harald.
I am very proud to have been in charge of what eventually became my dear father’s swansong. I am so immensely happy with the final product, and I will cherish this experience for all my life. My father poured his heart and soul into his music as he did everything in his life, and these songs resonate with all his energy, passion, and love. I hope you, the listener, will enjoy this, the last Jan Groth album, the final brick in the musical legacy he built.
Jonas Groth, 2016