TORONTO ON -- On his third full-length collection, Turn Up the Dark (out today on all digital platforms), Toronto singer/songwriter David Backshell builds on the subtle storytelling that characterized the spare songs on 2015’s Halfsleeper and 2017’s Codeine Dreams.
Of the new single, "Gutshot," David says, "It was one of the songs that came together towards the end of the recording process. The opening riff that carries through the verse has a natural tension to it, but it felt very static. It was only after I found the lead melody that the dynamic seemed to shift, enabling the track to flow. To me it has this kind of night time driving feel to it which culminates in a frenetic, rising guitar solo."
With the help of his ace collaborators Graham MacDonald and Michael Zahorak on bass and keys, backing vocalists Chantal Sylvestre and producer Remy Perrin—David has expanded and amplified his sound on Turn Up The Dark. While it is an album of immersive, atmospheric folk-rock gems, he also doesn't hesitate to, well, turn up the dark when necessary, as "Gutshot" demonstrates.
Among David's great skills are teasing earworms out of even the moodiest minor-key drones, his sweetly reedy harmonies, and his ability to evoke a vivid sense of time and place with an understated lyrical flourish. But that arch sensibility is part of what hooks you—and it adds depth and dynamics to his tunes, whether you’re listening through earbuds or watching him and his band, the Nighttime Gals, quietly command a stage. It’s not surprising that he was tapped—by an acquaintance who was charmed after chatting with him at a bar—to write the lyrics for the theatrical production Kill Sister Kill: A Musical, which had a successful run at the 2015 New York Fringe fest.
As David explains though, his creative process is also the byproduct of endless flux. “I obsessively rewrite stuff,” he says. “If you go through my notepads, it’s insane how many versions of the same thing I have.” For a guy who spends so much of his life rethinking and revisiting and revising, what’s unusual about Turn Up the Dark, Backshell notes, is that even after spending so much time with these songs, he’s satisfied. “Typically, as soon as I finish a project, I get sick of it within about a week and I just want to do something new,” he says. “This album was pretty much done by 2020, and the fact that I still like this three years later means it can't be that bad.”
For all of this focus on flux, Turn Up the Dark ultimately also captures the only aspect of Backshell’s life that is always and forever the same. From the very first time he picked up a guitar—a somewhat unceremonious event that led to the hasty creation of a song that lasted all of a minute and 40 seconds and involved way too many power chords—Backshell has felt that it’s a portal to become the best version of himself he can be. “Music never, ever fades in terms of being the one thing I always want to do,” he says.
[Text contributed by Sarah Liss]