It took Ben Gunning a while, but he did at last release what could be his Moby Dick.
The “do it” in question is Mal De Mer, the sophomore release of the Toronto indie-rocker’s solo career after making a name for himself so many moons ago alongside Montreal cult faves Local Rabbits (an incarnation with longtime friend Peter Elkas that in its day was as notorious as Thrush Hermit, The Rheostatics and The Inbreds).
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The followup to Beigy Blur, Mal De Mer takes a darker turn with a nautical narrative. With a voice ranging from falsetto to baritone, percussion machine and lounge-lizard guitar licks, Gunning recounts the fictional tale of a disgruntled cruise ship employee. The narrator grows more and more disillusioned as he ruminates about the world around him and the boat get further away from shore.
“I don’t want people to think I’m completely pessimistic,” says Gunning. “He’s becoming increasing less interested in the job. The final two songs of my last album, I was trying to put some really dense ideas into a pop format and it was becoming really challenging trying to say a lot and narrowing the scope to fit. So instead of trying to cram it in, I decided to spread it out over one record.”
A carefully crafted piece of work, Mal De Mer took Gunning more than four years to produce and release. Put the time gap down to working a day job to support a family and the logistics of aggregating helping hands to learn and record the complex score. Gunning himself admits he’s not prolific and adds that anything worth doing is worth taking the time to do right.
“I think the whole myth of the artist who doesn’t have to work a day job is disappearing,” he says. “Almost everyone I know, the artists who I admire in Canada, are working other jobs. It’s not unique.”
Though don’t get them wrong, due to the care they put into it, the moonlighter’s music can often be just as enjoyable, if not better, than the signed big-name rocker who “bangs out 10 songs every three years or so,” as Raine Maida once told Metro.
“There’s a certain idea of delegitimacy that some people have if you work a day job,” he said. “And I think that could be changing in independent circles. People ask me ‘Oh, is this a hobby?’ but I like to look at this as something I’m so serious about that I don’t want to subject it to having to make bad decisions about music because I have to pay the rent.”