Jim Bryson's Remote Home Studio Is the Secret Backbone of Canadian Music
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Jim Bryson's Remote Home Studio Is the Secret Backbone of Canadian Music

For years, Bryson has been riding shotgun to some of Canada’s most prolific music acts from Kathleen Edwards to Tragically Hip.

Jim Bryson’s house is tucked away on a side street off a side street in Stittsville, Ontario, a small suburb peeling off the edge of Highway 417 west of Ottawa. Snow is falling when the musician and producer greets me at his front door, directing me around the side of the house to the backyard. “Watch out for the ice on the driveway,” he warns, chuckling that someone slipped there earlier in the week. Towering over a spread of kids toys strewn about the backyard is Jim’s studio, a tall, wood-panelled structure he built in the winter of 2013 with the help of some friends.


The studio is called Fixed Hinge, and has hosted the likes of Kathleen Edwards, Kalle Mattson, The Skydiggers, and many more. It’s a high-ceilinged room, more like a cabin than a studio, with eclectic bells and whistles: Bryson’s prized 1947 Martin acoustic guitar is a crown jewel of sorts. He prides himself on creating an environment that feels comfortable. “That’s what I want: a space that people want to come to, and don’t want to be intimidated by any technology.” He says his greatest strength is the care he puts into artists and their work (he adds quietly, “I feel like I’m always looking for somebody that wants to do that for my songs”).

Perhaps just as important to Bryson is that his studio is stationed off the beaten path, allowing him peace and clarity to focus on the artists he works with. “Living out here, I don’t know if I’m in the conversation as much as people who live either more central or further rural.” The middle-ground is a place Bryson is accustomed to. “I’ve spent a lot of my life in music inhabiting spaces between spaces, in a way,” he says.

The “spaces between spaces” account for a whole lot. For years, Bryson has been riding shotgun to some of Canada’s most prolific music acts. He was a founding member of Ottawa punk band Punchbuggy before joining Kathleen Edwards’ band, contributing vocals, guitars, pedal steel, and more (he fondly remembers Edwards’ 21st birthday, which involved bouncing off of inflatable beer cans at a festival). Later, he opened a tour for Winnipeg rock poets The Weakerthans; he went on to join the band as a touring member. In 2009 he was the touring keyboardist for The Tragically Hip.


Bryson’s trajectory is a little unusual. North American pop culture is prefaced on celebration and promotion of the self, and music, with its spotlights and celebrity-ish implications, amplifies that self-involved tendency. It’s almost remarkable and certainly encouraging, to see someone like Bryson in this industry: operating not for his own benefit, but for the benefit of others. While he’s released beloved and critically-acclaimed records under his own name, Bryson’s solo career began to take a backseat to his supporting roles in other bands. “I definitely feel that my own identity and my own career has been affected by the choices I had to make to make a living,” he says. “I’m being very transparently honest that I think that my peers… definitely developed further and faster than I did.”

“It’s sort of weird to be known as a side person versus being known as an artist or your own personality,” he says. Touring on material that he didn’t help to create bred a sort of alienation. “It did have a certain Groundhog Day effect on me at some point. ‘This isn’t my band, I’m not in this band, I’m just playing for these people.’ The experiences of magic don’t happen as much as a side musician.” He’s quick to note he’s not deriding the experience or the bands, gushing about his days with The Weakerthans and the Hip. I ask if he wishes he’d been able to dedicate more time to his solo career. “[Back] then, I did,” he admits. “Then, I felt like my identity got shifted. I tend to not spend much time on it. There are lots of times when I feel frustrated and question choices I made, but I also know that doesn’t help me.”


“I’ve got so many other things I can feel sorry for myself about,” he shrugs mischievously.

Bryson’s choices have rippled through Canadian music. Weakerthans drummer Jason Tait first met Bryson at a festival in Saskatoon in the mid-’90s. Tait fondly recalls “the perfect day” off in Venice, Italy, wandering the streets with bandmate John K. Samson and Bryson. “We just generally work with really great people, and Jim is definitely a stand-out from that,” he says. He notes Bryson’s egoless fluidity. “He could easily step into a supportive role, and he can also lead a band. It takes a person that’s really in check with their ego, and is very considerate. Those people are pretty rare.” For his part, Bryson considers himself a ‘loud introvert.’ “I feel like I could sell somebody a pair of shoes if I needed to,” he quips. He rarely feels comfortable pitching himself to others, but when he crossed paths with Evangeline Gentle, a queer singer-songwriter based in Peterborough, he decided to try it. He suggested Gentle come record at Fixed Hinge. She agreed. “For safety, I always ask the women in music I know about men and what they’ve heard about them before I agree to work with them,” Gentle explains. “I heard nothing but lovely things about Jim and I felt really reassured that my experience working him would be great. It has been.” She says working with Bryson was “low stress and relaxing.” “I really feel like Jim and I have connected while making this record,” she notes. “I’ve never met a man working in the music industry comparable to Jim,” Gentle continues. “He has supported me in ways that only be attributed to his huge heart. When this record is finished, I will have him to thank for it’s coming to life.”


It’s clear that Bryson’s decisions to work beyond the spotlight have enriched not just the fabric of Canadian music, but the lives of those around him. Bryson considers that a win. “For years, I’ve existed on sort of a ‘small victories’ philosophy,” he says. “Is my daughter upset she doesn’t have her own room? Fuckin’ right she is. [But] I try to tell my kids when they’re young: you gotta focus on the things you can control versus what you can’t.”

Before I leave, Bryson hauls me into his kitchen and makes me a cappuccino. He sends me away with the mug as a gift (though he grumbles that he has too many of the cups). Bryson admits that the first few years in Stittsville were difficult, but things are better now. “I feel really fortunate that I basically get to chill out here and chart my own path. The challenges are real and the challenges are there, but it does not offset the joy and the satisfaction and how lucky I feel. I stayed in Stittsville and I’m happy I did.

“I’m happy to be the one that stayed.”

Luke Ottenhof is on Twitter.