Interview with John Borra and Friends

Some of you reading this have probably seen the many permutations of the world-class players that make up Rattlesnake Choir hundreds of times.  To you we’re preaching to the converted.  You don’t need to be told to come to The Horseshoe Tavern on Friday June 8th to see this great band play with openers Ginger St. James and Cameron House Records’ own Kayla Howran.

To those of you who have never seen the Rattlesnake Choir?  What the hell is wrong with you?  Seriously…

We’re also thrilled to inform you that Cameron House Records will be releasing the Rattlesnakes’ Walkin’ the Wire on vinyl in the very near future.  For now, enjoy this interview with John Borra and a few notable John Borra/Rattlesnake Choir fans.

Paradise Blog:  Why did you choose Kayla Howran to open for Rattlesnake Choir at the Horseshoe on Friday, June 8th?

John Borra:  I really like Kayla’s voice and music. She has a rockin’ edge that you want for The Horseshoe on a Friday night. She also has new record out and we thought this would be a good show for her to get behind.

Paradise Blog:  How did you end up partnering with Cameron House Records to release Walkin’ the Wire on vinyl?

John Borra:  They asked, we said yes. The Rattlesnakes collectively and individually have a long history with The Cameron House. I think they want that connection to the past to be reflected in the label.

Paradise Blog:  Hey, Cameron House Records co-manager Mike McKeown, care to expand on that?

Mike McKeown:  We have always been big fans of Rattlesnake Choir, and John Borra in general. The first Rattlesnake Choir album, Live Music, has always got plenty of plays over the Cameron’s house system, and when Walkin’ The Wire came out, it was no different. John Borra is, in my opinion, one of the best songwriters on the scene in Toronto.  I’ve always had the utmost respect for him both as a songwriter and an individual. He, along with his bandmates Sam Ferrara, Tony “The Boot” Benattar, Miranda Mulholland, and Michael Boguski are veterans on the scene here. It’s only fitting that they as a band become a part of what we’re doing as a record label, as they were and continue to be, influential to the music community that we’re a part of. They have undoubtedly been an integral part of sculpting the musical landscape that we find at the Cameron night in and night out. We expressed our interest to John on the first Cameron patio-sitting session of this season. After not much time at all, we came to the conclusion that putting Walkin’ The Wire out on vinyl was the best way we could work together at this point, as we both felt that it’s a record meant for vinyl. This will be CHR’s first release on vinyl, and we hope to continue to release records on vinyl with all of our acts.  A funny side note: The last time John released anything on vinyl was in 1987, which is also the year Cosmo and myself were born.

Paradise Blog:  Back to John now:  Having been playing The Cameron House in a number of influential bands since the 80s, can you discuss the evolutionof the bar that you’ve witnessed over the years?

John Borra:  It’s gone through changes over the years but it’s always stayed pretty true to what the place is all about. There’s a real vitality going on there now that reminds me a lot of the early days.

Paradise Blog:  Whenever on YouTube and the mood for some Rattlesnake Choir strikes me I always go straight to this CMT video for The Wind Loves the Rain. Can you discuss that experience?

John Borra:  We did that for The Dakota Sessions on CMT. I work on those shows as an audio engineer. We usually shoot two acts in a day. Steve Earle was scheduled for the morning shoot and Stompin’ Tom was to do the afternoon. Tom canceled a few days before and they asked if the Rattlesnakes wanted to do it. On the day of, I did Steve Earle’s monitors in the morning and then sat in the same chair in the afternoon on the other side of the camera.

Paradise Blog:  Having played The Horseshoe countless times, can you give us a couple memories of yours that shine brightest from that beloved old tavern?

John Borra:  A few shows with Change Of Heart when the place was packed up to the stage and totally rocking stand out but I have a lot of memories that shine bright from that place.

Paradise Blog:  Toronto music critic Ben Rayner called Walkin’ the Wire “a nice afternoon at the saloon.” Was the album meant to capture the feeling of a Rattlesnake Choir matinee, with a bar packed with old friends and relatively new fans?

John Borra:  Sure.

Paradise Blog:  At a recent Cameron House appearance you mentioned that you were scoring a film.  Can you tell us about that?  How did that opportunity come about?  How many songs?  How is it different than writing songs for an album?

John Borra:  Through The Cameron House actually. The director wanted a more acoustic, roots approach for the music and knew that a lot of roots bands played at The Cameron. He went to the website, liked the name Rattlesnake Choir and looked us up. The filmaker’s name is Josh Heisie.  It’s a 15-minute short called The Prospector’s Curse and it’s a western/horror.  I believe there’s about seven pieces. All instrumental but one.  I’ve done some music for films before but this is the first time I’m totally at the helm.  It’s quite different in many ways. Songs need to follow a certain logical structure whereas score music in a film has to follow whatever is going on on the screen or in the story. You’re also just one of the pieces in somebody else’s project so you have to respect that. With songwriting I’m the only one I have to please.

Paradise Blog:  Hey Josh Heisie—what’s it’s like working with John Borra?  Will Screamin’ Sam Ferrara’s singing saw be heard in your film?  We sure hope so.

Josh Heisie:  After trying to find a composer suitable for my horror/western short The Prospector’s Curse I found myself unsatisfied with the computer-generated tracks I was getting back from regular film composers.  In hopes of finding a more organic, raw sound, I began to seek out folk and country artists.  I found John Borra through the Cameron House website, and met with him shortly after to discuss the project.  After receiving some sample tracks, I knew John was the one for the job.  He is producing some great moody, spooky spaghetti western-inspired music that fits the short perfectly.  John is great at taking direction and following my overall ‘vision’ while adding his own very unique and interesting style to each piece.  Like the Ennio Morricone tracks that inspired me, John brings new layers of subtext to the film with his music.  John has told me that the singing saw will make some appearances in the soundtrack.  I’m looking forward to hearing it!  John has been great to work with, and I hope to work with him and The Rattlesnake Choir again soon.

Paradise Blog:  Another artist on Cameron House Records by the name of Whitney Rose covers your song In the Afternoon on her upcoming, self-titled debut album. We heard you went into the studio to sing on that song, how did that go?

John Borra:  I think Whitney is great and I’m honored that she does my song. I personally like her version better.

Paradise Blog:  Whitney, what do you have to say to that?

Whitney Rose:  I have never left a John Borra show without having learned something or without a renewed drive to be a better songwriter and performer. I admire him to no end, so doing a JB song on my record was an honour, and having him actually like my version is somewhat overwhelming. It was such a wonderful experience having him come and sing on it as well, and not at all surprisingly he exercised so much grace in terms of adapting to the way I do the song when it would be so hard to let go of this tune that he has been molding for years.

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