Howard Bilerman, the producer and recording engineer who runs Montreal’s hotel2tango studio and a Grammy nominated musician who performed with, among others, Arcade Fire, played a role in creating You Want It Darker, the Leonard Cohen album scheduled for release this fall. His account of the experience – from meeting Leonard to working with producer, Adam Cohen, recording a unique set of backup singers for the album, is interesting, entertaining, and enlightening:
Howard, Vic Chesnutt, & Leonard Cohen
The story starts some 10 years ago. I had just finished recording an album with the now departed Vic Chesnutt. It was the first time we had worked together, and we bonded over our love of Leonard Cohen songs. It made Vic’s day when I pointed out where Leonard lived and his favorite spot for breakfast.
A native of Georgia, Vic fell in love with Montreal, largely because it was Leonard’s home. Vic’s album was was released mid-July 2007 to incredibly positive reviews. One, written by Sean Michaels (now a Giller Prize winning author) concluded, “This record, done at the hotel2tango, is Vic’s best record in some many years … Now someone get Leonard Cohen there!” (a reference to an interview I had done some years before about artists I had dreamt of working with).
Within 12 hours of that review going online, an email arrived with the subject line “from Leonard Cohen” which read simply “Can I visit your studio? Leonard.”
I trust, dear reader, you will excuse me for thinking this was a prank from one Vic Chesnutt. But, you know, stranger things have happened. So, I quizzed this “Leonard Cohen,” asking him the last names of two mutual acquaintances, something only the real Leonard Cohen would know. At 4:56 am the next morning I received an email, and in bold letters read the correct answers to my skill testing questions. There was no doubt about it — this was Leonard Cohen. Plans were made for Leonard to stop by the studio the next day at 4:30 pm.
At 4:30 pm, the studio doorbell rang. Opening the door revealed a handsome, dapper Leonard Cohen dressed in his trademark suit and cap. The first words out of his mouth were “if you’re busy I can come back.”