Lucas Haneman Goes All In

By Chrissy Steinbock — Wed, 22/04/2015 - 09:53

Ottawa guitarist extraordinaire Lucas Haneman has a new project, the Lucas Haneman Express and this Friday April 24 they’re releasing their album, Welcome Aboard.

Lucas is a guy who lives and breathes music. Playing the guitar since he was six, he was an ambitious player from the start, sitting down to figure out Eric Clapton’s Unplugged album by ear when he was eight and performing at the Ottawa Bluesfest when he was still in high school. Since graduating from Concordia’s jazz program he’s been working as a session musician, performing and recording with all kinds of projects from jazz trios to the folk-pop group Go Long.

I met up with Haneman and his fiancé Megan Laurence (herself a vocalist and teacher in town) to hear more about the new band, the making of the album and what to expect at his release show Friday.

The Lucas Haneman Express is his first project as a bandleader and he’s relishing the opportunity to forefront his musical personality. “After a long time playing a whole bunch of bands I really felt the need and strong desire to go solo, be a bandleader and play the music closest to my heart which is funky music and bluesy music with a bit of reggae and kind of a jam band situation. That’s the music I loved when I was eight years old so I’m kind of going back to that music, trying to extend it and put my own stamp on it.” Remarking on the band name and its train associations, he says “If it’s called the Lucas Haneman express, it could mean expressive but it could also be a train. Since I’m the bandleader I’ll drive the train which is also tongue-in-cheek because I can’t drive a car properly as I can’t see very well.” Haneman is legally blind having been born with two detached retinas.”

What got my attention about this project is the power of Haneman’s own belief in it. Some people put their money where their mouth is. He is putting his talent there. While he could easily make a life playing guitar in other people’s projects he’s made a conscious decision to make his own project his primary focus. “I always thought I’d be someone who was in four or five bands at once. Now I’ve really made the conscious effort not to do that.  Eventually we want to be touring so I want to put everything in place to make that happen.”

In terms of sound, blues might be the first thing you hear but this is the Lucas Haneman Express and they promise to take you on a journey through all kinds of music. When asked about the influences for this project, Haneman mentions the Dave Matthews Band and the Allman Brothers for the jam-band approach but over the course of our conversation he names a diverse list of musicians. “I’m just as influenced by Miles Davis and as I am by Jimi Hendrix and just as much by Radiohead as by singer-songwriters like Ray LaMontagne” he says. “So it’s really a big melting pot but with a blues focus.”

The Lucas Haneman Express might just be leaving the station but Haneman sounds like someone who’s arrived. He tells me, “Sometimes you have to go through the mill to get yourself to a happy place and I feel that’s what this music has done for me, it’s brought me to a really happy place.” This feeling extends to his most recent music. “When I stepped out as a band leader I said ‘I want to be a musician who brings joy to people’s lives.’ I wanted to write music that would make people want to dance, make people want to express themselves and to share things with each other.”

Haneman has played with both Jeff Aselin and Martin Newman in various situations over the years so when it came time to put his band together he knew they were the guys to call. “I wanted a project with a bit more of a commercial focus but with musicians who play jazz all the time who can bring that interactive element. I love seeing a live band that’s better than the studio recordings. My favourite music, it doesn’t matter what style it is, is music where the musicians are interacting with each other, there’s lots of interplay.” He’s really happy that Asselin and Newman signed on. “It’s amazing, even in rehearsal. We’re always fine tuning the music but in general nothing can go wrong ‘cause they’re so solid. You can get different musicians than them but you can’t get much better.”

A major inspiration for the new album was a trip Haneman took with his father to the American South a couple years back. While in Nashville he hung out and played with Jack Pearson, a great all-around guitarist with tons of ideas. Of the meeting Haneman says, “The wheels were already in motion for this project but that kind of put me on track. Because it was the American South there was also a lot of great live music that moved him to write. “There’s a tune called ‘Purple drink’ and there’s one called ‘Walking a fine line’ I believe I wrote both of those on that trip and a couple of ideas for the other tunes because I was just so inspired being in New Orleans listening to great music until 3 in the morning.”

When he got back he started writing the rest of the album building the tracks piece by piece from the groove up, playing all the instruments on the demos himself. He tells me how he’d work out a drum groove, record it, come back in a couple days with a bass line, and then work on melodies and lyrics from there. “Sometimes I’d just wake up with these melodies singing them and hearing them in my head. Then I’d write the vocals and record them. It was organic like that. It was a really liberating process.” Haneman recalls how he was living alone the winter he wrote the record and it became his whole life outside of his teaching. “I became this crazy musical hermit.” From there he sent the demos to the band who went to town putting their own spin on the parts.

After months of recording with Dean Watson at Gallery Studio the new album is finally ready for our ears. Welcome Aboard features 11 original songs, including some instrumentals united by “funky grooves, melodic hooks, extended guitar solos, and tons of energetic interplay” between band members.  The album features lots of variety too, everything from an electric mandolin played through a fuzz pedal racing a twangy electric guitar, a subtly political reggae tune and even a surprise rap break.

The album also features a few guest musicians. Haneman’s fiancé Megan Laurence recorded vocal harmonies for some of the tracks. Local B3 organ player Don Cummings also adds his signature playing to a few songs. “I love the way that guy plays,” Haneman says. “Something about the sound of an organ takes me to this happy place where I feel like a five-year old boy and I just can’t stop smiling.”

But recording is expensive so about a month ago Haneman launched an indiegogo crowd funding campaign aiming to raise $5,000 to help cover the costs of the album.  The band offered everything from copies of the album to music lessons and house concerts. Proof of people’s faith in this music, the campaign surpassed the funding goal by the time it ended on April 20.

On Friday April 24, The Lucas Haneman Express is playing the release show for Welcome Aboard at Irene’s. Haneman says he chose the venue after having a great time playing there with another group in December. “It was just crazy. I had never seen people in Ottawa have so much energy listening to live music. It gave me such hope. People were dancing, people were yelling, it was just bananas in there.” Haneman is gearing up to play through the whole night Friday he’s having another band he plays in, the Sun Crescent Barbeque Stompers opening the show. Asked about the decision he says, “If I can think of one word to describe this album it’s joy and that’s what that band exemplifies too. I just want it to be a big party.”

Sounds like The Lucas Haneman Express is ready to leave the station. All Aboard!

The Lucas Haneman Express releases Welcome Aboard
Friday, April 24 at 9:30pm
Irene’s Pub

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