Nashville is a city with a big country music scene. Elmira is a country town with a little piece of Nashville taking shape.
In the basement of 5 Pheasant Dr., Debbie Farrelly is standing in an isolation booth, the insulated walls so close she can’t extend her arms. She’s singing one of her own songs, laying down a basic guide track for her backing musicians to study and learn. This is a first for her: she dreamed of recording years ago, but never got around to it.
Farrelly has been writing her own music for a decade and singing even longer. She trained in classical music with her grandmother, who sang opera in Scotland, but country is where her heart lies.
In some ways, she says, it’s better to do this at 31 rather than in her teens or early 20s. Having experienced more, including having two daughters of her own, has given greater depth and maturity to her songwriting.
“When I was younger, I would have been into the silly, fun party songs more. Don’t get me wrong, I still like them, but now I can just write more about something that has meaning.”
After a few years where she didn’t write at all, Farrelly started penning her own songs again – half a dozen this year alone. As more melodies came into her head, she thought it might be time to record some of them.
“She didn’t want to lose it or forget it. She had it on paper and it meant something to her and she didn’t want to lose that,” says Elmira’s Craig Darroch, who is playing bass on the recordings.
Darroch and Farrelly are coworkers at Copernicus Educational Products in Arthur. They discovered a shared interest in music and got together to jam a few times. When Farrelly mentioned the idea of recording to him, he suggested his neighbour Ernie Lyons, a retired recording engineer. Lyons was happy to help out but wasn’t comfortable doing the recording himself.
“He knew there was this new studio in town and he wanted to check it out. He figured that was a good excuse to go meet Mike.”
Mike is Mike Morelli, a local guitar teacher and owner of The Upper Room Recording Studio. A certified recording engineer, Morelli has produced more than 25 albums, mostly Christian music.
“Locally, I’m known as the Hockeyville guy,” Morelli says.
He wrote a handful of songs for CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada anthem competition, and last spring allowed Elmira’s Hockeyville committee to use one as a theme song.
Morelli is the producer and engineer for Farrelly’s project, on top of playing lead guitar. If she can’t find a drummer she likes, he will likely do the drum programming as well.
When he went into the studio to record his bass lines, Darroch was impressed with the setup he found.
“I’ve seen a wide variety of studios. … I’ve seen the massive downtown operations and I’ve seen the odd basement studio as well. He makes good use of his space there, and the room was impressive.”
He’s not the first to have that reaction, Morelli notes.
“Most people wouldn’t think that there would be an actual recording studio in Elmira.”
The record is taking shape in a step-by-step process, with each instrumental track laid down separately. Now that Darroch has laid down the bass track, Farrelly’s mom Lorna Checkley, who is playing keyboards, will be the next in the studio. After that, Morelli will add the lead guitar and Farrelly will re-record her vocals.
Farrelly is waiting to hear how the final mixed-down product sounds before she decided what to do with it. Morelli has a connection to Ray Mercey of the Mercey Brothers, and it may be possible for her to shop around a demo in Nashville.
Although she’ll take any opportunity that presents itself, Farrelly is looking more for a record of what she’s done than a record deal.
“If it happens, that’s wonderful, but if it doesn’t, at least I’ve done it for myself and I have something to pass on to my children.”