Toronto indie-pop artist Alex Hudson released a 12-track album under the moniker Rec Centre.
On April 16, 2021, Toronto indie-pop artist Alex Hudson released his fifth full-length project Pep Talk under moniker Rec Centre. Pulling from a dozen influences, the artist is focusing on bettering his art, instead of sounding like any style in particular.
"I’m borrowing from shoegaze, dream pop, new wave and indie rock, but I just think of it as pop," said Hudson. "After four albums, six if you count my first EP and my instrumental album, I don’t have any conscious influences- I’m more just reacting to my past work and trying to challenge myself."
After being surrounded for years by great local talent in Vancouver, Hudson became inspired to start Rec Centre. Artists like The New Pornographers helped Hudson realize that music making was more accessible than he previously thought. "Apollo Ghosts were another big one, because I realized it was possible for “hobby” musicians who had day jobs to put out incredible albums," said Hudson. "For someone who grew up on rock radio and MuchMusic, those local bands made music seem accessible. Jay Arner, Prairie Cat, Said The Whale, Hannah Georgas, Chris-a-riffic, Shawn Mrazek, the Courtneys, Destroyer, P:ano, No Gold, Japandroids, White Poppy, Wars and so many others."
Pep Talk has been in the works for four years, as the musician has been writing and recording since his move from Vancouver to Toronto in 2017. "I kept going for about three years, mostly after everyone had gone to sleep, between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m," said Hudson. "Then I’d lie awake, feeling wired."
The artist recorded entirely from home, possibly irritating his neighbours in the process. "Recording vocals at home when you live in an apartment is mortifying, but I just reconciled with myself to the fact that my neighbours would hear me trying to hit falsetto harmonies and that it would be embarrassing," said Hudson. "Apologies to the elderly couple who I shared a wall with for the last few years. I finished recording last spring, around April or May."
The eighth single off of Pep Talk features a beat Hudson made with his buddy. "The whole thing was pretty much just me using samples from a LinnDrum drum machine, my Korg Minilogue synth, a bass and a Stratocaster," said Hudson. "The riff and beat from “Blood Drive” began as a jam with my friend Kyle Thiessen, who has an awesome band called Soft Serve- I recommend Soft Serve’s song “Pat’s Pub Open Blues Jam”!"
Pep Talk was recorded in the living room of Hudson's Toronto apartment.
"Once I was finished, I sent the files to my friend Jay Arner, who has worked on all of my albums," said Hudson. "I thought he was just going to be mixing, but he ended up adding so much to the songs. He’s amazing with synthesizers, so he would send the songs back with all these arpeggiators and vocoders and dance beats. He had such a big impact on the sound of Pep Talk that we ended up crediting him as producer rather than mixer, he’s the only person other than me who plays anything on the album- and Nik Kozub mastered it."
If it weren't for the pandemic, and Hudson's anxiety, the album may not have seen the light of day for another couple of years. "I was feeling anxious about the pandemic and staying home all the time, so finishing the album gave me something to focus on that wasn’t the nightmare going on outside," said Hudson. "The song “Feedback on Tyndall” features recordings from my street in Parkdale during the first few weeks of the pandemic. I finished maybe six weeks into the pandemic."
The artist's teenage adoration for The Red Hot Chili Peppers inspired his initial rebellion.
"When I was 14, my life changed when I heard the Red Hot Chili Peppers," said Hudson. "I learned how to play guitar, I bleached my hair like Anthony Kiedis, and I gave up on ever being a popular jock. The idea of Pep Talk was to channel the feeling of listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers when I was a teen- not to actually sound like them, but to capture the memory of how they used to make me feel: silly, energetic, wounded. I go through life being so embarrassed all the time, and RHCP seemed totally fearless. I wanted to feel like that again, but without the toxic masculinity that makes the Chili Peppers a little uncomfortable in hindsight."
Hudson wanted to remain authentic while songwriting under Rec Centre, so he stuck to stories he's familiar with. They might not be traditional, but Hudson says these topics are personal.
"One of the reasons why I think rock music has become less culturally relevant than, say, hip hop, is that rappers talk about real life," said Hudson. "A good rapper can talk about social media, name-drop movies and celebrities, make jokes, be self-referential about their own career, be graphic about sex, etc. But if you sing about those things in rock music it somehow feels cheap and gimmicky, so everybody just sings about vague emotions all the time. I wanted to sing about things that don’t normally get put into songs." Hudson features some wild stories on Pep Talk, like cracking his head open on the concrete floor of a bar, or his terrifying sleep paralysis. Just as frequently, however, Hudson includes tracks about life lessons he's had to learn- like on "Never Meet Your Heroes", where meeting Jack White turned out to be quite underwhelming.
"It turns out that meeting your heroes doesn’t really feel different from anything else," said Hudson. "It was fun, but it’s not like I was moved or somehow changed. Turns out that the people who matter most aren’t the celebrities I idolized, but the friends and family already in my life."
Hudson's unconventional story behind the title "My Best Day", highlights how sometimes the best decisions hurt to make.
"I started thinking about what the best day of my life was, and the only thing I could think of was the time I walked out of a horrible, toxic relationship," said Hudson. "I left in the middle of the night and didn’t have anywhere to go, so I just wandered around Vancouver listening to Stop Podcasting Yourself. It was one of the shittiest nights of my life, with one of the best results." Struggling to pay rent in Toronto? "East Van Warped Tour" is the song for you. "By the time I moved away from Vancouver, I felt very disillusioned with how unliveable the city had become for renters," said Hudson. "This is about feeling like the city had changed and there was no longer any place in it for me. Ironically, I moved to Toronto, a city with very similar problems."
Hudson has tried to move away from the style of melancholy existentialist songwriting displayed on the final, title track. "I used to write a lot of songs about feeling like I’m on the sidelines while life passes me by," said Hudson. "I suppose it’s the defining feeling of my adult life. I don’t want to write songs about that anymore, but "Pep Talk" was the first one I wrote for the album, so it’s pretty much about that."
The musician says he doesn't write with any sort of audience in mind, he prefers to write for himself and his friends.
"At most, I’ll write a chord change that I hope my friends Jay and Jessica will like, or I’ll include an inside joke for my friends Mike and Colin," said Hudson. "At this point, I’m just making music for myself- it’s like a faucet I don’t know how to turn off. Every album, I tell myself it’ll probably be the last one. Then, as soon as it’s done, I start the next one. I’m already well into making the next album. I think about making albums all the time, every day."
You can help support Hudson by following his socials linked below, or by purchasing his music on Bandcamp. One-hundred percent of profits made from Hudson's Bandcamp are being donated to Sistering in Toronto, an organization for homeless or precariously housed women and transgender people.
"It's available wherever you stream music, and you can purchase it on Bandcamp," said Hudson. "I’m donating all Bandcamp sales to Sistering- I live and work near them, so it feels good to put that money towards something helpful in my community."
(Postponed due to COVID-19.)