TORONTO – Years of sifting through dusty attic boxes and reels of fuzzy audio recordings has given two Canadian music archivists a shot at Grammy glory.
Producer Jan Haust and engineer Peter Moore are nominated in the best historical album category this year for bringing Bob Dylan’s “The Basement Tapes” to life.
It’s one of several projects on which the Toronto-based duo has worked, meticulously restoring tapes that were seemingly lost to time.
“We reach into that netherworld of records that have been recorded but neither erased nor released,” says Haust, a native of London, Ont.
“I like to think we pull them through time and give them liberty.”
Those efforts come with a heaping dose of patience, as for every gem recording there are countless fruitless searches.
On other projects, Haust and Moore have spent endless hours cold calling strangers in hopes they’ll locate something – anything – tied to one of their historical music endeavours.
Moore compares his work to an archeologist, except that instead of dusting away at dinosaur bones he’s flattening out crusty old audio tapes unearthed from a mouldy storage room.
“You take a good educated guess and start digging down,” says Moore, who grew up in Hamilton.
In the case of the “Basement Tapes,” the search was a little easier in some respects.
The fabled recordings “sort of appeared in a locker” when the Band’s Garth Hudson was going through items in storage,” says Haust.
After hearing about the discovery, Haust encouraged him to send the tapes to Canada for restoration, and sidelined bigger plans for a Levon and the Hawks boxed set to devote more time to Dylan’s recordings.
The complete tapes, which Dylan made with Toronto’s the Band in 1967, were already popular bootlegs with music aficionados interested in filling their shelves with the demos of famous rock performers.
But the audio quality varied and the collection was never fully complete.
Haust and Moore say it was important to make a definitive source of Dylan and the Band’s work in a period that marked the germination of Woodstock and the transition into psychedelia.
So came the release of “The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete,” an extensive six-disc collection that features 138 takes of 115 songs recorded with the Band in a basement near Woodstock, N.Y., as Dylan was recovering from a motorcycle accident.
Included in the package is a 120-page hardcover book with photographs and memorabilia of the time.
The compilation garnered rave reviews from critics and gave Haust and Moore a newfound level of global attention – which included the Grammy nomination.
With the wrap of the “Basement Tapes,” the duo is turning their attention back to the Hawks project with plans for a release later this year. Their spirits have been buoyed by recognition from their industry peers.
“Even the nomination, at least for me, is a nod,” says Haust.
“All those years spent in basements and storage lockers – hours and hours – there’s a little acknowledgment there.”