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The best kept secret in music


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"Wide Awake" due out spring 2007.
Mercy Records

Hit songs "Wide Awake" and "Alive" can be found streaming online.


Feeling a bit camera shy


“If I weren’t doing rock I’d probably be doing classical music,” declares Jason Turbin, keyboardist-singer of ambitious L.A. rock troupe Canon. “In some ways I think of myself as an orchestra leader.”

The scope and sound of Canon’s debut album, “Wide Awake” (Mercy Records) – produced by Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Beck, Ima Robot) – bears witness to the epic musical sensibility of Jason and his bandmates, who are also influenced by ’70s prog-rock and such contemporary trailblazers as Radiohead. But Canon yokes this musical virtuosity to finely crafted, emotionally direct songs.

Consider the barreling, tempo-shifting rocker “Teachers,” which proffers an authority-defying message reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s epochal “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2.” Or the plaintive “SOS,” in which the question “Who will save us all?” sails over a beguiling mix of languid piano and hard, robotic groove. Or, for that matter, the album’s soaring title track, a manifesto of engagement that distills Canon’s ethos of clarity and commitment into five and a half majestic minutes.

Jason, his drummer brother Cassidy, guitarist Tieg Johnson and bassist Benji Pope display an instrumental prowess and discipline unusual in today’s musical milieu. “Canon oozes musical ambition with no trace of complacency,” marvels producer Meldal-Johnsen. “They have the sort of fearlessness that’s a key component not only of authentically original records, but also of a great career.”

Growing up in Florida, the Turbin brothers were exposed to classic rock and pop by their parents; Jason fondly remembers listening to Jethro Tull’s landmark art-rock album “Aqualung” with his dad. Self-taught on piano, trumpet, violin, flute, harmonica and mandolin, Jason was a trumpeter in high school, which landed him in a ska group. He says his teenage band experience was mostly about “dancing around and meeting girls,” but he knew early on that he wanted a music career. He and Benji also took guitar lessons from the same teacher, who helped deepen their appreciation of classic pop songwriting.

Cassidy, meanwhile, fell under the sway of heavy bands like Korn before discovering jazz, which remains his obsession to this day. His ride-cymbal work in particular – clearly influenced by idols such as John Coltrane drummer Elvin Jones – puts a decisive swing into Canon’s material. In addition to drums, Cassidy plays saxophone.

Benji began playing bass as an adolescent, and clearly remembers learning his first riff: the intro to Pink Floyd’s “Money.” He also has memories of an early collaboration. “Cassidy played drums with my first band; he was about 13,” he reveals. “There are pictures of him playing, wearing his braces. He was already a great drummer.”

Benji was all of 15 when he first saw Jason’s ska band, and he was suitably impressed. “I wanted to be in that band,” he recalls. “But when I joined it got very experimental. It just didn’t work.” Casting about for opportunities, the pair decided to relocate; along with their drummer, they made their way to the West Coast. Although their original drummer decided to return to Florida, Los Angeles was where Canon took shape. “We sent for Cassidy, and he came out to play drums,” Benji explains. “He was way better than the other drummer. He gave me room to play more creatively.”

Benji then found guitarist Tieg, a phenomenal young player who’d started sitting in with his dad’s rock band by age 11. At 15 he enrolled in the Guitar Institute of Technology (GIT) program at L.A.’s Musician’s Institute, earning Student of the Year honors. By the time he was in high school he was teaching guitar. Equally comfortable with classical composers and classic rock, Tieg was an obvious choice for the band. “He’s better than any guitarist we’ve ever worked with,” affirms Jason.

Their lineup complete, Canon – named for a classical form popularized by Pachelbel – began playing gigs around L.A. Meanwhile, Jason studied Renaissance, Baroque and other compositional and choral traditions at Pasadena City College. This figured prominently in his approach to writing and arranging.

Canon hooked up with manager Trae Carlson, who eventually decided to have the band record its debut on his new, L.A.-based label, Mercy Records. “We were really picky about producers – we thought we’d have to make the record on our own,” Jason volunteers. Enter kindred spirit Meldal-Johnsen, who’d gotten considerable attention as a member of Beck’s band. After impressing the band with his ideas, he joined them for an inspired two weeks of recording – during which they virtually completed the album.

“Justin kept calling us ‘Wizard Crystals,’” Jason explains with a laugh. “I’m not really into Dungeons and Dragons or any of that fantasy stuff, but in a way that spirit was there when we were recording. Tieg would play something interesting on guitar and Justin would say, ‘Wizard Crystals!’”

“Or we’d look up at hi