Bow Valley trio The Wardens release 4th album, Sold Out at the Ironwood

It took some creative thinking to make a studio album during a pandemic, but the Banff-Canmore music trio The Wardens, are set to release their fourth full-length album.

COVID-19 restrictions made studio time a challenge but musicians got creative

It took some creative thinking to make a studio album during a pandemic, but the The Wardens are releasing a fourth full-length album, called Sold Out at the Ironwood. From left: Ray Schmidt, Scott Ward and Bradley Bischoff. (Andrew Querner)

The Wardens were on tour in Montana when COVID-19 started to shut things down. It was mid-March, and the Canmore-based trio had no choice but to abandon their final two shows and head back to Canada.

"Unfortunately, we had to leave a couple of shows on the table, and our hosts were very gracious about that," vocalist and guitarist Bradley Bischoff told The Homestretch. "And we literally just booted it for the border and got back to Canmore."

After that, The Wardens had to take stock. They had already booked studio time with Calgary producer Russell Broom, so they decided to keep working.

Sold Out at the Ironwood — the band's fourth full-length album — involved multiple trips to Calgary and some creative recording methods for the group. 

"We decided that it would be best if we could just come in in pairs and singles to Russell's studios and that's what we did," Bischoff said. 

The members of the group are all former national park wardens based in the Banff National Park area. Bischoff, Scott Ward and Ray Schmidt offer a unique blend of folk, roots and western style.

The album has 10 new original songs, with such Warden-style titles as Life on the Trail, Mountain Rescue, Grizzly Bears, Wildfire and Lonely Nights on the Pack Trail, as well as a couple of live songs that had been released previously. 

"Historically, we have done about 50 shows a year all over Western Canada, getting into Montana and Idaho, Wyoming, Washington, and it just felt that we had the momentum, we had the spirit and we had the mojo to get this record done," Bischoff said. "So that's what we did."

Despite the unusual process, Bischoff is pleased with the results.

"All of the sidemen that we hired on the record are 100 per cent beyond professional, and so we kept those [recording] hiccups to a minimum," he said. "And at the end of the day, we're able to come up with just a fantastic record, in my mind, and looking forward to releasing it."

Bischoff said the slowdown during the pandemic, as well as a generous grant from the Alberta Arts Foundation, made the studio process less stressful.

"We had time on our side, you know, and we weren't rushing into the studio and we weren't subject to that, you know, red light fever, when the light comes on and we have to get it correct," he said. "We had no deadlines … we could do it at our leisure. Like I said, we have really enjoyed the band, and all of us have a great lifestyle out here in Canmore and it's just been a pleasure to work on."

The album is set for release Tuesday.

"Unfortunately, we can't tour it, and we won't be gigging it anywhere. But we have an extensive Facebook following and lots of followers on our website. And really, it's not always about the dollars and the cents with this thing," he said. 

"We've had a heck of a good run of it over the last 11 years as a band," Bischoff said. "And we will get this album out by hook or by crook and make some people happy and spread our fan base in the West."

With files from The Homestretch.