Shawn Sasyniuk is a successful recording and touring musician, producer, and audio engineer based in North Bay. Though he was born in Sudbury and briefly lived in Falconbridge, he was raised in North Bay and considers the city to be his hometown.
In high school, Sasyniuk found himself in the rhythm section for various stage bands and jazz combos. “I figured that once I was done with [music], I would go to university and therefore get a ‘real’ job,” he laughs. “Which didn’t work out. I ended up not enjoying the university life.”
Northern Beginnings: Canadore College and a Sudbury gig
After a year off school, he decided to return and pursue a certificate in television broadcasting from Canadore College. Near the end of his second year, a band from Sudbury asked him to play some percussion on a demo. This led to Sasyniuk gigging with the group as well. Ever since then, music has been his mainstay.
It was in Montreal that Sasyniuk’s career truly took off. One might expect, as his trajectory continued upward, that he would stay in Montreal, or find himself in another metropolis such as Toronto or even New York.
He chose to come home to North Bay instead.
“I always knew I wanted to come back,” he remembers. “The ‘big city life’ wasn’t really for me. I didn’t want to raise kids in a big city, I wanted to raise them where I grew up—with trees and lakes and rocks. Where playing outside doesn’t involve traffic. I’ve got two kids now, they were both born here in North Bay.”
Sasyniuk’s career in music has continued to thrive in the north, where his vocation has expanded, built on the solid foundations he built in Montreal over the better part of 13 years. There, he became active in the Francophone music community, playing for and touring with a wide selection of artists (including Quebecois superstar Roch Voisine). Over time, he was called upon to produce recordings as well. It was from there that he developed his engineering skills.
“From the studio sessions I was involved in as a player, I got interested on what happened on the other side of the glass, in the control room,” he says. “I was fascinated by that side of things. I don’t have any formal training. It’s all on-the-job training—working with some of the finest engineers out there and being able to ask questions.”
Sasyniuk started building a modest recording setup in his Montreal apartment. The setup, however, continued to expand, eventually outgrowing the space. Together with an associate, Sasyniuk opened a recording studio downtown. It was a solid success, but nevertheless, Sasyniuk knew when it was time to come back to the north.
“[In Montreal] I’d work with artists from the east coast, from out west, or Northern Ontario,” he recalls. “I would often travel with a little mobile rig, record some stuff, and go back to Montreal to mix in my space there. So, uprooting myself and coming back here was not really that much of a concern.”
Moving back to North Bay: Family, a laid back vibe, and the English market
His time in North Bay since then has been equally successful. Moving back to the north had some professional advantages. As a freelancer, it opened up some of the English-speaking market whereas in Montreal he had largely played with Francophone players. In recent years, he has found himself on the road with such artists as Susan Aglukark and Les “Survivorman” Stroud.
“I didn’t do a lot in the English world before, so that’s a neat thing, to be part of the more Toronto-y scene,” he says. “The nice thing about being around here, for the record, is that it just feels more laid back. There are tonnes of great players all throughout northern Ontario.”
As expected, Sasyniuk has done little touring during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, he has been steadily engaged, recording drums for other peoples’ projects, finishing up works-in-progress and even starting new projects, even if they were done in new ways.
“I did an entire record, start to finish, with a good friend of mine out in BC,” he says. “She was sending me tracks, and I had players all over the place. I put it all together and mixed it. Usually, there’s at least a short period of time where we’re all in the same room, but not this time. Doing it this way where some of the players they had never even actually met was kind of neat. It ended up being a lovely experience.”
A NOMFA winner for a technically challenging album
Before the pandemic begin, in 2019, Sasyniuk found himself the winner of the NOMFA for Outstanding Engineer. The project for which he won, Matt Thibeault’s I Own a Bittersweet Flashlight, was a unique one, involving some unusual technical experiments.
“That was a super, super fun project,” says Sasyniuk. “The entire thing—except for a couple of little bits—was done live off the floor in one room. It was an interesting technical challenge. You’ve got drums in the same room as the singer. You could put up panels but there’d still be a lot of the drum sound coming through that vocal microphone.”
The idea was to capture that real-life off the floor vibe. “I find it interesting that that record ended up winning an award,” he says. “Probably because it’s such a strange-sounding record due to the circumstances in which it was recorded. Notwithstanding the fact that they’re fantastic tunes, the guy’s a killer writer and everybody that played on it are just monster players.”
“It’s nice to get the recognition, to be appreciated by your peers,” says Sasyniuk, “but that has nothing to do with whether or not I continue doing what I’m doing. The best award for me is when you finish a project and the artist is happy. That’s winning for me.”