Adam CK Vollick can’t explain it. He posits “it’s a combination of work ethic and stupidity.” He adds that he’s a “good hang, who doesn’t get weirded out about the stature” of the people with whom he works.
The 41-year-old Queenston resident is the go-to cinematographer for rock legend Neil Young. Vollick, originally from Canfield, Ontario, has had the fortune to work with many other well-known artists on both music videos and feature films.
His most recent big-name project was Mountaintop. Filmed in the Telluride, 9,000 feet above sea level, Vollick completed all the cinematography for the movie, which documents the recording of Colorado, Young’s latest album with his long-time band, Crazy Horse.
Using four Go-Pro cameras, set up in various locations around the recording studio, as well as a Sony A7R III 35 mm, Vollick captures Young quarterbacking his long-time musical allies as they lay down the tracks for what would become the 10-song album.
The film screened simultaneously last October in 120 theatres around the world, timed to the release of the album. On his eponymous website, the late film critic Roger Ebert enthused about Vollick’s cinematography and how it perfectly complemented the rag-tag nature of the music of Young and his band.
Vollick says Mountaintop wasn’t even supposed to be a film. The 74-year-old Young, who launched his archive website three years ago, is known for documenting everything he records. “I thought I was hired to just document (the sessions),” Vollick says, “so that there was a record to it.” To that end, he took a utilitarian approach to shooting with the small Go-Pro cameras, making sure he stayed out of sight of the band for the most part.
Six weeks after the recording sessions, he received a call from Young’s people, informing him they had pieced together a two-hour version of his work. Vollick flew to L.A. to complete colour correction on the footage, to ready it for the late October screening.
Vollick came to filmmaking almost by accident. A former student in Sheridan College’s applied photography program, he began assisting in a Toronto commercial studio while still enrolled. Feeling he had learned all he could at Sheridan, he decided to leave the program before earning his diploma.
Following the Toronto experience, he moved to Hamilton. Finding work in a studio with access to high-end digital equipment, he began to photograph bands as they played in the Steeltown bar scene.
A chance encounter with Bob Lanois, brother of U2 and Neil Young producer Daniel, led to him being hired by the Lanois family to photograph a wake held in memory of another brother, Ron.
About a year later, Dan Lanois called Vollick and asked him to shoot some portraits for his 2005 album, Belladonna. The shoot turned into a casual rap session, and two weeks later, Lanois invited him to Los Angeles to collaborate on a stage show for his Belladonna tour.
The call couldn’t have come at a better time. Vollick had left the Hamilton studio, thinking his dream had come to an end, and was selling home security systems for a friend. He quit that job, flew to L.A., and was offered a full-time job as Lanois’ in-house photographer and video artist, whose next album was Here Is What Is, released in 2007. The movie of the same name, shot and directed by Vollick, became his first feature-length film. It screened as a special presentation at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, alongside Hollywood fare from directors such as Sean Penn, Noah Baumbach and Jonathan Demme.
Lanois became the springboard for Vollick’s move into Neil Young’s inner circle. Young was familiar with the work Vollick did with Lanois for a project called Black Dub. Young called Lanois, telling him he wanted to make a record with him, and that he “wanted that kid from Canada to film it.”
Lanois and Vollick, along with Mark Howard, subsequently directed the Le Noise film, which documented the recording of Young’s 2010 solo record.
He’s been working with Young ever since, brushing shoulders with the likes of country legends Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson, as well as Young’s wife, Darryl Hannah.
Hannah, by the way, brought Vollick in as the cinematographer for her 2018 film, Paradox. The movie can be described as a cross between science fiction and a western, with a concert film thrown into the middle. Young stars in Paradox as the Man in the Black Hat, lurking around the fringes of the other characters while playing typical Neil Young guitar riffs. Nelson briefly appears as a character named Red, while his sons, Lukas and Micah, who periodically find work as Young’s backing band, portray characters named Jailtime and The Particle Kid.
It’s a surreal and masterful piece of filmmaking, for which Vollick acted as the one-man crew on camera. It can currently be seen on Netflix.
The Lanois-Young connection, it’s safe to say, has changed Vollick’s life. That’s true in his professional life, obviously, but it is also evident in his personal life.
Vollick’s first marriage ended in divorce shortly after he began his work with Lanois. He met his new partner, Jess Rice, while shooting Paradox for Hannah and Young. Rice, a chef, was hired to cook for the cast and crew. After a long day of shooting, he stumbled into Rice in the kitchen, and struck up a conversation.
A short while later, their friendship, then their romance, blossomed, while on tour with Young and his band. After Vollick suffered injuries in a bicycle accident in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Rice came up to Canada to help him recuperate. Last March, he popped the question, and last month, they tied the knot at St. Catharines City Hall.
The newlyweds are getting ready to settle in at Vollick’s rented home in Queenston, where his basement is set up with the equipment he uses to continue working for Young and others.
Vollick rarely finds time for his first love — photography. NOTL residents may remember his stint as artist-in-residence at Backhouse in 2017. He speaks of two current films that will find space on his hard drive.
One is his next major project, to document Young’s recent five-show run of concerts in Minneapolis, where he mixed his music with his calls for action on environmental issues.
However, when reached for this article, he was busy putting finishing touches on a short documentary about Doug Atkins of Crystal Beach. The film was to debut at a party last Saturday to celebrate Atkins’ retirement from 40 years of serving the community as a volunteer firefighter.
Vollick speaks of that film with as much enthusiasm as he does of any of his projects with Young, Lanois, Hannah and others. It’s clear that for Adam CK Vollick (CK are his middle initials, Clayton Kenneth), no project is too big, or too small.