The calm in Stephen’s storm: A roots reconciliation

So Stephen Fearing, experienced Canadiana roots folkish-style musician that he is, gets in the first question like a good observer of the human condition should:

“When you mentioned the bigger picture, what do you mean?” he asks.

Well, we say, in the sense that we are interested in the social environment that music is created in, and the reasons for it; and music is created in a big social picture, maybe you’ve noticed this?

Man from waist up seated playing acoustic guitar
Stephen’s not this serious when talking on the phone. Image courtesy of Pigeon Row records.

Stephen laughs, and so do we, for as anyone who has listened to his latest work ‘Between Hurricanes’ will notice, the social contexts of the musical life are not so much held up to the light, as described from the inside. Apparently, this is what Stephen Fearing does, and he’s been doing it for 20-some years now.

“It’s all a parcel, really, and not just my work as a solo artist, but also Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, and Fearing & White. If you had the money, time, interest or the patience to put the records all together and slot them in time wise, I think it would be an interesting listen.

“Musically, you would hear the change that happened between the 2 solo records of mine that came either side of that first Blackie record, and I think that you would hear (perhaps less obviously) the changes in the band as each member went on to do other solo work as we made more band records. The real joy of juggling these projects is the learning that goes on when you step onstage, having been a solo artist for a long time, and you stand next to Colin Linden: one of the best guitar players on the planet. If you think of slide players, he’s one of the top 5,” Stephen says.

“And Tom Wilson is a real powerhouse to be beside. I’m onstage with these very strong players and you can’t help but pick up on some of the things that they’re doing … If you put (Between Hurricanes) together with all the other records, there is a path that I’ve been following: not any great design, much more reacting to things as they come at you.”

Whew. Yup, Stephen’s got things to say. We realized, after our conversation ended, that we had really only asked one question specific to this new release, which, as all the promotional material keeps trumpeting, follows significant personal and business life changes that Fearing suspects would end up in his music whether he likes it or not.

“I’m not consciously sitting down and thinking: ‘I’m going to write a song about the death of my marriage.'(This) is the real magical part of songwriting for me which I absolutely love): you sit there with your rhyming dictionary or your computer thesaurus, or whatever tools you want to use (and I use them all, whatever it takes to get the song out), and you think that you have every single aspect of the song in your hands you’re actually creating this thing from consciousness. It’s in front of you and you’re looking at it: you’re the cabinetmaker.

And then later, sometimes it’s years later, you realize what the song’s really about … Maybe you’re writing a song that’s all about your friend, who’s going through a breakup, and then say, a year later, after you release the album and you’ve just won a Juno for it, your own marriage goes to complete f***ing hell, and then suddenly you look at all the material on the record, and there’s a element of the subconscious, working away, waiting for you to catch up. And I find that remarkable.. . . There’s a song for example, on that album, called ‘Ball & Chain’: Hello!?!”

Last but not least, in response to a less than favourable review he once received (‘Stephen Fearing is probably the kind of person who irons his socks.’), he admits to never having ironed his socks, but that it would probably feel pretty good.

We for one, are glad he doesn’t. Come check out his socks at the Ironwood Stage and Grill on Sunday, March 10th 229 – 9th Ave. SE, Reservations: (403) 269-5581

Posted by Allen Thai

Author: Carey Rutherford

Swallowed by the mutual loves of words and music (but far too chicken-shit to perform them with a band), Carey’s writing career started slowly as a freelance writer in 2003, starved him nearly to personal bankruptcy until 2008, and changed directions while writing for FastForward, Beacon Calgary, GayCalgary, and Examiner magazines. With the death of many old-school periodicals, and the explosion of musical diversity in Calgary, the modern approach to writing about live music performance in the Calgary region presented uncluttered landscapes for the focussed passion that Carey’s conversations with musicians, drag queens, festival producers and small animals has uncapped. He was moulded by the brilliance of paper-based periodicals old and new (Life, rolling Stone, Swerve! and Adbusters etc.), and sees the info-verse as needing creative, empathetic, but clear-eyed Agents to communicate these performances.