Edwards pursues music career at her own pace
Canadian singer-songwriter takes time off to 'live life' despite rising-star status
Last week, Steve Winwood released "Nine Lives," his first solo album since 2003's "About Time." The five-year gap actually represents a reasonably prolific pace for the rocker. Before "About Time," it had been six years between solo albums for the English rocker, and before that, seven years had passed between projects.
But it's one thing for a genuine star - one who had hits as a teenager (with the Spencer Davis Group), led a classic classic-rock band (Traffic), and achieved monster commercial success (as a solo act in the '80s) - approaching his 60s to go the better part of a decade with no new music. It's a different, and far dicier approach for a woman in her 20s, to excuse herself from the music scene just as she is establishing her name. Kathleen Edwards, a Canadian singer-songwriter who will turn 30 in July, put herself in the category of rising star in the alt-country realm with the 2003 album "Failer," and her status was solidified with 2005's "Back to Me."
And then Edwards largely ducked away from the music world. She toured some after the release of "Back to Me." For a good year and a half, however, she didn't tour, didn't release any music, and apparently did little to capitalize on the momentum provided by the previous two albums.
So what exactly did Edwards do over that period? She gardened a lot, and jogged some. And, instead of working on her music career, she worked on her music. She learned to play piano, practiced her guitar, picked up her violin more than she had in ages. As much as anything, she focused on learning the things that would allow her to take control of an album when it came time to make her next recording.
The hiatus came to an end in March, with the release of "Asking for Flowers," and Edwards is pleased to say that her time away from recording was time well spent.
"In my eyes, it's done well," said Edwards by phone, just after pulling into Indianapolis for a concert. "It's the record I wanted to make. I didn't let other people do so much. I took charge."
Perhaps the best evidence of being in the driver's seat is "Run." The midtempo song has a mother advising her daughter to look out for herself, her own interests. "Girl, don't you waste your time," sings Edwards. The song closes with a short guitar solo - played by Edwards herself.
Just as much as Edwards worked on her technical skills in her down time, she developed an approach to her career. She recognized that taking three years between albums was a risk: fans forget, tastes change, record company executives move around, and maybe the v.p. who was firmly in your corner for the last CD no longer has a job in the music business. Edwards acknowledges that making "Asking for Flowers" on her own timetable, on her own terms, involved a risk 'that the record company wouldn't even put it out. I was definitely getting worried that I'd been away."
"But I was less interested" in that, added Edwards, who makes her local debut Saturday at Belly Up, with the Last Town Chorus opening. "I felt less pressure, or ignored the pressure that was present in the past to have songs that they'd play on the radio. I felt that less, the pressure to deliver the goods in that way. I was just pursuing ideas.
"I was just living life a little bit, and that helped me take the pressure off."
Edwards' record company, Zoe, an affiliate of the Massachusetts-based roots-music group Rounder, did its share to keep her stress-free. 'They never once asked to have demo" recordings of what she was working on, said Edwards.
When it came time to refocus her attention on a next album, Edwards began with a clean slate. She had no songs stored up.
"So I was starting from song number one, and I didn't know how to do that," said Edwards, who was raised in Ottawa, and lives in Hamilton, some 40 miles outside Toronto. "It allowed me more time to invest in the smaller details. It was challenging, but that's what I'd hoped it would be."
If nothing else, "Asking for Flowers," co-produced by Edwards and Jim Scott, who has produced recordings by Tom Petty, Barenaked Ladies and Santana, reveals a songwriter feeling confident and bold. The album's story-like songs are not tied by theme; Edwards' topics include the sociopolitical - a couple fleeing the U.S. during the Vietnam era in "Oil Man's War," and a lament for Canada's loss of its unique brand of innocence in "Oh Canada" - and the romantic. In this latter category, Edwards often takes the stance of an assured lover bracing a skittish lover, in "Scared at Night" and the boldly titled "Sure as Shit."
The song from "Asking for Flowers" that has made it to local radio is "I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory," which again demonstrates the self-esteem Edwards is feeling. The song refers to her bandmate, Jim Bryson, with whom Edwards was acquainted years ago, when both were getting their starts on the Ottawa scene. Bryson went on to a notable career before hooking up again with Edwards, and becoming the guitarist in her band.
The song is humorous - funny, actually - and compares two musicians who took two different roads, and ended up at more or less the same place. Edwards places herself, though, as having taken the lower road: "You're cool and cred like Fogerty/ I'm Elvis Presley in the '70s." Edwards' joking, casual tone bespeaks someone truly comfortable with where she has landed.
Edwards' label insisted that she make a video of the song. Edwards resisted at first, wary of the entire music-video genre. But she relented, on one condition - that the label persuade Marty McSorley, a controversial Canadian hockey player, appear in the video. (He already appears, and is put down, in the song: "You're the Great One, I'm Marty McSorley.") "It was a make-or-break deal," said Edwards, who eventually got her way.
Edwards moves into the political mode on "Oil Man's War." Despite the seemingly timely title, the story is about a true-life couple that fled to Canada to avoid the draft in the Vietnam War era. The song focuses on the personal: "Keep your hand on my thigh tonight/ We'll buy us a store."
"It had an impact on me, how significant a decision that would be, to leave. I wondered if they knew they would never go back," said Edwards. But the subject also puts Edwards in mind of today's climate in the U.S. "I think of the Dixie Chicks and what they went through. I have the privilege of living in Canada, where that polarization isn't so pronounced. It made me think, people are being ostracized in an extreme way. It makes you think about tolerance and democracy, and how those things get twisted."
Edwards is being rewarded for sticking to her own decisions. She is pleased with the reception given "Asking for Flowers"; Rolling Stone gave it four stars, calling it her strongest effort yet. "I'm doing amazing things. My phone is ringing," is how she sums up the response.
The one thing that never entered Edwards' mind while she was taking her break from recording was giving the heave-ho to music altogether. She flashes back to what music did to her as a kid, and she's not giving that up.
"I used to sit in the back of the bus, wondering if anyone was feeling as intensely moved about the music as I was," she said. "It was above and beyond for me."
The Aspen Times