Kathleen Edwards smells the flowers
When Kathleen Edwards performed around Ontario, Canada in 2001 and 2002, her club shows were sparsely attended. Then "Failer" came out, and all of that changed, the labels were calling for her, Letterman was praising her work, and the support slots grew to the likes of Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson a few years later.
But after 2005's "Back To Me" and the subsequent touring, the singer-songwriter was worn out. Taking time off from the road, Edwards even had a stint working at a winery. Not that she needed the work to make ends meet, but getting away for a bit recharged her batteries.
"I didn't have songs in the vault, and I was pretty burned out," she says from her Ottawa area home. "I was not uninspired, I just needed time to sort of figure out what kind of songs I wanted to write and what kind of record I wanted to make. It was tough because suddenly I knew I had to make a record, I wanted to make a record."
Now, on the cusp of releasing her third album, "Asking For Flowers," Edwards is ready to take the bull by the horns again with what could be her best album to date. The singer started working on the album last spring.
"With 'Buffalo,' the reason it's first on the record is because it was the first song that I wrote for the record," she says. "It's about the little devil on one shoulder saying you're never going to write another song, and it's not going to be any good. It's sort of struggling to break the ice."
Once that creative ice was cracked, Edwards says a few of the songs seemed to write themselves including the closing song "Goodnight, California" and "Sure As Shit," which took her about an hour to write. Meanwhile the tender title track, bringing to mind something Ryan Adams or Blue Rodeo singer Jim Cuddy might cut at some point, was sparked by a conversation Edwards had with a close friend who uttered the phrase.
"I'm really proud of 'Asking For Flowers' because I'm just really happy about the sentiment that I wanted to write about and feeling that I did it justice and that my friend would be proud to know that I wrote that song for her. That's a good feeling."
Perhaps the toughest song to write was "Oil Man's War," which she fought with for a while.
"I knew I liked it, but I wasn't getting the right words or the right melodies, and it just wasn't working," she says. "I didn't want to write some stupid cliché song that was just a follow-up to 'In State' (off 2005's "Back To Me"). I wanted to write a song that wasn't just a phoning-in, edgy, anti-oil war song."
Probably the cornerstone of the record though, and the song that will have many talking, is the haunting "Alicia Ross." The song, taken from the subject's viewpoint, is one of the best Edwards has done three albums in, and its sparse, minimal approach would measure up to anything from Springsteen's "Nebraska" landmark.
Unfortunately, like some of the material found on "Nebraska," the song deals with a tragic story, which took place in Toronto in the summer of 2005. Alicia Ross, 25, went missing in mid-August of that year. A frantic five-week search, which made national headlines, concluded with a neighbor confessing to murdering her.
By November 2005, Edwards had the song but had only performed it a few times live, including a stirring, lump-in-your-throat rendition at a Toronto show that had the singer keeping steady vocally as tears streamed down her face.
"I don't know if I've played it since that show," Edwards says. "It was a pretty new song, and I haven't really played it. I think I might be dreading it a little bit because it's a pretty intense song to play, and there's a lot of fear about playing stuff that's just heavy, very heavy. I'll be playing it for sure, but I'm going to wait for sure until the full band starts working together again."
An acquaintance of Ross attended the Toronto show and contacted the Ross family about the song.
"Alicia's mother contacted me and asked me to hear the song," Edwards says. "So when I finished recording it, I sent it to her, and then I asked her if it was alright with her if I named the song 'Alicia Ross' and put it on my record.
"I think in a sense, the song has taken on another life," she says. 'to me now, it's not so much about that specific woman as it is about so many people who go missing and so many people who lose their lives to violence, people who don't show up the next day. There are so many people whose stories are never heard."
On a much lighter note, "Asking For Flowers" also includes the mid-tempo roots pop ode to one of Edwards' favorite performers Jim Bryson on "I Make The Dough, You Get The Glory." The song has her comparing Bryson to John Fogerty and hockey legend Wayne Gretzky while comparing herself to Elvis Presley in his infamous '70s phase and hockey tough guy Marty McSorley.
So why, of all National Hockey League players, would she compare herself to Marty McSorley?
"I don't know," she says after a laugh. "It kind of fell out of my mouth, I went 'Oh my god, that's so funny.' There are going to be people going 'What? How does Marty McSorley end up in a song?' It made me laugh so hard when I said it, I didn't even think about it. I'm actually hoping that Marty McSorley isn't offended because he can pack a punch."
Another feel-good track is the tight, chipper 'The Cheapest Key" inspired by a rather ordinary conversation.
"I was joking around with a guitar player and talking about the key signatures of songs," Edwards says. "He suggested the person he was employed by writes songs in the cheapest key because of the reflection of his paycheck. He didn't really mean it. I just thought it was the most hilarious moment because I always joke how I make my guys work really hard, and I always pick the most expensive keys."
Edwards also says she shot a video for the song a day prior to this interview and was feeling the effects of it.
"I'm really fucking sore today because I did all these crazy jumps and tried to have an out-of-body experience. (I) have no reservations about being a total goof, which is actually very close to my actual personality," she says. "I was climbing on desks. There's bit of a school theme, and when you actually see it, you'll know what I mean. It was really, really fun to do. I fucking must have burned 1,000 calories, I'm so sore."
One thing that didn't kill Edwards was having producer Jim Scott at the helm, someone she worked with on her sophomore effort. Edwards says he was a great help in focusing the new record, which featured her working with musicians such as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' keyboardist Benmont Tench and Greg Liesz among others.
"He was such an encouraging force during this time because I was very unsure about some of the direction I was going in," she says of Scott. "He was just one of these people who made me feel that if it came easily you shouldn't question it."
"He's got a really great talent for making everyone feel comfortable, and that really helped because I didn't know these people and suddenly I was recording 'Alicia Ross' and 'Scared At Night,' songs that are deeply emotional and heartfelt to me."
Edwards also says Scott the producer is equal to Scott the person.
"I had always hoped I would meet him one day, and it's the most incredible feeling when you meet that person and they're as great as or even greater a person than you ever could have hoped they would be," she says. "I had to pinch myself thinking, 'Oh my god, five years ago I was reading his name on the back of a Whiskeytown record.' I was thinking maybe one day when I'm as big as Shania Twain I'll be able to work with Jim Scott.'"
While doing promotional work for "Asking For Flowers," Edwards also performed the Canadian national anthem at the NHL All-Star Game in Atlanta this past January.
"I now realize it's probably the job for somebody who is a really acrobatic singer," she says. "I'm not a showboat singer, and that's what people want, they want Celine Dion to go up there and do a Vegas style rendition of the national anthem. It's sports entertainment, they're wishing (former WWE star) Trish Stratus comes out and dropkicks me at the end."
Edwards has a North American tour this spring and has dates running though June, but says the rest of the year is up in the air in terms of routing. She also created a signature iPod that (at last count) had a bid of $1,035 with proceeds going to the Alicia Ross Memorial Fund. Edwards was afraid the iPod (which contains a bevy of unreleased songs, covers, videos and other perks) wouldn't sell for the cost of the iPod, but she's quite proud of the result.
The new tour will see a new bassist in tow following the amicable departure of longtime friend Kevin McCarragher, someone who responded to a radio ad Edwards placed looking for musicians to jam with 12 years ago. John Dinsmore is the new bass player, someone Edwards says is "over-qualified."
"I'm ready to work, and I've had so much time off that it really gave me some great perspective," she says. "I have such a second wind I feel like I'm 20 again, and I'm excited to go out on the road. I have a better understanding of how hard I have to work and how much energy I'm looking forward to putting into it."
Unfortunately, the two heartbreaks she had this year were due to Tom Petty and one of his Heartbreaker. For one, Edwards says she would've loved to be the support act for Petty's summer North American tour, but it went to Steve Winwood.
The second incident seemed more hurtful.
"Mike Campbell (Petty's longtime guitarist) was supposed to come and play on my record," she says. "I was so beside myself and having an out-of-body experience, but Jim Scott said, 'Mike just called, he's really sick, and he's not going to make it.' I was like, 'Fuck!' I bawled my eyes out, and then I realized, 'Oh my god, he is a real heart breaker.'"