Kathleen Edwards is an emotional Voyageur
Canadian songstress broadens her sound on fourth album
It's fair to say that Voyageur, the new album from Kathleen Edwards, was the most eagerly-anticipated Canadian record of the new year. Nobody was more relieved at its mid-January appearance than the artist herself. In an interview with Tandem over the holiday period, she confessed that the long wait between completion and release was really getting to her. "It has been a weird few months, as I finished the record in May. It's strange to put your whole life into a project, then no-one hears it. It just disappears for a while."
The wait has certainly been worthwhile for Edwards' loyal audience here, while it is sure to expand her fan base considerably. Virtually unanimous rave reviews for Voyageur certainly won't hurt her cause. "Not that I have expectations, but I've never had people react to a record of mine like this before. I'm hugely gratified at the interest being shown. I generally take quite a bit of time between records, partly because I tour for 12 to 18 months and then I come home and need a few months before I can even start moving forward on another project. At times you get insecure, wondering if anyone is still going to be out there when you have new music for them to hear. This time it feels like you picked the right thing to do, when there are other days when you wonder if you picked the wrong thing to do with your life."
Anxiety over the fate of Voyageur was accentuated by the fact that it is a far more musically expansive offering than Edwards' first three records. They stamped her as a member of the roots-rock/alt-country scene, one boosted by her tough check, hockey-loving, cuss-happy persona. That genre pigeonholing began to bug Edwards, however, and Voyageur is a reaction to that.
"It was my intention going in to do something that was a real step in a different direction," she says. "I'd been in this nebulous singer/songwriter category for many years. There has certainly always been a roots-aesthetic to what I've been doing, but I really wanted to mix things up. I wanted to musically represent a more accurate snapshot of my aesthetic, not just that alt-country pigeonhole. I love classical music and I love indie rock bands and groups like Talk Talk and Oasis. That twangy category felt a bit of a burden."
Helping her make this transition was co-producer Justin Vernon. Going by the name of Bon Iver, he's a major name in American rock, and his presence on the album is helping it attract attention. He and Edwards are now a real-life couple too, and she is quick to praise his creative contributions. "He was always able to help when I reached an impasse. I'd show up with a song with the arrangement and groove I really wanted, but some of the tracks still had a long way to go. He does this incredible layering effect. I'd watch him do it and I don't even think he necessarily knew what he was going for. He was just trying stuff. He'd build these thick walls and they always worked beautifully.
"There's a song called 'Pink Champagne' on the record that really frustrated me. I didn't want it to be some girl at the piano writing about her feelings. I wanted it to have a really dark edge musically, and he definitely helped find the right backing vocal and national and electric guitar parts."
Edwards digs deep emotionally on Voyageur, for many of its songs address the divorce she has gone through. The fact that her ex-husband is a well-known Canadian musician has fuelled gossip, something Edwards terms "a weird thing. People meet every day and fall in love and have the same hopes and dreams about living life with somebody. It is weird to sometimes feel that this popularity has made my personal life a little more public. You can't take that personally or you would not be able to function as a happy person. At the same time there are a lot of people who are icons, mentors or heroes to me and they have been through the same things.
The Ottawa-raised Edwards has been a physical voyager as well. She retains a house in Toronto, while the international nature of her audience has kept her nomadic. After her Canadian dates, she heads to Europe, headlining a 15-city tour. "It's amazing to go to Oslo, Berlin, and Dublin and find people who know my records and go to my shows," she says. Growing up in a diplomatic family helped Edwards adjust to the lifestyle of a troubadour. "I now accept my childhood was my training wheels. It really did allow me to be adaptable," she says.