The journey, not the destination, resonates for musician Stephen Fearing, whose latest stop brings him to Oak Bay.
The multiple Juno Award-winner made a cross-country move from Halifax, NS, to Oak Bay with his wife and daughter last year. The journey kicked off a period of reflection that inspired the songs which became Every Soul’s a Sailor, his ninth solo record.
“It’s not about where you’re going to, it’s the journey,” says Fearing, who launches the album at the Dave Dunnet Community Theatre Jan. 14.
A traveller from the start, Fearing is originally from Vancouver but moved to Dublin, Ireland as a child.
“I started playing music informally there,” he says, a hint of the Irish lilt still in his voice.
Fearing’s mother was a trained soprano and his father a classical pianist, but he chose a different musical road, favouring the guitar.
“The guitar is something I picked up on my own,” he says. “The guitar is such a personal instrument. For an angst-filled adolescent, it’s the perfect instrument.”
Post high-school travels took him to the United States around 1979 and back to Canada a few years later, where he made his first recording in the mid-1980s.
“I’ve been doing it for 30 years-plus,” Fearing says during a break before the holidays.
The songs on Every Soul’s a Sailor span a range of musical styles from folk to pop to boot-stomping roots, but the tracks share a common focus – the value of the journey, the various paths taken in love and life.
“It’s the same thing I’ve been writing about since I started – journeys, travelling … eight years ago I was writing about moving to Halifax,” he says.
Fearing is keen to get busy in his new community – “I just can’t believe how beautiful this place is … I love being here,” he says – and looks forward to launching the new album in his new backyard.
“It really is my coming out party,” he says with a smile. “It’s a chance to say this is who I am and this is what I do.”
From the late-night introspection and driving beat of Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, asking listeners to reflect on how life’s energies were spent, to the haunting and ethereal Gone But Not Forgotten, featuring guest harmonies by Rose Cousins, the record gave Fearing the opportunity to blend his musical realms.
“I have travelled consistently between the two poles of solo and ensemble work. With this album I wanted to see if I could bring those two worlds together in the studio and then out on the road,” he explains.
Also on the album is Fearing’s first (in a long time) straight-up protest song, Blowhard Nation. Written at the beginning of Donald Trump’s campaign to secure the Republican nomination, Fearing then thought the song might soon become outdated, but events have given it continuing relevance. Coming from a place of humour and sarcastic outrage, it ended up a Merle Haggard-inspired roots rock anthem.
“I get called a folk singer probably because I present as a folk singer,” Fearing says, but adds that as a teen growing up in the 1970s listening to rock music, that’s been as much of an influence as anything else.
The album was largely written following a guest faculty stint at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Staying on in a cabin in the Rockies without the distractions of city life gave Fearing the opportunity to write a good portion of the album. While the process is a change from his early days, when he had time to write songs as he went along, the dedicated period to write reflects both family life and the myriad other responsibilities of a music career today.
“There’s more opportunity for you to do things yourself but it makes it much busier,” Fearing says. Social media allows him to connect with his audience more easily that in decades past, for example, but it also takes time.
“In some ways it’s much more personal but it means there’s less time for the creative.”
Together with Gary Craig and bassist John Dymond, who Fearing has worked with extensively on solo projects and as the rhythm section for Blackie and The Rodeo Kings, they created a lush, propulsive sound that draws in listeners.
The album also gave Fearing a chance to work with David Travers-Smith at the console (listen too for his poignant horns on Gone But Not Forgotten). “Over the years we’ve worked together now and again, but it was always in my mind to make a record with him co-producing and engineering. David is passionately meticulous and these songs were shaped and polished by him.”
Following the Dave Dunnet concert, Fearing takes his show on the road, travelling to Europe and the UK before returning home for the Canadian leg of the tour. “I haven’t toured like that for a while,” he says.
Tickets for the Jan. 14 concert are $30 at the door or $25 in advance from Ivy’s Bookshop, Long and McQuade and online at www.brownpapertickets.com. Doors open at 7 p.m. with music starting at 7:30 p.m. Opening for Fearing is Black Angus.