I hadn’t planned on writing one of these blog entries about my music influences but as I near the release date, I realize that the music itself is a story. Not only did music guide me on my journey to creating “Revelation,” it magically has drawn me into my own life’s odyssey.
I have to begin with Canada. Some of the most important musicians of my life were born in Canada. From the music of my childhood like Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, The Band to when I was a teenager and obsessively listened to Neil Young as if my life depended on it, and at times it actually did. And Leonard Cohen, whose work to me is like ever shifting tectonic plates in my mind. Literally being in this country and connecting my work to Wolfe Island Records for the public relations part of the album release has forced me to realize how Canadian folk music has been critical to my musical existence.
I had no designs to come to this country for any reason ever. I went to Montreal once when I was eighteen, an incidental trip. A long weekend with some friends from college in Vermont. I remember thinking it was a pretty city. Fast forward to a first meeting in NYC with my producer Chris Brown (Hugh Christopher Brown) I asked him where he lived in Canada, he answered: “I live on Wolfe island. It’s an island in a region called the Thousand Islands region of Canada, just off of Lake Ontario.” It was a moment where my eyes kind of rolled into the back of my head. It sounded like a line from a dream or a song.
A place called Wolfe Island, an island among 999 other islands, all surrounded by lakes, streams and rivers. The Great Lakes, the lore of them. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” that song seared into my memory and child’s imagination when it came out in the 1970’s, played ad nauseum on the local FM station. When I think of the Great Lakes, I always think of the song with Gordon Lightfoot’s uncanny phrasing and velvety voice that turns that haunting tale in so many directions at once. It haunts me to fully understand its meaning as an adult, but how I embraced it as a child, the darkness of the music and his voice were a safe haven for me.
Wolfe Island is just off Lake Ontario, in the world’s largest estuary and to the east at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. Although it’s not the Great Lake Lightfoot sings about, I still feel the shadow of his words here. I can feel the ancient forces of the waters around me. They feel safe and ominous at the same time, just like the song.
The second time I came to Canada in 2018 was to record with Chris for the first time on Wolfe Island at his Post Office studio. Most of that first week in September it rained a lot, which makes me feel safe in the same way the Lightfoot song does. I was calm and delighted. I was also mortified. I had never recorded, I felt like I could barely play my songs on the guitar or had any mastery of anything musical and now it was high stakes. I was recording an album with a producer, who I barely knew and was staying with in his small house along with his brood of cats.
Here I was, on a small island, in the middle of so much water. It felt new and safe, gray and dark, fertile. It was like a bed feels, but as beds hold us safely, they also contain our nightmares. I could not anticipate which it was going to be. I liked recording, I liked Chris, I liked the other musicians there, everything felt natural and easy. I returned about once a month for a week at a time over the next year. I can happily report that the project ended really well.
I think it’s no coincidence that I ended up in Canada because of music, but more powerfully and succinctly, to make music. As I said, I had no designs on coming to Canada, but definitely never had designs to make music either. It is as if my subconscious brought me here when the time was right, found me a Canadian producer who works from the same folk music legacy I have always revered. A producer who could hear past my green-ness and shyness and hear potential. I couldn’t have dreamed it up.
In March of 2019, my friend Martha, who I met through Chris, came over to his house and announced there was a home for sale nearby and would I be interested in looking at it. I definitely wasn’t looking to buy anything, especially not outside of the United States. I said it couldn’t hurt to look. But if buying was pain, I’ll take that kind of pain any day. I bought the 100 year old farmhouse with a massive barn and 3 acres soon after.
I have spent the three months of the pandemic here on the island in my home. The renovations had just finished when I came up for a week to check in when everything shut down. I couldn’t leave and then it was weird to return to the city. And really, I see now how it made sense that I got stuck here right before releasing my album instead of being in NYC. I had to reckon with how deeply I am connected to Canadian folk music.
I have come to experience that the universe has a plan for us and if we listen, even a little, it will place us where we need to be at the perfect time. My music journey began the first time I placed a needle down on vinyl as a child. Now I see that it was always going to lead me to Wolfe Island, Canada.