Interview: Kathleen Edwards

Alex Yau chats to Kathleen Edwards

Posted on Jan 15th, 2012 in Features and Interviews, Kathleen Edwards, Rounder / By Alex Yau
Kathleen Edwards Kathleen Edwards releases her latest LP Voyageur on Monday 23 January, and produced by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, it is a captivatingly introspective piece which carries on Edwards’ tradition of beautiful song writing. Earlier last year she released ‘Wapusk’ which had Vernon’s production imprints on and it was a brilliant taster to what was coming. Voyageur is her best record yet and we chatted to Kathleen about it…

Bearded: Has the writing gap between Asking For Flowers and Voyageur given you much in terms of writing?

Kathleen: Recording albums just take as long as they take. Sometimes life gets in the way of moving at the speed of light, and sometimes you're just not ready to record even though you're working steadily on getting there. I find touring for long periods of time pretty hard. Brian Wilson put out so much incredible music in such a short period of time which I think damaged his mental health. I am certainly no Brian Wilson, but I have no plans to suffer the same fate, so I take time and so does a vegetable garden.

B: You’ve been involved with Justin Vernon quite a lot. How does he compare to working with Jim Scott? Was there a lot of freedom working with him?

K: I've been so privileged to work with amazing producers, and learned so much from those two specifically. They're both so different, but one thing they have in common is that they made me feel protected creatively. Neither of them wanted to make me something I wasn't. They both made me feel like I could learn one day, fail the next, try again, work through ideas, and they both gave me a great sense of trust, which I think is so key in the studio when you're working on music.

B: You’ve described Voyageur as the album to dispel any Americana associations and it certainly sounds like it has. Do you yourself feel that way, and are you 100 per cent happy with it?

K: I think it's my best work, and partly because I finally found a way to present myself in a more diverse way, musically. Ultimately, though, people categorize music the way they see fit, and I don't really have a choice in all that "genre" stuff. But I do feel satisfied that I was able to make a record that it set apart from my older material.

B: How much did Vernon contribute to the sound of this new direction? Was it more, or less than what you originally designed, or was it more of a balanced act?

K: This is only my perspective on that question. Before I even met Justin, I knew I wanted something different musically. And for a long while I worked on my songs knowing they'd be the seeds for whatever record I made, and that ultimately approaching them differently would help set the tone for making the album different in musicality too. At some point, I felt like I hit a wall. There are moments where I couldn't communicate exactly what needed to be different, which is where Justin came in. He was able to articulate and try things while recording that worked like a snowball effect. And once we were off to the races, it didn't stop. Justin had a huge impact on the sound of this record, but we traded off a lot on songs at different times, like ping pong recording: back and forth to Toronto and Wisconsin. I feel very strongly that I couldn't have achieved what I did without him. With people like Vernon, Norah Jones, Stornoway and yourself of course, you could call the team behind the record a ‘super-group.’

B: This is the first time you’ve been open to co-writing. Was this an easy idea to open to at first? Were you ever afraid that these collaborations would take away parts of your personality?

K: There's a difference between co-writing and having someone come play on your record. Having people you love and respect come and sing or play on your record is one of the biggest thrills of even making an album. Co-writing still isn't a very natural concept to me. I tried it, it was a good exercise in being open to new things, but I still prefer being the songwriter of the work I do.

B: Of course, there’s the name. Is the album about your own voyage?

K: Voyageur is a word that encapsulates every part of my life. From my childhood living abroad and longing to be home in Canada, my summer camp canoeing in the wilderness memories, to my present day life of having to set up a tent wherever you end up that day.

B: You’re touring in the UK soon too. Ever passed the idea of reversing support roles to Justin, or even production duties for his next record?

K: Yeah, Justin should open for me! Then I could play to empty theatres after his fans all leave the venue.

B: Will we be waiting another three or four years for a new record?

K: You'll have to get the answer from a fortune teller. They probably have a better idea than I do.