The product of a couple of weeks creatively holed up in a James Bay home will be unveiled at Oak Bay’s Dave Dunnet Community Theatre on March 21, when musical storyteller Stephen Fearing hosts a launch of his latest solo work.
For many audience members the Saturday night show will be a first listen to material from Fearing’s 2019 album The Unconquerable Past. It’s also billed as a one-time-only, eclectic gathering of some of this area’s best musicians: folk singer/songwriter Shari Ulrich, boogie-woogie pianist David Vest and fiddler Richard Moody.
Fearing hopes the show comes across how it was planned – as an intimate gathering of musical friends. He specifically chose the three local artists to help him share his newest music, and more, with a hometown audience. If all goes well, he said, the goal is to make this an annual event.
“Years ago when I was working with Bernie Finkelstein (True North Records founder, Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame member and Order of Canada recipient), he told me a hometown gig has to be really special, that you can only do it once every 12 months if you’re lucky,” Fearing recalled. “This is a format I’m hoping to repeat … eventually it could be a way of introducing people to artists who are up and coming and lesser known.”
Acclaimed for his work as a solo artist, as half of the duo Fearing and White and as a founding member of the award-winning Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, the Vancouver-born and Dublin, Ireland-raised musician moved to Victoria in 2015 and loves it here.
Recently returned from an exhausting start to 2020, which began at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville with the Rodeo Kings and included a four-week solo tour of the UK and mainland Europe, he looked forward to puttering in the garden of his Gonzales home with his wife and plugging away on house renovations.
“It’s nice to just walk down to Oak Bay Village, grab some groceries and relax,” he said. “It’s pretty great to go for a walk in the evening, with the mix of lilacs and other flowers in the air.”
Despite relishing his relatively rare time at home between touring, he sounded excited about the ability to do a live show not far down the road and “really connect with the community” by sharing his newest work.
The creative process and production for the new album proved to be a bit looser and more spontaneous than his usual efforts, Fearing said.
“I have learned not to second-guess myself,” he said. “I can plan and plot with the best of them, but for this record, more than anything I’ve done before, I wanted to see if I can find the right people and trust that if a door opens, it’d the right way to go.”
He booked studio space without having material, but said the process works for him. “I try and create little notes as I go over the years. I tend to carve out a week where I’ve got nothing to do but write songs, to sit down with a guitar.”
|Photo by Jen Squires|
That wound up being two weeks in late spring 2019 at his in-laws’ home in James Bay, where he wrote most of the songs for The Unconquerable Past, his 13th solo album. Asked about the title, it came “before I had anything,” he said, explaining that he read the line in Canadian author Patrick DeWitt’s book The French Exit. It got him thinking, which is a big part of his songwriting process, he said.
“I’m very intrigued by the fact that as individuals we think that we’re disposing of things and letting go, but there’s no getting away from the fact that our past is our present,” Fearing said. “We have to embrace our past; I think we ignore that part of ourselves at our peril. I’m terrified that one of the babies thrown out with the bathwater (in the current polarizing political environment) is the empathy people have for each other …”
He worked with Winnipeg-based producer-songwriter Scott Nolan, who assembled a talented group of musicians to help bring Fearing’s songs to fully-formed life.
”I thought, here’s a guy who’s able to create a space and get out of the way. I kind of know what I want to do and I want to work with someone who can help me get there as soon as possible – that’s exactly what Scott did,” he said.
With songs ranging from poignant ballads “Emigrant Song” (co-written with White) and “Someone Else’s Shoes,” to the thought-provoking title track and the upbeat “Stay With Me,” the record is sure to get listeners thinking while tapping their toes.