Fearing finds calm between the storms

February 12, 2013 – 4:44pm By STEPHEN COOKE Entertainment Reporter

Image FEARING’S new album Between Hurricanes is the sound of someone starting from scratch. It’s his first album of all new material since 2006’s Yellowjacket and his first independent release following nearly two decades with True North Records and a resettlement from Guelph to Halifax with his wife, writer-performer Christine Taylor.

It’s also the result of realizing that he wasn’t giving himself enough room in a busy schedule that was largely devoted to either working with roots trio Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, or the duo Fearing & White, pairing the Vancouver-born, Ireland-raised songwriter with Irish-born, Australia-based musician Andy White.

Being too busy is a welcome problem for a musician to have, but at some point you have to make sure it’s the right kind of busy.

“I needed to find a way to weave more of ME into this career, and I realized that unless I did something soon …,” trails off Fearing, over coffee at the Armview, just a brisk walk away from his west-end home.

“I was more or less knocking on my agent’s door saying I needed some work as a solo artist, and he’s telling me I need to make a solo record to prime the pump.”

On Thursday night, Fearing gives the engine a rev with a Valentine’s Day show at the Carleton before flooring it on a spring cross-Canada tour to promote Between Hurricanes. Despite the seven-year gap since Yellowjacket, most of the new record was penned over five weeks last year, after he’d already co-written a whole project with White over the course of an intensive week in B.C.

Feeling up for a challenge, Fearing wanted to ride that momentum into some solo writing at home in Halifax, while the house was unusually empty for a couple of weeks, setting a deadline and sitting down with guitar and pen to make the magic happen on schedule.

“It was weird to go straight from writing all this material with Andy and then literally wipe the slate clean to start writing again on my own,” he says. “It was also a little terrifying because it felt so great to have that co-writing foil, so that when there’s nothing there, your buddy’s picking away at a guitar and you can join in and throw the ball back and forth.

“But a week went by, and I had three songs done, and gradually it just got done. I like the aspect of not having much time to analyze the songs or think about them too much. It’s like the opposite of when you’re listening to someone being interviewed about a song, and they’ve got some wonderful, philosophical story. ‘Why did you write this?’ Basically, I had to write an album and … that’s it. I’m still figuring out where they’re coming from.”

Fearing describes Between Hurricanes as his most intense songwriting process to date, pushing himself from blank page to finished tune in a short period of time, coming up with the forward momentum of As the Crow Flies and the Rockpile-like rocker Keep Your Mouth Shut. Only one of his tunes predates 2012 — Cold Dawn, inspired by the tragic 2009 crash of a helicopter carrying workers to the Hibernia oilfields. An inspired cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s Early Morning Rain serves as the CD’s epilogue.

Produced by BARK collaborator and keyboardist John Whynot at Blue Rodeo’s Woodshed Studio, the tracks are only slightly embellished with musical grace notes, and what you hear is the sound of a musician coming to terms with the balance between songwriting as an art and as a craft.

“There’s a great story of this bar in Nashville where songwriters would hang out in the ’70s, and a tourist couple comes in and has an argument, with the wife saying something cutting to the husband,” says Fearing, still trying to gauge the difference between a songwriter and a singer-songwriter“All the writers are getting their pens out to write it on a napkin when the guy who’s already had a bunch of hits leans over the bar and looks at them all and says, ‘I’ve already written that song.’ But when a great line pops up, you have to try and figure out how to get it into a song, and you’re working backwards from the title.”

The best example of that on Between Hurricanes would be its second track, Don’t You Wish Your Bread Was Dough, co-written with Newfoundland’s Chris Kirby, who suggested the title based on an obscure saying from his home island. “We didn’t want it to be a joke, because it is a jokey kind of phrase, but we didn’t want it to be overly dramatic either, because it’s such a finger-wagging kind of phrase, like, ‘Don’t you wish you hadn’t (messed) your life up?’”

Kirby’s not the only collaborator; Fearing also penned three tunes with Halifax musician Erin Costelo. The pair was initially put together on a musical blind date by CBC Radio producer Glenn Meisner for a show at Wolfville’s Al Whittle Theatre, but the thoughtful melancholy of The Half-Life of Childhood and Just in Time to Say Goodbye point to their team-up becoming more than a one-show stand.

“She’s magnificent, and she’s going to join me for a bunch of dates in Ontario, because nobody knows about her, which is just nuts,” says Fearing, shaking his head. “I’ve heard friends of mine blowing the horn for some artist where I just don’t get it, but Erin is just so (bloody) good, beyond the usual ‘I think she’s got a real future’ kind of thing, Her future is here now, she’s the real deal.”

© Stephen Fearing 2012 | Website by Mat Dunlap