Kathleen Edwards – Basic instincts
“I guess maybe in away I tried to stand stuff up to what I had done before. And I eventually realized that that was then and this is now, and I certainly didn’t want to have a departure, although I wanted to make a record that was better than my last. Which is I think what anyone wants to do. And I feel like we eventually got to that place.”
Back To Me definitely does not sound like a departure, which is understandable for an artist in Edwards’ early stages. Before one seeks to stretch beyond the expectations of any stylistic mold, that mold must first be established, and these first two records manage that feat with aplomb. Those who liked Failer will undoubtedly find more to like here; the opening track “In State” serves as a thematic prequel of sorts to the last album’s opener “Six O’Clock News”, and the rest of the album features a similar balance of guitar-fueled, roots-based rock ‘n’ roll with moments of measured introspection.
Which is not to say there hasn’t been growth over the past two years, something Edwards says she feels distinctly. “When I listen to Failer, I realize I was still struggling to find my singing voice on that record,” she says. “I’m a much more confident singer, and I’m using my voice in a way that’s much more certain than the last record. Part of that is that I toured for two years and sang every night.”
The confidence Edwards gained on the road extended to her relationship with her bandmates, particularly guitarist Colin Cripps, who ended up producing Back To Me. Staying in such close company wasn’t a foregone conclusion; indeed, Rounder expressed interest in pairing Edwards with a better-known producer (though Cripps does have a minor track record in Canada, having produced country-noir singer Oh Susanna), but she ultimately nixed that notion.
“They said, ‘We’ll support you if you would like to work with somebody else, and we’ll help you pursue that’ — meaning they would cough up the money for me to work with somebody who would be more expensive,” she explained. “And my answer was, that’s a great idea, and maybe at some point it would be fun to do that. But I’m still a new artist. I’m still trying to define, and be confident, and not feel like somebody is going to make me sound in a way that isn’t really true to who I am. And somebody who doesn’t know me, they might produce a great record, but it doesn’t mean it’s the record that I would want to make.”
Edwards recorded with the other two members of her touring band, bassist Kevin McCarragher and drummer Joel Anderson. (Jim Bryson, who played a major supporting role on Failer, will be added to Edwards’ touring lineup for the Back To Me tour as an extra guitarist and keyboardist.)
But she also fleshed out the sessions with a few ringers. Pierre Marchand of Sarah McLachlan’s band not only played piano on “Old Time Sake” (a song co-written by Peter Cash, of Canadian sibling duo the Cash Brothers), he also engineered and co-produced the track at his studio in Quebec. Richard Bell of Canadian roots band Blackie & the Rodeo Kings contributes piano, organ and accordion. And pedal steel guitarist Eric Heywood, known for his work with Son Volt, Richard Buckner and Alejandro Escovedo, turns up on three tracks.
The most conspicuous co-conspirators, though, are a couple of blokes from Tom Petty’s orbit — keyboardist Benmont Tench and studio ace Jim Scott, who mixed the album. “They were the two people that I really wanted to have involved,” Edwards says, adding that she might have considered Scott to produce had she not been determined to work with Cripps.
“I’m a huge Petty fan, and he’s worked with Petty basically since Wildflowers,” she explains. “And Strangers Almanac [a Whiskeytown album Scott produced] was one of my favorite records of all time. He was somebody whose work I really thought was exceptional, and just appropriate for what I want to do.”
The recruitment of Scott and Tench directly reflects the nature of Edwards’ music, in fact. When Failer came out, the most common reference point she received in most reviews was Lucinda Williams — a comparison Edwards says she found flattering but not entirely on-the-mark. She dropped a pretty clear clue about the foundations of her aesthetic when Starbucks asked her to contribute a cover song to a 2004 Valentine’s Day compilation, and she chose Petty’s moody ballad “Face In The Crowd”.
“In terms of being an influence, I’m surprised people aren’t saying, ‘This reeks of Tom Petty!'” Edwards offers. “He’s definitely somebody who I’ve always held in extremely high regard. I would think that any day of the week, I sound more like Tom Petty than any of the female comparisons that I’ve received.”
Much of this dates back to childhood, as is often the case with songwriters’ primary mentors and inspirations. Edwards had an unusual upbringing; her father was a Canadian diplomat, and she spent a good part of her grade-school years living overseas, first in Switzerland and then in Korea.
“I was really young in Switzerland; we moved there when I was about 5, and we moved back to Ottawa when I was about 8 or 9. And then Korea, we moved there when I was about 13, which was a bit of a tough go because when you’re 13, your life is your two friends and what are you gonna wear to school and shit like that. And obviously Asia is a much different culture change than going to Europe. But it was good, and I ended up coming back when I was about 16.”
The overseas stints left more of a personal impression than a cultural one. “I don’t think culturally there was a lot of influence on me musically,” Edwards suggests. “I think what changed me is just that I grew up a lot quicker than most kids do who never leave their hometown or who don’t get a chance to see a lot of things. And I got pretty comfortable being alone, too, because other than my brother, I really didn’t have any friends that were consistently my friends for periods of time.
“And I listened to tons of music. I think the kind of music you listen to is such an identity for a lot of people, and I think that was even true when I was a kid. You know, my brother gave me a Tom Petty record, and that was it — I was a huge Tom Petty fan. No one I knew listened to Tom Petty, so that was something that was mine.”
Music had been a constant part of Edwards’ life in another aspect throughout her childhood, “I played classical violin since I was about 5,” she says. “And then when I was 13 or 14, I finally was like, ‘I’m not doing this anymore.’ And I’m sure my mother was tired of hearing me complain about it, so she was like, ‘OK, you can take a break.’