Singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards on divorce and new beginnings

Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards
Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards
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Kathleen Edwards’ fourth album, Voyageur, was co-produced by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. The Canadian singer-songwriter has been likened to Lucinda Williams and Aimee Mann, but this collection of alt-country laments and fizzing indie rock has a more layered sound than her previous work thanks to Vernon’s influence (yes, there are bicycle bells).

Voyageur is a deeply confessional record, written in transition while Edwards was going through a divorce and beginning a new relationship (with Vernon). It has been described as a “break-up and hook-up record” by Pitchfork, and Lauren Laverne called it “quietly brilliant” and “beautiful”. Edwards plays Oran Mor, Glasgow, tonight (Friday 24 February).

Is this your most personal album to date?

I don’t really know how else to write songs but this time round I definitely broke the bank. I ended up writing songs about a period of my life that was really difficult. I had just split up with my partner of seven years and there is something that happens to you – you get a feeling of starting over that makes you feel ready to try anything musically.

Then at the other end you realise that you’ve documented it and it’s not going anywhere. Now I’m playing these songs every night and it’s weird. I’ve confessed to all my mistakes in a record, on record. Most people f*** up but don’t stand on top of a mountain and tell everyone. It’s a lot to share, but I don’t know how else to be.

How long did it take to record Voyageur?

I started recording it in September 2010 and it took until May the following year. We recorded in Fall Creek, Wisconsin and Toronto. I wanted to make more sonically diverse music, try new sounds, and really make a record that speaks for where I am now.

How did Justin Vernon come to produce the album?

We became acquainted through mutual friends who thought we would hit it off. I had heard he was a big fan of my work, which was exciting. So we emailed back and forth and started talking about music. I was looking for someone to help me produce my record and he said why don’t you come out and do a song with me? So I did. It turned out he is a great producer and engineer and has such a capacity for making cool sounds. It was a very trusting and rewarding relationship.

What’s the story behind writing Sidecar, a classic falling in love song (sample lyric: You and I will be sidecars / There to chase down the hard stuff)?

It’s that gleeful feeling of spending a whole day with a person, when there is nowhere else you would rather be. It’s a sweet and slightly saccharine pop song, but then again it happens to people. And it happened to me.

What was that like, getting together with Vernon while you were making the album?

I just look back and feel very grateful. I sometimes get asked whether it was weird recording songs about my divorce with my boyfriend, but it wasn’t. This is what we do. We write songs. Those were a hard few years of my life where I didn’t know what I was doing or where I was going. But I never once felt embarrassed with Justin when I was recording the songs. If anything, I felt safe. The nice thing was I made a record with someone who made me feel like I was an important part of his musical journey too, and that what I was doing was important, that I hadn’t failed. That gave me the encouragement to make the record that I really wanted to make.

If you had to describe Voyageur in five words, what would they be?

Deliberate. Compassionate. Passionate. Vulnerable. Redemption.

What was the first record you bought?

Roxette – It Must Have Been Love.

Who were your childhood musical heroes?

Neil Young, Tom Petty, Ani DiFranco, my bandmate (Canadian singer-songwriter Jim Bryson), and Annie Lennox.

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