Why these songs matter.
To answer this question, I share my story:
When I was 16 I tried teaching myself to play guitar. I dreamed of giving to others what songwriters had given to me. A soundtrack for life's moments... a story, a message, an encrypted truth. So for more than a decade, I pursued the dream of being a rockstar like the ones in my CD collection. I never went anywhere without my guitar in case there would be a chance to play my songs for someone... anyone. After high school, I moved from Ontario to Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was there to attend University but my first order of business was to strike up a band, which I did with friendly strangers I had met on the first day of orientation.
University degrees are too expensive to last forever, and so it came to pass that I was no longer a student. The whole songwriter complex was still keeping me up at night. I was nervous about what my parents, particularly my dad, about the call I felt to write songs... and to commit to it more seriously; he had always quietly ensured that his kids had what they needed to be secure and well-positioned for some kind of stable career. Is this not the story of at least half of all songwriters? But my dad also knew the power of song; he was a loyal super Fan of 70s folk-singer, Harry Chapin, who had found success as a songwriter. Harry had given my dad something to believe in with his passionate performances and humanitarian spirit. I knew that underneath it all, my dad was a super fan of the music I made too, even though he never told me directly. Maybe he was afraid to endorse it somehow... afraid that I might take his blessing and run. I was no Harry Chapin, but his friends would later tell me how my dad glowed when telling tall tales of my shows "on the east coast". He watched my videos from afar, and we never spoke of it. I couldn't wait around any longer, so I told my folks I was going to take songwriting seriously; they didn't have much to say, they just smiled and wished me luck.
In retrospect, my new commitment to songwriting was a bit extreme: I announced on Facebook that I would commit to writing and sharing a new original song every week for one year. These songs became known as "The Diamond Sushi Songs", and the project had me digging into songwriting like never before. I began collaborating with friends and total strangers to pump out a new song every Sunday. It became like a form of musical journalling, but instead of paragraphs, I was using verses, choruses, and bridges to process the world around me. It was often a struggle, but a cathartic struggle that always delivered a sweet release when the song was posted. I still haven't found a sweeter feeling than getting to the end of a song that didn't exist just a few hours earlier, no matter how amateur it sounded. "The Diamond Sushi Songs" were vulnerable, it was exhausting and I loved it. After one year, the project culminated with a Grand Finale performance that included a full band and choir of friends who helped me bring the songs to life in a church. More than 200 people came out in a snowstorm - I couldn't believe it. It was one of the most incredible nights of my life. With "The Diamond Sushi Songs" behind me, I knew the next step was to create the full-length album I had always dreamed of creating. I had a band, I had a repertoire, I had a base of support... I could taste the album and the opportunities it would bring.
The first day in the studio was scheduled for April 4th, 2020 - exactly 3 weeks after Canada went into its first lockdown. Like most people, I had no idea what was actually happening or how long it would last. Just a few weeks after the canceled studio time, I received a call from my family in Owen Sound to say that my dad was sick - it might be cancer. 3 weeks after that, in a hospital in London, Ontario, without any family allowed to be at his side, he died during a routine procedure following major surgery. In the months that followed, I grappled with grief and purposelessness, craving answers to unanswerable questions. It was a mortality check, but I didn't know what it was supposed to mean. Fortunately, my better angels had resisted the impulse to quit my job and run away. I went back to work and slowly made plans to get re-started on the album.
Just a few hours before the clock struck 2021, my partner, Sherise, decided to do a pregnancy test. We were on our way to dinner at her sister's and she hoped to have a few drinks on a New Year's Eve. The test was positive. That's right, positive. My life flashed before my eyes. We couldn't believe it. In a moment, once again everything had changed forever, this time in a miraculous kind of way. In the weeks that followed, it started becoming clear to me that the songs I was trying to record represented all sides of a circle - grief, joy, loss, gain. I decided to give the album a name in advance: "Songs For The Living".
Before long, the recording project was racing "head to head" with the baby project. I wanted to finish tracking all the songs in the studio before becoming a full-time dad. As fate would have it, our son arrived 5 weeks early, leaving my recording ambitions (and my ego) in the dust. We named him John, after my dad.
"Songs For The Living" did eventually finish tracking and it is now in the process of being mixed and mastered. It is a collection of 10 songs that are strung together with a thread of love. They are songs to help us move along, not in a straight line, but in a line that bends until we find ourselves in a familiar place, changed by the journey. This album is a soundtrack to life's moments. It is not chronological or even logical at all. Maybe it just is what it is, right here, right now. It is for you.
(Or is it the beginning?)