Five Questions for Canadian Singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards

[8 April 2008]

By Martin Bandyke

Detroit Free Press (MCT)

Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards covers a lot of lyrical ground on her third studio release, “Asking for Flowers.” “The Cheapest Key” is a witty put-down that runs through part of the alphabet (“A is for all the times I bit my tongue ...), while “Oh Canada” finds cracks in the social structure in her home country. (“There are no headlines when a black girl dies.”)

Working with a strong group of musicians that includes keyboardist Benmont Tench, guitarist Greg Leisz, bassist Bob Glaub and drummer Don Heffington, Edwards sounds more assured and mature than ever on this diverse, alternative country-flavored album. She recently spoke from Kingston, Ontario, on the first day of a long U.S. and European tour.

About three years have gone by since your last album, “Back to Me.” What have you been doing since then besides touring?
I finally settled down and found a permanent place to live, about 40 minutes outside Toronto in Hamilton. I’ve been resuming my secret second life working in the garden. Then I worked quite a while on the songs. After my last album, I took six months (off) before I started writing again. I’ve just been getting back to a little bit of normal life.

You put together a strong group of musicians to work with you on “Asking for Flowers” and also brought in Jim Scott to coproduce it, someone who has worked on albums by Johnny Cash, the Rolling Stones and Lucinda Williams. What was it like in the studio?
It was a dream to work with Jim Scott. Our personalities are similar, and we really mesh well. He mixed my last record (“Back to Me”), and I had known of his work for a long time. The soundtrack to my teenage life was “Wildflowers” (by Tom Petty), and he engineered that record. It was one of these crazy, fatalist moments where two people are destined to meet and work together.

It was fun to try playing with different people and see how they would change things up.

I met them the day we started tracking. I knew they were amazing players, but it was kind of scary. They’ve played with everyone from k.d. lang to John Lennon to Jackson Browne to Dylan, and that could have been intimidating. But things meshed really well.

“I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory” is one of the highlights on the new album. Who is that one about?
The song is actually about Jim Bryson, one of my bandmates who’s been playing with me since the very beginning. He’s a good friend but also someone who is an influence on my music. I was just sitting in California and thinking how far we’ve come together. He’s got a great sense of humor, and he can always one-up me. That inspired the lyrics “You’re cool and cred like Fogerty/I’m Elvis Presley in the `70s.”

“Alicia Ross” has a completely different mood to it - dark but unforgettable. Was that inspired by real events?
I named the song with the family’s permission, and it’s based on (the murder of) a real person in 2005. I think it was one of those stories where you feel so powerless. It sucks your hope out of people. This woman’s mother was visibly present in a lot of the media, and her daughter ended up not being alive. I saw my mother in every one of those press conferences asking anyone to find me. I wondered how my mother would ever get out of bed to do that.

What would you choose as a perfectly written song - something you wished you yourself had written?

A. That’s so hard ... there are so many to pick from. Maybe “Harvest Moon” by Neil Young or else Neil’s “From Hank to Hendrix.”

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