Edwards continues heart-wrenching journey
It is one of the few light moments and a welcome one.
Nearing the end of a lengthy, remarkably candid interview with Kathleen Edwards, the subject turns to her recent trip to the Grammys where she accompanied new beau Justin Vernon, a four-time nominee with his band Bon Iver, and a double winner at the award gala.
Their seats were, she says, in the second row, right behind Rihanna who was, Edwards reports, wearing a backless gown that showed off the diva’s well-toned assets. So, it seems a natural question to ask.
“Who was I wearing?” Edwards says with a laugh, noting a performance in Canada the night before the show meant she had very little time to get ready for the event. “I wore a vintage shirt that I got in Toronto and black pants.”
Admittedly, the query about her wardrobe is one of the few softballs Edwards has been lobbed over the past few months, since the release of her heartbreakingly confessional fourth album, Voyageur. The disc, which was also co-produced by Vernon, chronicles her breakup with longtime husband and musical collaborator Colin Cripps in unflinching detail — an artistically brave accomplishment, but a personally difficult thing to be forced to return to again and again.
“There’ve been lots of time where I’ve really thought about how open do I really want to be from now on in interviews. Some of the questions I get asked are generally personal — and for good reason, you know, I mean I set it up to be like that. . .,” Edwards says.
“I put out these songs that are really, pretty deeply personal and I feel pretty vulnerable and now I have to get up onstage in front of people and keep going with that stuff. I don’t know, there are times where I’m really proud of myself that I’m doing something that’s so honest and that’s the best thing I could lay claim to doing.
“But, there are times where you don’t want all of your failures and mistakes to be there for people to hear about, and there are days where you wish you could take it back or just make it less everyone’s business.”
Edwards admits that things have died down a little since the album was released in January and the wounds were still fresh — so fresh that she questioned whether or not it was the right thing to do.
For the record, it was. Voyageur, like its predecessor, 2008’s Polaris Prize shortlisted Asking For Flowers, shows the Ottawa native to be one of this country’s truly great artistic voices. A songwriter who taps into her own naked emotions and mines her tear-soaked soul for something that is raw, honest and deeply affecting, and both small and solitary while speaking in a devastatingly universal language.
And not surprisingly, the album is earning Edwards a great deal of accolades and attention, that’s less about her new relationship and his presence in the work than her skills and the album’s emotional impact. Critics have given acrossthe-board praise to the work, her profile has never been higher thanks to appearances such as a release-week performance on Letterman, and her current tour — which hits town Tuesday — is getting glowing reviews.
It’s hard to imagine that the next time she attends the Grammys it won’t be on her own invitation.
For her part, Edwards seems aware that Voyageur has vaulted her into another league, but doesn’t seem quite in the mood to celebrate.
“Some times it’s hard to take praise without wondering at what cost of your ego it comes at when you just accept it,” she says.
“There’s a selfishness to this ambitious side of myself and maybe I’m embarrassed that I’m ambitious. And maybe I’m embarrassed that I’m ambitious and I’ve never been as successful as some of my peers.
“And it makes you wonder if maybe you’re just not that good.
“I believe in myself and I believe that I do really good work and at the end of the day that has to be enough, it really does. And it is enough. It is enough.”
Perhaps. But, from an outsider’s perspective, it’s also difficult not to wonder whether or not Edwards has been able to enjoy her successes.
Considering the nature of the album, its subject matter, and the fact that her success has been built partly on that darkness, not surprisingly her answer is one that only leads to more selfreflection.
“It’s funny you ask me that because that got said to me a lot in the last three months, like, ‘You’ve just got to enjoy this, you’ve got to enjoy this.’ And I do enjoy,” she pauses, “it.
“I think it just ultimately comes down to the fact that I’ve dedicated all these years to something that I really believe in, and that’s really fulfilling and really amazing. But there are times where I feel like maybe it’s been too much of a singular focus that’s left me feeling like whatever my expectations were or however I thought it was going to be, it isn’t. . . .
“I don’t know, I just think that there’s nothing more amazing than playing music and I feel very fortunate about that. But I think sometimes I’m doing it and I’ve lost a little bit of perspective on where it started, that thing that happened when I was 20, where I could just be bold and fearless. And I’m less that person now. And I feel vulnerable.
“But that’s OK, because I think everybody probably does, right?”
That question, no softball itself, naturally goes back to the subject of where Edwards is at, personally, these days.
Being forced to address the issues — onstage every night, and in interviews over the past several months — one would also hope that it might have therapeutic value, put things into perspective and offer hope that she can move on. But as to whether or not she’s been feeling any closure, Edwards is once more remarkably candid.
“No, I’m not,” she says. “I keep thinking that I’m going to find that there’s going to be this day where I’m going to wake up and it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah. I’m feeling really good about everything, and everything’s figured out.’ And I guess maybe that’s the whole thing is life is not supposed to be figured out.
“It’s just always going to always be a series of ups and downs, and you take the good and the bad and it helps you appreciate the happiness and the joys of life.
“I’m holding onto that one. That’s what I’m looking for.”