Ottawa Citizen


The Acorn frontman finally gets own words


Ten years after The Acorn released their landmark Glory Hope Mountain, frontman and songwriter Rolf Klausener sees the record in a whole new light.

Now 40 and showing a few wisps of grey, Klausener finds himself reexaminin­g his own lyrics through a new lens in the post-2016 world.

“It just took the world flipping on its head for me to understand what this record was really about,” Klausener has written.

The sole mainstay in a rotating cast of Ottawa’s finest indie rockers, Klausener is preparing with his band to mark the 10th anniversar­y of the album’s release with a special concert Saturday at St. Alban’s Church. In early April, the band played similar concerts in Toronto, Kingston and Montreal.

The concert, he says, is “an immigrant story” — a deeply personal one about his mother’s journey from Honduras to Canada as a refugee.

The concept album relates the story of Klausener’s mother, Gloria Esperanza Montoya — Glory Hope Mountain is a translatio­n of her name — and her journey from barely surviving childbirth that claimed the life of her mother, to becoming an orphan (later reclaimed by her father), to setting out across the border in search of a new life.

“It’s like a total 180,” says Klausener, reflecting back on the story as written by his 30-year-old self.

“I’m still really proud of the writing, the lyrics. I still feel like that’s some of the strongest writing I’ve ever done, and when I started revisiting the record in December to prepare for the remasterin­g and reissuing, it just floored me, the context of the record in this political climate.

“I’m so much more politicall­y aware and conscious than I was 10 years ago, and understand­ing my mom’s story on the record in this new context just blew the doors open through all the layers — the significan­ce, the complexiti­es of the stories, and just empathizin­g with my mom’s story in a totally different way.

“Knowing the political and logistical challenges that she had to endure — if that story were to happen now, it would be completely different. She wouldn’t have just drifted across the border, she wouldn’t have had the freedom to escape her country.

“As you get older, too, you understand your parents more as adults,” Klausener says.

“The story has resonated in a much, much deeper way.”

Klausener says he was brought to tears while strolling down Elgin Street, listening to the haunting, spare Hold Your Breath, which opens the album and is rooted in his mother’s birth story.

“Now, I understand how it’s a fitting metaphor for my mom’s persistenc­e, and any refugee’s patience and persistenc­e and endurance — to have to navigate complex systems, to have to buy their time in challengin­g situations, to ultimately find passage.

“The realizatio­n struck me, it just peeled off another layer — my mom surviving childbirth, and how that set the tone for her survival instinct for the rest of her life. I was brought to tears by the reality she had to endure.”

Glory Hope Mountain made considerab­le waves locally — The Acorn became the first Ottawa band nominated for a Polaris Prize in 2008 — and the waves rippled far and wide. The band toured across Canada and made it to Europe, eventually hitching up on tour with the likes of indie heavyweigh­ts Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes and Calexico.

“It was a pretty unexpected journey from start to finish,” says Klausener. “The whole idea for the record was almost an afterthoug­ht. I’d been wanting to interview my mom and ask her questions about her life, and it was (former bandmate and noted visual artist) Howie Tsui who said I should turn those stories into songs.”

The band secured grant money, signed on with Paper Bag Records, which is now reissuing a doubleviny­l and a deluxe edition, and the momentum that landed the band on the cover of Exclaim! magazine didn’t let up for the next four years.

“Things just came really naturally, and in the life cycle of the band — it goes in crests and troughs — that was quite a long crest,” Klausener says.

“But I don’t know that I could sustain the kind of lifestyle that I was enduring during that period — being on the road 150 days a year. Unless you’re Arcade Fire or Feist, it’s like running a small business, so after a while you kind of burn out.”

The Acorn now exists on a somewhat smaller scale for Klausener, who, amid his other musical outlets, also runs the ultra-hip Arboretum Festival every summer.

“I feel lucky and blessed, but it was really nice to come home off the road, because the pressure that came out of doing that record really sort of changed my perspectiv­e on the band and the project,” he says.

“The Acorn was really just an outlet for some weird songwritin­g, and I never expected it to be a commercial­ly viable project, so it’s been comforting to go back to relative obscurity over the last few years, yet still have the support of a great record label, and being able to go back to doing what I wanted to do without having those financial pressures.

“But that said, I feel so lucky," says Klausener. “And looking back on it now I wouldn’t give away those memories for anything, and I wouldn’t give away those opportunit­ies for anything.”

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 ?? ERROL McGIHON ?? Ottawa’s The Acorn, 10 years on, from left, Martin Charbonnea­u, Seb Shinwell, Rolf Klausener, Pascal Delaquis and Pierre-Luc Clément.
ERROL McGIHON Ottawa’s The Acorn, 10 years on, from left, Martin Charbonnea­u, Seb Shinwell, Rolf Klausener, Pascal Delaquis and Pierre-Luc Clément.

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