Al­bum in­flu­enced by feel­ings of dis­place­ment

Waterloo Region Record - - Nightlife - NEIL MCDON­ALD

For much of Derek Har­ri­son’s adult life, home has been an im­per­ma­nent place.

Though now based in Fort Frances in the far reaches of north­west­ern On­tario, the folk singer-song­writer and mul­ti­in­stru­men­tal­ist grew up in Har­row, Ont., in Es­sex County, be­fore mov­ing to Wind­sor, Ottawa, Mon­treal, Aus­tralia and then Toronto, where he recorded his most re­cent al­bum, “Bloss­ing­ton,” re­leased late last year.

Named for the Bloor and Oss­ing­ton neigh­bour­hood in Toronto where the al­bum was recorded and par­tially writ­ten, “Bloss­ing­ton” re­flects Har­ri­son’s un­ease at hav­ing to nav­i­gate yet an­other new space when he first moved to the city.

“The in­flu­ence in the song­writ­ing was mainly this feel­ing of dis­place­ment. It wasn’t Bloss­ing­ton specif­i­cally, it was Toronto. It was the fact that I had just moved to a new city, and just ev­ery­thing that comes with that, all the un­cer­tainty and the ad­just­ment,” he said in a phone in­ter­view on the road from Madi­son, Wis., where Har­ri­son had stopped for the night in the mid­dle of a 1,500-kilo­me­tre trek back to south­ern On­tario for a tour that will bring him to Kitch­ener for two af­ter­noon shows next week.

“Any kind of ten­sion will drive song­writ­ing, I think, or any kind of cre­ative act, and for me that ten­sion was there in the form of won­der­ing whether I made the right de­ci­sion, and miss­ing both my home where I grew up and miss­ing Mon­treal, which I’d been in for five years.”

Pro­duced by Brodie Steven­son at his home stu­dio “about a block-and-a-half away” from Har­ri­son’s then-apart­ment, the al­bum’s sound re­flects the gritty, no­tyet-gen­tri­fied feel of the neigh­bour­hood in which it was made.

“I think it would have been a bit more pol­ished and bright-sound­ing if we had recorded it in a less ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment,” said Har­ri­son. “When Brodie gave me the ini­tial mixes back, I ac­tu­ally told him they sounded too clean, they didn’t sound like they came out of Bloss­ing­ton. We ac­tu­ally took the sig­nal for most of the in­stru­ments, in­clud­ing the lead vo­cal and my gui­tar, and ran them through a tube amp, and then re-recorded them and had it slightly over­driven. So there’d be this crunch and it al­most sounds like it’s peak­ing, but it was added in dur­ing post­pro­duc­tion — that kind of lo-fi sound, it was ar­ti­fi­cially added. That was made to re­flect these va­cant store­fronts and the dusty, lit­tery na­ture of that part of the city.”

“Bloss­ing­ton” also fea­tures mem­bers of Toronto folk-rock band The Old Salts, for whom Har­ri­son writes songs and plays man­dolin, and the al­bum is the fol­lowup to his 2014 solo de­but, “Dead and Gone.” Har­ri­son, who has also toured Canada, Europe, and Aus­tralia with Krief, The Cus­tom Out­fit, and Madeleine Le­man, said the songs on “Bloss­ing­ton” are the re­sult of his evolv­ing re­la­tion­ship with his craft.

“On the new al­bum, the songs are more de­lib­er­ate in what they’re try­ing to com­mu­ni­cate and they have a bet­ter sense of place. And a lot of them are a bit longer — there are more lyrics in gen­eral, but I’ve

also spent more time on the lyrics, I’ve re­fined them, I’ve edited them. I didn’t just get to the end of a song and say, ‘Great, I have a song,’ I kept im­prov­ing the songs,” he said. “So I think it’s just a mat­ter of, as I’m older and more dis­ci­plined in my life in gen­eral, I have a bet­ter re­la­tion­ship with work now, and also less free time. I take song­writ­ing more se­ri­ously as work. And cre­at­ing in any way, it’s not just for fun, you’ve got to put the work in.”

Har­ri­son said his fre­quent moves from city to in­creas­ingly larger city in the past were of­ten fu­tile at­tempts to es­cape un­hap­pi­ness, a pat­tern that was bro­ken by his most re­cent re­lo­ca­tion to Fort Frances, which has a pop­u­la­tion of less than 8,000. In many re­spects, it’s safe to say that Har­ri­son is in a bet­ter place now.

“The most re­cent move was for love,” he said. “My part­ner got a job in the north­west, so I think that’s a good rea­son, a bet­ter rea­son than the rea­sons I’ve had in the past, which were just out of search­ing for some­thing. So I did not choose Fort Frances, it chose me, but it is nice to be in a place where (the) life­style in­volves a lot more work-life bal­ance than in Toronto, par­tic­u­larly, but I think any city, where it’s a lit­tle harder to pull that off.”

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