Kathleen Edwards: "Justin [Vernon] Helped Me Construct Something That's a 180 For Me."
After turning heads at SXSW in 2002, she released her debut, Failer, a vulnerable audio-diary that had people lazily drawing the typical alt-country connecting line between her and Lucinda Williams and even Ryan Adams. While there were some obvious comparisons to those beacons of the twangy sub-genre, Edwards made a massive stride into musical independence with her 2008 album, Asking for Flowers.
By focusing on the stories of characters made up with her own pen, instead of her own experiences -- along with some that were ripped from real-life headlines -- Edwards began drawing comparisons to Neil Young and Tom Petty. This was thanks to not only her engaging narratives, but also the way in which she turned the knobs of her amps up more than a tad for a chunk of the album.
In the wake of her divorce from husband and longtime collaborator Collin Cripps, Edwards is now fully immersed in a blossoming romantic and musical relationship with Bon Iver's Justin Vernon. Soon, the fruits of this latest collaboration will be shared: The 33-year-old Edwards says she's ready to release a record that she feels introduces a distinctly new and unfamiliar chapter in her musical life. Who knows? Maybe it will force folks to stop worrying about who she sounds like and simply accept her as the individually exceptional artist she has been all along.
The new album, called Voyageur, will be released in January of 2012, while the seven-inch single for a new song, "Wapusk," will be available as she tours as the opener for Bon Iver over the course of the next couple of months.
We recently had the chance to speak with Edwards as she was preparing for the upcoming tour that leads her and Bon Iver to the Winspear Opera House tonight in Dallas for a sold-out show.
It's been a while, so I'm sure you're excited to finally have a new record seeing its release soon?
Sure! The full record is coming out in January, but I'm putting a couple of songs out as a seven-inch that will be on sale during the Bon Iver shows and then to the general public after the tour. The seven-inch is called "Wapusk." It's the name of a national park in Canada and the song won't actually be on the new record. I loved the songs when we recorded it, but it just didn't fit with the other songs we cut for the full record. It's the first thing that Justin [Vernon] and I worked on together before getting knee-deep into the full record, and it kind of served as ice-breaker for us, musically.
There were noticeable changes in the way that your first two albums, Failer and Back to Me, were written when compared to Asking for Flowers. With spending so much time with Justin, has there been further evolution? How has that collaboration affected Voyageur?
Oh, yeah, pretty big changes, really. The funny thing is that before I even met Justin, I knew I really wanted to change things up. I was really proud of the work I've done, and with Asking for Flowers, I felt like I wrote songs with heart and strong narratives that weren't necessarily autobiographical. With the new one, I was just ready to change shit up. I didn't know if that meant working with a co-writer or a new producer. I had a really hard time figuring it out. And then I met Justin and he came in and helped me achieve the musical direction I wanted that would help me get out of this singer-songwriter and Americana pigeonhole that I feel like I got myself into. Justin helped me construct something that's a 180 for me, but is still comfortable and still sounds like it comes from me, too. That's the short answer for you. Just kidding.
Going back to Flowers; the tune "Alicia Ross" is still a hard song to listen to, even three years after you released it. The true story of a murdered girl is even more haunting in your song than it would be normally, I think. How tough is it to play that song?
I haven't been touring a ton lately, but, yeah, I have a very hard time playing it at all, really. At first, when I wrote the song, I was touring and I could play it with a full band, and it was easier to take myself to that place every night. I can't really do that as much now, though. It's a song that I look back at now and am surprised that I even wrote it, because it's so heavy. I don't know if I'll even play it anymore. There are a lot of sad songs on that record, but that one made my producer, Jim Scott, ask me one time, "Kathleen, is everything O.K.?"
Given the length between your album releases, it doesn't seem as though you're terribly worried about so-called album cycles, or cranking out records on a yearly basis like many other artists seem to be.
Sometimes, I'm just not ready to record and release an album, really. I mean, for the new album, I started recording songs a year ago, actually. I'm just not one of those people that will record something just to get it out. There were a lot of songs that were scrapped or re-recorded, too. Also, there was some stuff going on in my life this time around that kept me from wanting to pump out another record. None of that means that I don't worry about getting a record out, though. If I could've chosen to have a record out one year after Flowers, then yeah, but Brian Wilson pumped out a record a year and he had a nervous breakdown. Do I worry that people will forget that I exist and stop coming to my concerts, because out-of-sight equals out-of-mind? Sure, I worry about that. I know that this is the best record I've ever made and it took a long time to make. It tested my emotional boundaries and my physical boundaries and my financial boundaries the most. But I didn't want to do it half-assed. I might crawl into a hole and die when it finally comes out, I don't know. [Laughs.]
You just mentioned that there "was some stuff going on" that kept you from wanting to record. I presume you're referring to your divorce from Colin Cripps. Is the divorce reflected on the new album in any way? Are people going to look at this as "Kathleen's Divorce Album?"
[Laughs.] Yeah. I'd be lying to say that I could go through something like that and then could easily sweep it under the carpet. I think people deal with divorce the rest of their lives after they go through it. Yes, I was married for five years, and now I'm not. The new material was heavily influenced by that and where my head was at then. At the same time, there are songs that are the most spirited things I've ever done before on there, too. I came into myself more and figured out where I wanted to go, but that shit takes time to figure out.
It's been a while since either you or Bon Iver has been to Dallas for a show. Even better, the show isn't taking place at your run-of-the-mill club or theater. The Winspear is a pretty serious performance hall, actually. It's a perfect fit for Vernon's kick-ass falsetto, I think.
It's interesting that you say that. I know that the Bon Iver team was really serious about scouting and finding the right venues for their show. They understand there's a serious demand to see them perform, so they looked for places that had the best sight-lines and great sound and where their show would translate into the best experience for everyone.