After having lived the past few years being a regular person and helping save the planet, beloved Canadian artist ready to return with another collection of songs — soon.
It’s a pair of loaded questions, but ones that Sarah Harmer seems initially content to sidestep.
Or, perhaps it’s because her head is in an entirely different space right now.
What have you been up to? What is your life about these days?
“Good times,” she answers, before affecting a Rasta Patois. “Good times, mon.”
She continues, possibly willfully oblivious. “I have a garden full of amazing flowers and not enough bees at the moment. But no I’ve just been doing various things. You know, just being a person doing regular old stuff.”
And then …
“I am making a new record right now, so as far as my professional career goes, my musical career goes, I’m in the middle of taking a crack at a new record.”
Yes. That, er, actually was what was being dug after.
For fans of Harmer — and how could you not be? — it has been far, far, far, far, far too long since we’ve heard something new from one of Canada’s finest folk-pop voices. Hell, voices, period.
On the radar since the ’90s as the frontperson for Kingston alt-rock act Weeping Tile, she then set out on a solo career that yielded five fantastic albums, starting with the indie effort Songs For Clem — a porch-recorded cover album of her father’s favourite old-school jazz and country songs, and personally one of the most cherished albums in my collection — then hitting it big with the gorgeous, single-laden 2000 release You Were Here and finally scorching hearts with 2010’s Oh Little Fire.
So, yeah. Seven years.
It’s been seven years since we’ve heard something substantially new from Sarah Harmer.
But while she admits most of her time has been spent living on her rural property outside of that aforementioned town, she has been performing the “odd show here and there,” including a handful of summer dates with her band, such as this Sunday, July 23 in the afternoon at the Banff Centre For Arts and Creativity’s Shaw Amphitheatre. She also performs an annual Christmas benefit show in Kingston with her former mates of Weeping Tile.
Again, while those opportunities are nice, she says she enjoyed the past few years outside of the music industry bubble, even if it wasn’t a specific choice she made.
“It’s kind of nice to just do other stuff and not be touring and focussing on the individual performer side of things,” says the noted climate change and environmental activist, who fought hard for the Niagara Escarpment which she grew up on.
“I’m pretty spoiled with having free time and I like the fact that I can do other things because I don’t have a strict schedule sometimes. It’s nice to be really open, and then when an opportunity comes — I learned how to timber frame and build a barn … I’ve been doing a little travelling and involved in some land use (issues). There’s always a wetlands to look after or at least weigh in on.
“So it wasn’t really conscious, like, ‘Oh, I’m done with that’ or anything. I guess I just kind of meandered away from it to try some other stuff.”
So what got her back into it?
She credits spending time in the city, hanging out with the music community she’s still very much a part of, remaining dear friends with Gord Downie and the rest of the Hip, as well as other acts that the scene spawned.
“I get fired up by that energy,” she says. “I think you really respond to what’s around you, and I live in the woods and so I love observing small things. I don’t get that bored. It all depends on how the clock gets wound, you know, and I feel like I’m at a pretty gentle walking pace right now.
“But when I do go out and play a few shows, I’m like, ‘Oh, I love this. This was really fun. I got good at this at one time.’ And being in the studio is the same thing, it’s like, ‘Shit, I’ve got some skills here that I enjoy.’ So it’s just a matter of where you focus.”
As for what musically and songwriting-wise she’s been inspired by these past few productive months, she’s less definitive, explaining that it amounts to “small things that maybe have bigger implications” that she’s attempting to turn into a story, “tying it into a little bow.”
Harmer admits that she’s not quite there yet, is stuck on completing some of the batch of songs that will hopefully become that anticipated album.
“It’s not new for me,” she says. “I typically have a lot of melodies and arrangements and a hard time fitting words into that. So I don’t really know.
“Oh deadlines are really good. I’m going back into the studio in Montreal right after we get back from Banff, actually. So I have some plans that I gotta make between now and then as far as lyrics and string arrangements and a few things.
“So having a deadline is necessary for me.”
And that other deadline?
That one vaguely asked about and danced around at the beginning of the conversation?
When, when will we finally, officially get something new from Sarah Harmer.
“It’s coming,” she says simply.
And I’m good with that.
Sarah Harmer performs Sunday, July 22 at 1 p.m. in the Shaw Amphitheatre at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. For tickets click here.
Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for theYYSCENE.ca. Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.