It’s an incredibly fitting phrase.
Sitting with Calgary musician Todd Stewart in Inglewood microbrewery Cold Garden, discussing the songs that make up his debut solo EP Everything You Want, the neon sign behind him seems to speak directly to the lengthy conversation and his mindset.
THIS MUST BE THE PLACE.
For him, it is.
He has what he wants, is living the life he wants, on a journey that he wanted to document a little more directly with this deeply personal six-song step away from his ongoing and successful roots act The Northern Beauties.
“The Northern Beauties stuff is a lot about my wife and personal things, but everything is in a general sense so that somebody could relate to it in their own way. With this I wanted to take some of that away and I wanted to be even more confessional about some stuff,” Stewart says.
“To be fair, Craig (Aikman, his Beauties bandmate) being the vocalist he has to sing about my wife all the time.”
He laughs. “And I think in order for the Northern Beauties to grow I have to bring that back a bit.
“So these are really personal and intimate songs that I thought didn’t need that second voice, and I wanted to step out front a little bit more, sing the way I sing instead of singing as a set.”
That he does. Opening track Ordinary Life was actually built off of a melody that he used to sing his infant daughter to sleep with, and the lyrics echo the theme of that giant sign over his shoulder, while also paying tribute to his wife’s affection for the Nicholas Cage Christmas film Family Man.
There’s also album highlight Out Of My Mind, which talks about his first experience with hallucinogenic mushrooms at the age of 19 — one that opened his mind, pushed him to sell the motel and restaurant he owned at the time, give up his more financially driven ways and pursue his artistic aspirations.
On the more sombre side is the pained Everything You Want, which is an ode to his brother-in-law who took his own life — so raw and emotionally honest is it that Stewart admits he still has a difficult time making it through without breaking up.
And finally, the centre piece of the record, is a sweet, nakedly lovely song for his wife and the “ordinary love” they share, Kerry Anne, which the writing of, he notes, became something of “blueprint” for the direction he wanted to go, wants to continue to go.
“It made me want to reveal more, even, in the future,” he says.
“Like what have I got to lose? What am I guarding when I write stuff that’s in a general sense? Some of my favourite artists can be extremely revealing and that’s usually why I like it personally.
“If I’m not going to serve myself first, then I think the mechanics of getting someone to connect with you and care about what you’re doing is a lot tougher.”
It’s surprising to note, then, that while technically a solo outing, the record does include other musicians on it, filling in the sound, while still making the songs and Stewart’s voice the stars.
He admits he’d always intended it to be a more stripped-down affair — one recorded on a pretty thin budget — when he took them to the West Coast to work with his friend and longtime producer, Shawn Cole, who has been behind the board for all of Stewart’s projects’ studio work.
Cole saw something more in them, bringing in other players — including drummer Leon Power, bassist Darren Paris, who normally accompany Frazey Ford, and pedal steel player Matt Kelly, who has worked with City and Colour.
“And I went along with it,” Stewart says, trusting implicitly in his producer to serve the songs in the best way possible.
“The one thing I like about Shawn is that I’m a headcase, so when I go into the studio — I don’t want to start that relationship all over again,” he says laughing.
“He knows what I’m about, he knows what I’m good at, he knows what I’m going to leave until the last minute. That relationship has evolved … and I feel like we’re just getter better right now.”
So much did Stewart like the sound built around his solo material that on Saturday, March 31 when he releases Everything You Want with a show at the Ironwood, for most of it he’ll be accompanied by a stellar crew of locals including Nathan Giebelhaus on drums, Lisa Jacobs on bass and Wayne Garrett on pedal.
He plans to continue on while hoping not to take away from the momentum The Northern Beauties have built over the past couple of years, including a WCMA award for Roots Group/Duo of the Year and constant gigging.
In fact, he thinks his little sojourn has been “good for everybody,” noting it’s encouraged Aikman to start writing some material for the band.
Stewart imagines the two projects “co-existing” and notes they’ve already laid down some tracks for the next Beauties record.
“So far, it’s six songs and it’s still songs I wrote and we’ve been playing and they’re still very personal songs, but when I look at the two — because I’m performing both shows now — when I’m performing my stuff it feels a little more direct …,” he says.
“When I play The Northern Beauties set it feels like it’s for everybody.”
Todd Stewart releases his album Everything You Want with a show Saturday, March 31 at the Ironwood. For reservations please call 403-269-5581.