Music

Alberta roots artist Ken Stead wants to put an end to the Civil War within and on a larger level with his slick, approachable new album

It is one of the oldest civil and not-so civil wars in this nation’s history.

Bitter. Hateful. Divided. Petty.

The QE2 Confrontation or Kerfuffle or whatever you want to call it, has torn this province apart for decades, with the ill-will between YYC and YEG wedging its way between mother and daughter, father and son, siblings, friends, lovers and anyone on the other side of the 403 and 780 area codes.

Except maybe musicians.

Edmonton-born roots artist Ken Stead has been to the other side. And he likes it. In fact, after relocating to Calgary recently, he’s been warmly welcomed into the community, enthusiastically embraced into the fold, even finding haven in the home of local artists Carter Felker and Amy Nelson during his time here.

He’ll also make an appearance Sunday, June 2 at the King Eddy as the guest for Amy Vandergrift’s Songsmith Sundays showcase.

“It’s been good,” Stead says of his time in town. “It’s been a great experience here getting to know different musicians and seeing the Calgary scene, there’s a lot of amazing artists here.”

Sadly, though, soon we will be losing his talent back to our neighbours to the north, as Stead, eying an upcoming European tour, didn’t want to sign another longterm lease and let the place sit empty.

But not before he releases his new studio album, appropriately enough titled Civil War, this Saturday, June 1 at the Eddy.

It is roots music at its most approachable and comfortable, Stead and his band walking the line between country and folk, with a sure and steady hand, and a slick and confident demeanour. Big, catchy and slick, yet with enough rough around the edges to give it honky tonk credibility. 

The album, recorded with producer Winston Hauschild and given the treatment by noted Canadian mixer Howie Beck, grew from Stead’s experience with the local radio competition Project Wild, which he said helped him develop his band, and his wanting to “showcase our live show,” fill out their sound and break new ground. 

“It is accessible for longtime fans,” he says of the record, “but it’s also completely pushing boundaries in other senses.”

It is, he admits, something of a statement record. Not just announcing that radio-friendly sound in a definitive way, but also in announcing who he is as a human being, entering into the conversation of what that means and the struggles that entails — on a personal scale, on a larger one.

“That was really the point of this whole album,” Stead says.

“Even coming up with the title, it never really came through until we finished recording it. For me, being able to express my struggles and who I am, and my hope for what that can do with this record for other people, was really the statement I want to make.

“When I say Civil War that’s obviously talking about the war within myself, but at the same time what I wanted to portray there is turmoil in our society right now, and so I wanted to be able to make a statement about acceptance and kindness and love, and make sure all of that hippie shit comes through.”

That comes through in the video for Civil War’s first single Trouble, which follows two women who are out on a date.

Already, Stead says, it’s caused some controversy, with some fans finding offence in the depiction of a same-sex couple in a matter-of-fact and loving way.

The artist says he was striving for conversations about “something bigger,” and is actually happy to make “bold statements” in order to find “common ground” in the larger Civil War.

“Yeah, oh, yeah, for sure,” he says of the negative reaction as a leaping off point.

“I love it … I want that kind of feedback, I want those conversations started to find some common ground.

“Those are the kind of statements I want to make, I just want to be a bit more bolder than the last record. I really believe that a lot of what’s going on in the society begins with our own personal civil wars.”

Ken Stead releases his new album Civil War Saturday, June 1 at the King Eddy.

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