Block Heater’s Alberta Gems: Lorrie Matheson

With the Calgary Folk Music Festival’s annual Block Heater event getting you grooving online this year, theSCENE — while drooling over international artists like Washington State’s Damien Jurado,  Mexico’s Maria Mezcal and Irish acts Lisa Hannigan and Saint Sister — decided keep with the theme by shopping local. 

We spoke with three Alberta artists who will be appearing at Block Heater, which runs from Feb. 16 to 20 this year.

Today we chat with Calgary’s “unofficial music laureate” Lorrie Matheson.

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When Calgary songwriter Lorrie Matheson got the call to play the Calgary Folk Festival’s upcoming Block Heater event, his first reaction was surprise.

“I was shocked. I just didn’t think anybody would bother to care about it because I’ve been so inactive, you know? I was really surprised and very happy because it’s nice to be thought of,” Matheson says while on his morning walk, part of a strict routine he follows due to health issues. The routine also includes spending time in a sauna box, making water-based kefir for breakfast, and listening to whatever he’s working on in his Arch Audio studio during the walk.

For a guy who’s considered Calgary’s unofficial music laureate, an artist who has released several of Alberta’s most acclaimed albums both as a solo artist and with bands including Fire Engine Red, National Dust, Thousand Sticks and the loud, proud, scintillating Night Committee, Matheson is hilariously self-deprecating.

For instance, the musician who played thousands of gigs over the past 30 years has a novel approach to prepare for the gig. “Actually, I’m practicing. I’ve played so little (lately) that I realize I’m going to have to practice. I’m going to play a couple of things off this record that I’m planning to do. I’m going to play some new songs which actually aren’t that new because they’ve been around forever, but they aren’t recorded. And I’m working out some old things.”

The new album he refers to, his first since 2013’s The Night is for Sleepers, will consist of him covering songs of artists he’s recorded and loves, including Hot Little Rocket, Rae Spoon, SAVK and Napalmpom.  

“When I initially started, I had about 50 songs on there and it just got whittled down by the fact of, ‘Oh, I can’t play this song, I’m not good enough to play this song.’ I’m going to radically reimagine them, that’s kind of my mojo.”

His set will be streamed either live from Festival Hall or from his studio, depending on provincial health orders. If it’s streamed from Arch Audio, Matheson says he can jump onto his piano or one of his many guitars, whereas if it’s at the hall he is excited because, “there will be at least five or six people there” on the crew and with the pandemic and his autoimmune issues, the musician hasn’t been getting out much.

For the same reason, things have been quiet around Arch Audio. “I’m not really hip on having people in my small space.” Matheson has been recording bands at other studios, though. “I’ve discovered the joy of using other people’s studios and its wonderful. It’s just a lot easier and it sounds better, too, because I’m not that great of an engineer.”