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5 Questions With Carter Felker: Drinking on the job while guided by his inner critic

Calgary songwriter Carter Felker’s new album, Even the Happy Ones are Sad, is a medley of moments snatched out of the parlours, bedrooms and evening news stories of the characters who inhabit his songs. Felker, who released his first album Ordinary Lives in 2016, crafts lyrical sketches of personalities that breathe in svelte, masterfully honed lines, so you can nearly eavesdrop on them sitting at the next table in your local pub.

Spurred on by his life partner Amy Nelson, a musician who carves out acres of unflinching musical turf in her own style, Felker continues to search for, capture, and release moments of human flaws and fulfillments. Eavesdrop on Felker’s music most Sundays at the King Eddy while he hosts other supreme songwriters. theSCENE caught up with Felker to ask him a few questions that his characters have yet to answer.

I been hearing lately, you’ve been doing funny things,

Like when you go out lately, you take off your wedding ring

I ain’t quite the man I promised you I’d be

But you know that I love you so don’t do this to me. —  Refuse to Dance, from upcoming album Even the Happy Ones are Sad

Q: How long does it take to come up with lyrics like this, that capture the essence of loving, cheating, easing, lying? What’s the process?

A: To be honest, I have no idea. I think I’m thinking about it subconsciously and one day it falls out. A lot of my writing is definitely real or true to life. I was at a Christmas party, and I saw my friend who was pretty freshly married put her ring in her pocket. So that line kind of wrote itself right in front of my eyes. My process is pretty passive. I like to write when the mood strikes and if that takes months and weeks then so be it. I spend a lot of time watching sports, but when I’m alone in the house I try to pick up the guitar and see what falls out. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s utter garbage. My inner critic doesn’t let a lot slide, so I’m grateful for that. 

Q: Why did it take seven years to release a new record? 

A: I had red light fever. My first studio experiences were downright awful and huge wastes of time and money. Sure, they were learning experiences, but they totally turned me off from working with other people for a very long time. This record really changed that. Pat Palardy was a fantastic and positive engineer. JJ Mayo listened to my production ideas and found a way to bring my personality and quirks to life. I’m ready to get back into the studio and do another! 

Q: What’s it like having a wild, wonderful songwriter/singer like Amy (Nelson) as a partner? Do you ever get professional jealousy? 

A: It’s pretty amazing. We don’t collaborate much because we are quite different, but we talk a lot about process and art and the meaning of it all. Amy’s really taught me that the only thing that matters is my opinion when it comes to my own artistic output. If I like something I need to stand by that and not compromise if I truly believe that it’s quality. Be it sonic representation or lyrics or how to promote or talk about myself. 

Q: You gave up your day job to do this full time. Do you have moments of doubt or regret? What are your moments of joy regarding this decision? 

A: Not really. To be honest you could give me the best “job” in the world and within a month I’d rather be anywhere else than at work. Playing music for a living is a choice and I’m extremely lucky to have a regular gig. It’s still a struggle but the fact I can do whatever I want and go wherever I want or play whenever I want is great. I love it. I love performing and meeting new people. I like drinking on the job. I like talking about music incessantly.

Q. What’s the strangest thing you experienced/noticed during the past few years that impacted your music?

A: The pandemic made me realize that nothing really matters but how I feel about my music. You’ll get an engineer saying, “You need to record in a studio and spend x amount of money,” or somebody saying, “You gotta put out singles to stay hot with the algorithms.” Honestly, fuck that. Do what you wanna do; if you wanna play the game, play it. If you wanna make a record in a shoebox go right ahead.

Carter Felker brings his Even the Happy Ones are Sad Tour to the Ironwood on June 17. For more information, go to https://ironwoodstage.ca/

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