What’s in a name?
Roses, posies and stuff aside, it really is, for the most part, meaningless.
Unless it actually means something. To you.
In the case of acclaimed artist Cold Specks, it really, really does.
Recording and performing under that moniker as well as Al Spx over the course of her decade-plus career, the Somali-Canadian singer-songwriter born Ladan Hussein is about to make that statement, with the fall release of her new album Light for the Midnight That Is Mine — her first
since 2017’s enduring doom-folk classic Fool’s Paradise and the first that will be released under her given name.
After stepping away from the music industry for five years at, what some might say, was the height of a quickly elevating career, she wanted to return in a way that was true to herself and her current journey as a human being and a songwriter.
Which is why her appearance this month as part of the Calgary Folk Music Festival’s Block Heater event will be the final one performed under the Cold Specks name.
“Yes, I’m changing my name to Ladan, which is my name,” she says from Toronto. “It’s the last Cold Specks show.”
Q: And the reason for the change?
A: The album is very personal. I struggled with bipolar disorder over the last couple of years, and the album chronicles my journey through that. I just decided to stop hiding behind a band name and just own it with my real name.
Q: Was that tough for you to do? To own it and be so open about it.
A: No, I’m very open about my mental health. It’s very easy for me to be open about it. It affected me tremendously and I just want to talk about it, so I’m very open and honest about it.
Q: Musically, is it a different direction? Are we going to hear a different person?
A: It has a lot of guitar, piano — it almost sounds in the same vein as my first album, sonically.
Q: Do you want to give anything else away about it? Who produced it or is it self-produced?
A: I produced five songs and then Adrian Utley from Portishead and Ali Chant produced five songs.
Q: How did those relationships come about?
A: Through my label, Mute Records — they set it up and organized it. With Ali and Adrian, it was too soon for me to travel to the UK, so we recorded it remotely, they produced it remotely. I recorded my parts in Toronto and they recorded their parts with a band in the UK.
Q: Was that difficult for you? Having it done remotely, having less immediate control?
A: No, it was very easy. I was very happy to sleep in my own bed at night. (Laughs)
Q: When you got the songs back was it a pretty shared direction, was it where you wanted to take the music?
A: Yeah, it sounds great. I’m really pleased with the results. I let them take the reins with the production and they did a great job. It sounds great to me.
Q: You worked with Chantal Kreviazuk as well on the new album, didn’t you?
A: Yes, I did. We cowrote some songs together. It was great. She booked a studio in Toronto and we went in every day for a week, and just wrote a bunch of songs together, and three of them ended up on the record.
Q: What was it about working with her that made sense?
A: She’s a great songwriter. She pushed me to be my best. And she’s just very talented, and we created some real magic together.
Q: I’m guessing we won’t get a preview of the new record when you’re here?
A: No, I’ll be playing some new songs during the set.
Q: How are they sounding live?
A: I’ve only played two shows with the new songs, and they sound great live. But I’ll be playing a lot of old songs during the set as well because I don’t want to be playing songs that people haven’t heard yet. So I’m going to be focussed on my (Cold Specks) songs during the Calgary set.
Q: How are your live shows going? I know it’s been a long way back for you, what’s it like getting back on stage?
A: I feel great on stage. I feel very comfortable and happy on stage. I played two comeback shows at the Dakota Tavern in Toronto, I did a little residency there and it was really fun. I had a great time. I played (another) show in the summer in Toronto and that went really well, as well. And I’m excited to come to Calgary to play some songs.
Q: What is it about playing live that was easy for you to get back into?
A: It’s just where I feel at home — I feel at home on stage. I feel super comfortable, it’s great to transcend and connect with an audience.
Q: How is your mental health these days? Is it still a struggle, is it still something you’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis?
A: It’s going well. I’m on medication that works really well. I do get anxiety some times, but I’m getting that under control. With the bipolar, that’s completely under control with the medication … I was originally diagnosed as schizophrenic in 2018, and during the improper treatment plan, I suffered another episode. So I got the correct diagnosis in 2021 and now I know I need to be on meds the rest of my life, and I’m happy to do so.
Q: You had a great deal of momentum going for you, were you aware of that and worried of stepping away, knowing how easily people forget?
A: I didn’t care, I just had to take a break for myself. I needed the time off to focus on my mental health, and so I just didn’t care what people thought or if they forgot about me. I know that the music I’m creating now is quite powerful and will have an impact, and I’m confident that it will do well. So I don’t care what people think about me taking a long break. It’s been six years since I’ve had an album out but I needed the time to focus on my mental health. My body told me stop.
Cold Specks plays her final show Feb. 10 at Central United Church as part of Block Heater. For tickets, please go to calgaryfolkfest.com.