On the heels of his latest disc Acres of Elbow Room, singer/songwriter John Wort Hannam heads to the Elks Lodge April 12th in a show presented by the Central Music Festival Society.
Acres marks Wort Hannam’s seventh disc, and from the compelling title track to the heartfelt tones of Key of D Minor to the reflective yet upbeat That’s Life, the project is a testament to Wort Hannam’s striking versatility as a songwriter and a singer, too.
“On a musical level, I knew that I wanted a real sort of singer/songwriter record. My songs are, I would say, for the most part lyrically-driven,” he explained during a recent chat from Banff, where he’s currently writing and performing in a residency program at the Banff Centre.
“But I’ve also been playing with this new band that is upright bass, drums and keys and I really wanted to try and find a middle ground between having a big, full sound with the sound of still being sparse.
“(I wanted) the low end of the bass and the percussiveness of the drum kit and the keys, but also to have no one being overly busy in their playing,” he said. “It still needed to be a singer/songwriter sort of record.”
Wort Hannam also noted that there was no producer this time around.
“I’d like to say that it’s because I felt so confident doing it myself, but that is actually false,” he added with a laugh.
“I’ve been playing with these guys for a long time and I really felt like we could figure it out. I have the utmost respect for each of them as individuals and I just thought, we can work this out. We have the relationship where if one of us doesn’t like what the other one is doing, we could say, ‘Hey, could you do something different’?
“It worked really well.”
Wort Hannam said the record also shows a trend towards a more personal tone in his songwriting as well.
“There are definitely what I would call ‘me songs’ on there,” he said, adding that in earlier years, he largely stayed away from getting overly personal.
“I think in some ways it was a bit of a guard because I didn’t think anything that happened to me was exciting enough to be turned into a song.
“Also, I didn’t know how to sing or talk about myself without it sounding ‘me, me, me’. But I feel like as I’ve gone further down the path in songwriting, I’ve been able to find the things I could sing about that would be universal with other people,” he said, referring to Song for a Young Son for example. “I realize I’m not the only one in the world that has a kid. But as I sang it, more people would say, ‘You’ve kind of nailed what I’ve never been able to say’.
“So I feel like I also have a couple songs on there that show some vulnerability that I haven’t really shown before.”
Meanwhile, Key of D Minor speaks to a period of intense depression Wort Hannam experienced several years ago. “That’s me being about as vulnerable as I’m ready to be,” he explained. “I went through a period about four or five years ago when I went through a real slump. I kept thinking this is just a slump, or I’m just tired. But it took awhile to realize that my mental health wasn’t where it should be.
“That’s what that song is about.”
Born in Jersey, Channel Islands and raised in southern Alberta, Wort Hannam earned degrees in Native American Studies and Native Education and taught Grade 9 on reserves for five years.
But a passion for making music proved irrepressible. In 2001, he quit his teaching job and spent 10 months depleting his savings while he sat at his kitchen table, wearing a lucky hat, writing his first 10 songs.
Those songs would become his first recording Pocket Full Of Holes, released in 2003.
Over the years, the accolades have been plentiful – a Juno nomination, a Canadian Folk Music Award for Best Album of the Year, a CBC Galaxie Rising Star Award, a Kerrville Texas New Folk win and numerous Western Canadian Music Awards and Canadian Folk Music Award nominations.
These days, he’s relishing the experience of being surrounded by other musicians in the beauty of Banff, although to be honest, some of his finest work is done during long, lonesome drives. That’s where his creativity often kicks into high gear.
“I feel like I’ve gotten about eight songs over the past three weeks – I don’t know if they are all ‘keepers’ or will all make it onto a record someday,” he said with a laugh. “But it’s good to turn on the tap once in while when it’s been off for a long time!”
For tickets or more information, check out www.centralmusicfest.com.