Photo: Remi Theriault
There is so much good music happening in Canada right now, and one person who is at the top of my list of Canadian artists is Jim Bryson. He has consistently put out albums that make me think and make me groove at the same time. He has collaborated with everyone from Kathleen Edwards, to the Weakerthans to the Tragically Hip.
His newest album, Somewhere We Will Find Our Place, contemplates the places we occupy as humans in a world we struggle to stop and breathe in; he discusses issues like depression, loneliness and doubt with openness and a realistic tone. He can state the complexity of a broken relationship in only one line with “It became you against me instead of you and me against the world as the world nears the end of another day”, and then sum up the way we all feel sometimes with “The truth lies in there in the middle/ aren’t we all just a little stuck in the middle”.
When he sings “I know, I know, I’ll be coming up roses/ my love, my love, they’re all I grow/ if it looks like I’ve seen a ghost, I just wanna go home”, it’s one of my favourite, and arguably the catchiest lines on the album from Cigarette Thin. It’s one where you can find the influence of the Weakerthans, who he collaborated with on his last album, The Falcon Lake Incident. However, this new album is truly a Jim Bryson solo album. It is clear he has found connection to his songs here, crafting what we will be calling the ‘Jim Bryson sound’ for years to come. It seems he has found his place – his ‘somewhere’ might just be his new home outside of Ottawa where he can write and produce music in his back shed under the name Fixed Hinge.
I got a chance to talk to Jim this past week and ask him about where feels at home and what the lyrics on the new album mean for a guy who, like me, might feel ‘stuck in the middle’ years of his life, but is feeling really good about it.
The following interview has been shortened from it’s original length.
(Me) I want to preface this by saying that I love the new album. I think it’s fantastic. You’ve said this new album is “an important and special album for me”. I would like to ask why that is. Why this particular album?
(Jim) I don’t remember. (laughs). Well I think definitely, as I made it, I felt really connected to the lyrics and the music. The more I write music, the more I get connected to what I’m saying as opposed to what I’m playing. It’s funny because by the time a record’s out from when you make it, there’s already distance because you’re in a different place but when I sing the songs I feel super connected to the words and that’s the thing that I would say makes it special.
(Me) I’ve listened to the lyrics a lot on this album, and a lot of them really resonate with me because, well for instance on Sweeping Pt 2 you say “I never used to worry about loneliness and doubt, but now it’s all I think about” and that line really stuck with me, it’s something I can relate to getting older. It’s seems like kind of a declaration of getting older and things changing. Do you think that writing, and performing and touring get a bit easier as you get older or more difficult?
(Jim) Well it changes. I don’t know if it’s easier or more difficult. I mean I guess I find when I travel it’s become more difficult as a side person. I think especially lately I’ve felt so much more connected with the music that I’m making that I’ve found it more difficult to go on tour and perform other people’s songs because… they’re not mine. I’m in a really good frame of mind and I’m playing and doing shows right now so it feels really good.
(Me) Ya, it feels like someone who is coming into the middle years of their life in this new album and looking at a lot of things that I find really relatable and that’s why I really enjoy this album. And not to say that I don’t enjoy the previous albums, notably The Falcon Lake Incident with the Weakerthans, but when you said that, to me it sounds like a very different album. Do you think you will focus on your solo career then going forward are you looking to collaborate on another album again. Is that something you’re interested in?
(Jim) Well it won’t be with them because they’re not a band anymore. (laughs). I’m working on another album right now that’s half done and it should be out next year.
(Me) Fantastic news.
(Jim) If it all rolls out, these are more songs that I feel super connected with the words and they’re representative of where I’m at even a year after that record was finished…the lyrics or the words aren’t exactly working for the weekend sometimes but you know I think if I was in a different discipline…..I was thinking about it the other day that when I read writers…short stories and poets, and I do a lot, nobody ever seems to critique the level of self reflection that occurs in that, but if you do it in music, some people are like ‘it’s so depressing’ these lyrics. It’s a strange medium because the medium in which this is created is that of a minstrel or someone singing to the courts you know? In the old days, it’s entertainment, so I realize I’m existing in a world where it’s entertainment but I’m also just reflecting on my being and my existence. It doesn’t become everyone’s cup of tea sometimes but there’s nothing I can do about that….I mean there is something I can do about that, but there’s nothing I’m going to do about that.
(Me) That’s fascinating. I think you’re right: in a lot of other mediums people are looking for something whether it be symbolism or imagery or archetypes where the form allows for a stepping outside of oneself a little more but with music people are always tying that closely to that reflective ability and assuming that that is necessarily how you’re feeling at that time when…you’re right there’s always a distance between albums so that may be something that was fleeting and not even relating to your life when you’re performing it now.
(Jim) Ya, like if you pick up a book or read somebody’s words that are written, you’re less likely to be checking in on them to see if they’re okay whereas if a songwriter writes something that’s dark or more self-reflective then it seems to be like immediately put them on suicide watch or something.
(Me) That’s very interesting because your opening song to the new album, the Depression Dance, you could read it as someone struggling with “carrying the weight of the world” but it’s wrapped up in a really fun, danceable song, so that must have been a conscious choice then.
(Jim) Ya, well it’s supposed to be a conversation and a celebration of the fact that that’s how millions of people think and feel and are frozen by it you know and frozen by over-thinking and all of that. So it’s supposed to be a celebration of something that can be talked about.
(Me) Ya, it doesn’t always have to be framed in such a somber way maybe; it’s a conversation we can have but also feel positive about it. And is part of that the fact that when we’re feeling like we’re carrying the weight, that there is some transcendence in music that we can look to? Is that part of it?
(Jim) You could hear it that way for sure. I mean there is transcendence in music. The music that I connect with and listen to and I want to hear and to carry me and move me. I like music with strong lyrics. I don’t even know if that’s an answer, but that’s my answer. (laughs)
(Me) I do want to talk about the lyrics a little more because I’m sensing this theme, throughout your whole catalogue but especially on this new one, a theme of retreating to nature but also the love of the city and the struggle that exists there. For example, you say “I went to the forest to live with the trees, but then I went back inside to a place that made more sense to me”. And I know you’ve been living out of the city and struggling with the balance between the city and “the place on the fringe”. Is that a constant struggle in your life: where you feel at home?
(Jim) Definitely, I do struggle with where my place is. That’s the whole name of the record, you know. I’m more into looking at nature through windows. I feel like my connection with nature…will be established when I’m older than now. I’m not a super outdoorsy person. I mean I like being outside but my kind of metaphor is that I look at nature through windows at this point.
(Me) That idea is a very central theme to a book I’m writing actually – constantly looking through windows and the ability of glass to be both reflective and also offer a view to the other side. I think it’s a really fascinating concept because the outside is there, you can see it, but to not necessarily be of it or in it. It’s kind of a comforting thing.
(Jim) Ya, I think that as people we’re trying to figure out what our role is and what our connection is, where we belong with nature. We’re sort of the visitors right? We’re the visitors but we’re destroying everything.
(Me) Exactly. It kind of reminds me of one of my favourite Rilke lines: he says something to effect of ‘We’re not really at home in our interpreted world” It’s kind of a funny thing that we can interpret everything but we’re never really at home in it. We don’t seem to know our place in it.
(Jim) I visited the tallest tree in Canada this summer and I was just looking up at it, standing in front of it and my thought was just that it’s seen a lot more than I have. I went there with my friend and he’s an artist and we were both looking at it thinking about how much more it’s seen than we have.
(Me) And how much respect it deserves. And this kind of thing seems to be central in your songwriting.
(Jim) I think I’m a searcher you know.
(Me) Kind of like you’re asking questions instead of giving answers, I guess.
(Jim) Sometimes just listening. That’s what I’m learning to do more of, instead of having an opinion, just listening to somebody that already does.
(Me) And it’s so hard to do sometimes, we almost have to fight our instinct to talk and offer our opinion, but it’s powerful when we can [just listen].
(Jim) Especially with the world we live in now where everyone has a platform.
(Me) Exactly. Now are you going to be performing some of these new songs as you tour. Are these already out in rotation?
(Jim) No, I kind of purposely haven’t played any of them even though I have like a dozen. And I think the reason is that I wanna have ‘em sort of rehearsed and I want them to be there own thing. I think that when I start to play new songs, I sometimes lose the connection with those songs before they come out.
(Me) And you’re writing and producing this new album in the Fixed Hinge shed?
(Jim) Well I did the first half in the shed. We’ll see whether I do the second half in there or not. Definitely some of it will happen in there. But it’s obviously not a very far walk to work. So I can’t really complain about it, about my transit. (laughs)
(Me) Ya, a lot of people have a longer commute than a walk to their shed (laughs). Now, I know that you’ve toured with Tragically Hip, and I don’t want to ask you about your relationship with Gord because that’s personal, but I would like to ask you if there is one Hip song you wish you could have written?
(Jim) Hmmm. (pauses) Good question. Boy, I like that song Flamenco. And I like that new song Tired As Fuck.
(Me) That is actually becoming one of my favourite Hip songs. I love his line “my greedy palace has been keeping me up”.
(Jim) I love the line “I wanna stop so much I almost don’t wanna stop”. There are a lot of good songs on that new record. I really enjoy it. And then there’s a lot of Gord Downie solo stuff that’s so good – I love that song Chancellor from Coke Machine Glow.
(Me) I remember buying that book when I was in school and being blown away by his poetry.
(Jim) I hope you still have it.
(Me) I do. It’s tucked away in a box somewhere, but you can’t miss it. It’s a bright orange cover. He’s a fantastic poet.
(Jim) You know what a great record I could suggest for someone who is obviously into lyrics is the guy who goes by Car Seat Headrest. He’s like 24 and he put out a dozen records before this one called Teens of Denial, all on Bandcamp.
(Me, in an excited twelve year old girl’s voice) Oh, I love Car Seat Headrest! I’ve been listening to that a lot lately. Rrampt’s music guy, Pete Clark, did a review of that album, which got me into him. I love his line “I know I’ll be ripped in heaven” he’s not worried about his physique in this world because he’ll be muscular in heaven.
(Jim) That’s great. (laughs)
(Me) So, just one last question. There’s something on the new album that peaked my interest having traveled the world a little and been out west: what kinds of terrible of things are people saying about Ontario?
(Jim) Oh, they say terrible things. Don’t they? Everywhere you go. Especially when you’re from Ottawa. People call it Onterrible. I didn’t hear that until this summer.
(Me) Ya, I’d heard that out west when I was there a few years ago.
(Jim) I think that places are people and places are community and I do think that everywhere needs people to stay. My friends in Newfoundland say the greatest export is people and that’s what they’re trying to stop. They need people to stay. Ottawa’s a place that people leave too. Somebody has to be the one who doesn’t leave. Especially now I think that where you are isn’t as relative as what you’re doing.
(Me) I agree. It’s tough sometimes to keep good people in the places they need to be.
(Me) Well, I’m really looking forward to the show on Sept 24 at The Heartwood Hall. I can’t wait to hear these new songs performed live. Thanks for giving me your time.
(Jim) Well thanks very much. My pleasure.
Jim Bryson is currently on tour and will be performing in London on Sept 23 and Owen Sound on Sept 24 at the Heartwood Hall. For all tour dates, view the his link: Jim Bryson tour dates
Interview by Jesse Wilkinson
Editor/contributor for Rrampt