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Kathleen Edwards’ star trek 

Voyageur was a stand out hit of the year, exposing emotion, self-definition and autobiography in an expansive, melodic album.

click to enlarge Kathleen Edwards
  • Kathleen Edwards

“Writing songs that are personal is like stepping in dog shit and having to smell it everywhere you go,” tweeted Kathleen Edwards (@kittythefool) earlier this month.

It's a fitting footnote to our chat about how the touchy fusion of music and autobiography informs much of the discussion around Voyageur.

One of the year's best albums, Voyageur's reception has been largely defined by two major life events made public knowledge through the publicity process: Edwards' divorce, and her subsequent romance with the record's co-producer, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon.

"A lot of people get to experience big changes and crisis and heartbreak privately, in the safety of their friends and family, and I feel like I've done it outwardly," she explains, speaking on the phone from her parents' house in Ottawa the morning after playing the Ottawa Folk Festival.

"This past year has been really hard. I realize now that I don't think I was prepared for putting myself out there as much as I did. But having said that: I wrote these songs. I take responsibility for the fact that I am the creator of my own work and my own story.

"But it's a hard juggling act. I haven't really figured it out," she says.

In one sense, the focus on Edwards' relationships adds an emotional heft to Voyageur, matching the candidly detailed songwriting that has made her one of Canada's national treasures. But it misses that Voyageur isn't really about other people at all: it's a powerful statement of self-definition, and the emotions that come with it.

"That's more the spirit of this record," she says, mentioning buoyant opener "Empty Threat" in particular. "When [the discussion] became really focused on relationships and divorce, for me it wasn't just about closing one door and walking away from it. It's about 'There are a lot of things I really want to do, and I'm going to try and do them all right now.' There's this amazing feeling when you finally feel empowered to take that on."

The other story that plays out on Voyageur is that of a singer-songwriter shaking some of the stigma that comes with being a roots or folk artist. While it's not a radical shift from Edwards' previous records, the expansive production and unexpected melodic turns demonstrate, as she puts it, "I've got a lot more tricks up my sleeve."

After playing in Halifax on Friday, Edwards continues her tour with Jenn Grant in tow for several dates--- Grant's husband, In-Flight Safety's Daniel Ledwell, spent much of 2012 in Edwards' band---but first, she makes a pit stop in Toronto for the Polaris Music Prize ceremony, where Voyageur is shortlisted (and, were I to handicap, has to be considered a frontrunner).

While we talk briefly about the future beyond this fall, it's only in generalities. Mostly, Edwards is looking forward to embracing the open-ended creative possibility that Voyageur suggests.

"It comes with a cost, it always does," she says, of making a full-time career in music. "I feel good being able to actually have experienced and lived and suffered what those costs are, and have found a way to live in this happy centre place where I can feel free to make my art and make music and be as expressive and experimental as I want."

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Vol 24, No 34
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