"When I think of folk music, I think of a person with a guitar singing about rivers and streams and trees and the wind," says songwriter Rebecca Zolkower, laughing. "It must be those natural elements because folk music is always simple and stripped-down, talking about real experiences and real things."
But folk is both a genre and a feeling. With sidekicks Jess Lewis (Cactus Flower) and Melanie Stone (The Prospectors' Union), Zolkower releases Dark for Dark's debut album Warboats on Friday.
A familiar face in Halifax music, Dark for Dark is Zolkower's first venture front and centre. For the past few years, her vocals and sweet violin licks have joined Jon McKiel, PANOS, Klarka Weinwurm and Amelia Curran. But the transition to leading lady has been a challenge for her, though full of rewards.
"I'm just so grateful, I never would have made this album if it wasn't for Halifax," she says. "I felt more confident because I was being pushed by this awesome community of people who love music."
Creating Warboats with the help of pals, however, came from a season of intense isolation.
"I was coming out of the darkness of winter last year and I thought it would be therapeutic to go spend time in the woods in a cabin by myself and write," she says of her stay on the south shore, where she now lives. "And right away I heard three-part female harmonies for the songs I was writing."
Back in the city, Zolkower recruited Lewis and Stone for the band, whose voices complemented her own. After a few shows, Zolkower started planning Warboats by approaching good friend and former Prospectors' Union bandmate Matt Charlton to produce the album at Echo Chamber in Halifax.
"When we started brainstorming, Matt made a really good point that the album doesn't have to be representative of our live performance, which is just three ladies singing, so we took that advice." The 10-track LP features John Mullane, Liam Finney, Corey Isenor, Jason MacIsaac and international French horns from a friend in Australia. Over multiple sessions, Warboats became Zolkower's natural art.
"Our plan was not to be perfect, we wanted to make a folk record that has flaws and an organic feeling," she says. "It's very much a snapshot of a time in my life and those dark winter memories."
As a classically trained violinist, the choral harmonies on the album reflect who she is. "My whole upbringing was lots of singing," Zolkower says. "In Judaism, it's all singing all the time, harmonies in Hebrew at synagogue. It's always been something I've loved to do. To kind of quote the movie Amadeus, harmony is like absolute unity and perfection. Jess and Melanie are just amazing."
Zolkower has also created an art book for the CD release. With "woods" as the theme, the book comes with a download code and features 12 pieces by local artists. It also highlights the album art by Sarah Burwash, which Zolkower felt was the perfect representation of Warboats' sound and aesthetic. "It spoke to me right away. It's outdoorsy. It's tough but feminine, and that's my life right now."
Dark For Dark
w/Klarka Weinwurm, Bend the River
The Company House, 2202 Gottingen Street
Friday, May 24 at 8pm, $10
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