Taking five with Braden Lam

The folky star-on-the-rise answers our most burning questions as he celebrates a new EP.

click to enlarge Taking five with Braden Lam
Paul Atwood

Evergreen Screen presents Braden Lam

Sun Nov 29, 4pm
Facebook livestream; Youtube livestream, free

The first time Braden Lam played at The Carleton, it was to a sold-out throng of college kids, screaming their heads off. It was 2018, and Lam seemed as amazed by the energy in the room as anyone. When was the last time a band formed in university had broken the campus bubble like this? And who was this kid that looked like a lost member of One Direction—but carried a serious folky punch? 

Since then, his band shed some members, going from the four-piece Driftwood People to a leaner duo—all the while doubling down on Lam’s folk ambitions with the help of guitarist Katelyn Bonomo’s spangling stylings. He collected accolades, ranging from the Best of Halifax Readers' Choice Award for Best New Band to the SOCAN Award For Young Canadian Songwriters. 

Then, in a moment that felt auspiciously full circle, Lam once again sold out The Carleton this October, with a show celebrating his new EP Inside Four Walls.  (This time, of course, the college kids were seated and socially distant—the screaming, though, was the same.) 

“This is kind of like a maturing, a coming-of-age story of myself in Halifax and also as a person,” says the singer-songwriter of the album. “Each song tries to touch on some sort of personal growth that’s happened in my life in the last couple years.”

In advance of Lam’s latest gig—this time, happening through your phone screen and not at the downtown music institution, as part of Evergreen Festival's'Evergreen Screen'—we caught up with Lam to chat about the record, why Halifax serves as his endless inspiration and more.

The Coast: You’ve been through a lot of changes since your last album: Shaving your band down from four to two and swapping in the guitarist Katelyn Bonomo, who added an absolutely electric energy to your live shows. How has all this affected your process, your sound?

Braden Lam: “My last project was really about feeling really disconnected and being on the road so much: I was going back and forth between summer jobs and school and I had just moved to Halifax a couple years ago when I made that album. And now, this album is kind of like OK, I’ve settled in, I’ve been here four or five years, this is home for me now

And then, this whole theme of change across the whole album really came into its full form when this pandemic hit. It was in February when we started recording the album and then March hit and the name of the album wasn’t fully decided: I’d been throwing different ideas around; Inside Four Walls was on the list. But then when the pandemic hit, it was so much easier to choose the name because all the change that was happening—the social change, the revolutions that were happening in our world—I think everybody was forced to live outside of their comfort zone and I kind of applied that to my songs about personal growth and how I was trying to see beyond the walls that confined my own perspective in my past couple years of life.”

click to enlarge Taking five with Braden Lam
Paul Atwood

Let’s talk about the track “Forest Fires”, a standout from your new EP. It’s palpably tinged with climate anxiety, with lyrics like
“We’re the generation Y/Why Are we left with this mess?/They watch our cities burn until there’s nothing to do/Oh until there’s nothing to do with the rest.”

When you played recently at The Carleton, your intro into the song was talking about imagining what K’jipuktuk looked like before settlers came, imagining what that part of Argyle street would look like if there had never been settler contact. Why was it important for you to tackle this topic? How do settler land acknowledgements tie into our understanding of the environment?

“I think it comes down to that it’s a huge passion of mine: My love for the outdoors and the environment. You can see it across many of my songs that are about mountains, trees, the outdoors. 

To me, when I’m playing a song like “Forest Fires”, it’s super important to acknowledge our connection to the land we’re on. I think land acknowledgements are a very personal thing and that’s what I was trying to get across in the show: Taking those moments to really think about what land you’re on and where it started and in whose hands it started and really having respect for that.”

Between songs like “Coffee Breath” and “Habit of My Heart”, it’s clear you’ve got a real penchant for creating anthemic, poppy love songs. Why is this such a key part of your repertoire? It seems the fans at your shows get especially excited for these numbers, singing along word for word.

“I’ve always had a funny relationship with love songs. I like to have a song that’s about love but it’s focused on some other point—so like, “Coffee Breath” is about missing someone when you’re in a longterm relationship but this idea of missing the annoying things about them because you haven’t seen them in so long. Part of it for me is connection: I love being honest and vulnerable and my goal of a show is that someone sees me onstage for who I am.”

What’s your favourite song on the new EP and why?

“‘Forest Fires’—A: Because it just hits home with such a big passion of mine. And B: because it’s the biggest experience I fully lived. I was actually in the Yukon last summer and there was forest fires happening a couple kilometres down the road from us and like, we couldn’t see the mountains and we were breathing in all the forest fire smoke and screaming our lungs off at these rallies. That song really brings me back to those moments I was so inspired by.”

 It’s clear that Halifax is a constant source of inspiration for you—it’s where you got into music professionally, it informs the lyrics of many of your songs (including, yes, “Halifax Girl”). What do you love about this city? What does it give you that living somewhere else wouldn’t?

“I think for me, Halifax is just slow and I love that. I love the pace and that the people are so nice and welcoming and it offers me connection to the rest of the world through the ocean which is just something so other-level to describe, especially growing up fully enclosed by farm fields in Ontario.”

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity, and is part of The Coast's Take Five series, in which we sit down with some of the city's most interesting people to have them answer five questions, rapid-style.

About The Author

Morgan Mullin

Morgan is the Arts & Entertainment Editor at The Coast, where she writes about everything from what to see and do around Halifax to profiles of the city’s creative class to larger cultural pieces. She’s been with The Coast since 2016.

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