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Walking Many a Mile with Stephen Fearing
By Matthew S. Robinson
(more articles from this author)
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A literate and emotional acoustic performer ("folk" artist doesn't quite fit), Stephen Fearing has been quietly setting Canada (and Ireland) aflame with his stirring words and music. A winner of Canada's Grammy - the JUNO - Fearing has made a name for himself both as a solo performer and also as a member of the popular Canadian trio Blackie & the Rodeo Kings.

With his latest (and first live) album, So Many Miles, Fearing is hoping to bring his magic south.

I recently had a moment to talk to him during another one of his titular-inspiring road tours.

[Matthew Robinson] What are you hoping to say or express with your new live album?

Stephen Fearing The last couple of records have been studio records and people seemed interested in wanting to hear a live record. I also felt that it was a good way to introduce myself in the U.S.

[Robinson] How do you perceive the arc of your career? Has it been different in Canada than in the US?

Fearing After the Blackie record, I felt it was a good time to go back to my roots (pardon the cliche). It felt like going from one extreme to another, but in a good way. This is the record that sounds like me live because it is, and people seemed to want that. So I said 'Okay!'

[Robinson] How important is it to break in the American market?

Fearing There's a hell of a lot of people down there, you know. There are so many people that, no matter what you do, you can find an audience. The sheer size of the-place is hard to ignore. And so much of the history of music comes from south of the border, so it's pretty important. Especially after I moved from Vancouver to Ontario, there are so many more links, especially with the Boston scene, which is so important. So it's been a great way to help me build an audience. Canada is beautiful, but America is really where it's at. Canadians are obsessed with America (laughs). We want to go down and see what it's all about.

[Robinson] Do you feel that Canadian singers are stigmatized in any way?

Fearing No. Actually, I'm amazed at how well Canadian songwriters are received down there. It's great for me because the American dollar is strong too, so that's nice to pick up.

[Robinson] What parts of you are Canadian and what parts Irish?

Fearing I was in Ireland for 11 years and I still have family there, so it's obviously a big part of my background, but it's hard to peg it down in a strict musical sense. When I was starting in Vancouver, the Celtic thing was strong and many people wanted to peg me that way, but I don't think it's all that pervasive. When I lived in Ireland, it amazed me how many people are artists and how much that is supported there. Moving back to North America, business is the culture. But that's hitting Ireland too now.

[Robinson] How do you decide when to sing solo and when to bring others in, as you did with Blackie & The Rodeo Kings?

Fearing With Blackie, it's always a three-way decision. Somebody brings a song and if it works we do it. But a lot of the material works both ways, so it just evolves. There is a sound to Blackie, but it's hard to define. The nice thing about playing solo is that you can go every way you want. But wearing the different hats is fun.

[Robinson] How has it been working with Red House? Do you like the idea of a smaller label?

Fearing They've been great. It was one of those things where, if you are lucky to work with a recognized label, it can help you because even if people don't know you, they respect the label and know what they're in for.

[Robinson] What is your writing process like? Has it changed in any way?

Fearing I'm a take-it-when-it-comes to you writer. And sometimes it takes a looong time. But I still think I'm learning about writing, so it varies.

[Robinson] What do your new songs say that has not been said before?

Fearing I'm not sure if I'm the person to ask. I'm trying to write simpler songs. I am in awe of persons who write simple things, especially if they can cover a lot of ground with few words. That's definitely something to strive for. So that's what I've been working on a lot.

[Robinson] What's next?

Fearing Doing what I like to do and paying more bills (laughs).

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