Flint & Feather: Canadian Folk Band Profile
I recently talked on the phone with band members Joal and Lauren Kamps about their new folk/roots duo Flint & Feather, and what it’s like to perform together as husband and wife.
Before Joal met Lauren, he was a successful musician in his own right. He was independently touring and releasing folk/roots songs under his own name. His debut album was nominated for a Western Canadian Music Award (WCMA) and upon winning that award, Joal decided that it might be time to fully commit to making a career in music.
It was during this time that Lauren became part of his life. He says, “We got married and hit the road together touring as a family. I was still a solo act at that time but having Lauren’s support on the road was fabulous.” Then last year, Joal and Lauren were invited to participate in the Artist Entrepreneur Program put on by Canada’s Music Incubator*. While in that program the Kamps’ were awarded a Bell Media Prize which graciously covered their program expenses, flights, and more.
Joal continues, “While we were there, the program staff really encouraged Lauren and I to explore performing together. It was an unbelievable experience for both of us, but I think it was especially good for Lauren to be encouraged in her giftings by respected music industry members. She’s a great singer, a talented musician and an incredible person, so it was really awesome for her to be affirmed by someone else.”
Lauren adds, “Yeah, the program really encouraged me and I think I came out of my shell through the process. I really learned a lot from all the musicians and leaders there.”
Their final metamorphosis came after touring Europe for three months earlier this year. The tour went so well that they decided to officially relaunch their duo project as Flint & Feather.
Music has always been a part of Joal’s life. He recalls many drives with his parents listening to the sounds of Simon & Garfunkel and Canadian singer-songwriter Steve Bell. He continues, “In high school, I started a hardcore punk band with some friends. I’m talking really heavy music. Eventually those guys bought me a classical guitar and I switched to writing folk music soon after that.” Joal remembered seeing Steve Bell as a young teenager and felt inspired by the confidence Steve had as a singer with a high voice. “I’ve always been a little self conscious about my own vocal range and seeing Steve belt out those higher notes just gave me courage.”
Another experience that really shaped his journey was opening for critically acclaimed American singer-songwriter Ellis Paul. Joal says, “I’d never really heard his music before, but I could totally understand every single lyric that he either spoke or sang! There was a deep sense of connection to his music and I was so impressed by his enunciation. I really started digging down into songwriting and performance after that.”
One inspiration shared by both Joal and Lauren was their experience with the Artist Entrepreneur Program because it afforded them the opportunity to explore co-writing with many other artists and to further hone their songwriting craft.
Song ideas come from a variety of different places for Joal. He explains, “Sometimes I start with a lyrical idea, sometimes I’ll start with a little riff on a guitar or a little melody. There has been very rare occasions where an entire song will come together in a 15 or 20 minute window of time, though those are very special experiences where I can’t really take credit. I believe those are just gifts from somewhere that are meant to be shared."
He continues, “More recently I’ve been treating songwriting as more than just a purely artistic craft. I can be a little bit overly romantic about songs just coming together so I have begun to set aside specific time where I’m by myself and almost a little lonely. The feelings of being disconnected or isolated really stir something up in me creatively. To spur that on, Lauren and I have been working on building a dedicated songwriting space where we live.”
There are many challenges that stem from making a living as touring musicians in Canada. Lauren says, “One of the biggest challenges we face in Canada is making a living from touring because there’s such large distances required to travel in order to reach new audiences. We’ve found Europe has been a fabulous place for us because if you drive for 10 or 20 minutes, you’re in a whole new different demographic. As a musician, it’s where you want to be because you’re always able to get your songs in front of new audiences.”
Joal adds, “It’s not all that bad though. Canada is an amazing place to be a performing artist. There’s all kinds of grants and programs out there that help offset those challenges and assist in subsidizing the creation of new works of art.”
Another challenge that Lauren identifies is the cost of living balanced against the costs of touring. She points out, “We do love living in Calgary, it’s a great place to be and raise a family, but as touring musicians and songwriters there’s probably other creative ways to think about where and how to live if you’re on the road for half of the year.”
One positive, yet challenging development for the couple has been the birth of their first child, a daughter named Luna. Joal says, “It’s been an absolute joy to have Luna in our lives. It’s also been an exciting new challenge to figure out what life on the road looks like as touring musicians with a little child to be responsible for. Luckily we’ve been blessed with very supportive fans and friends.”
Joal and Lauren have focused on touring in Europe, but have started to reconnect with the Canadian folk/roots music scene. He elaborates, “The Canadian folk/roots scene has been a very welcoming community and that’s really encouraged us to reconnect with it. There’s a lot of benefit from getting together with other songwriters, musicians and performers. It’s an exciting genre to be a part of because folk music is so all-encompassing. There are so many different influences that come into songwriting and even just the lyrical content alone. Whether you’re into storytelling, spiritual concepts, political songs or even just a good old fashioned pop tune. It’s such a free genre to explore different ideas and sounds.”
The pair have a number of initiatives on the go. Joal says, “At the moment, we’re recording some new material out at OCL Studios with Russell Broom. We’re going to be co-producing our debut release with him. We hope to release some of the initial tracks we’re working on in the new year.”
“We’ll be doing a release tour of western Canada in the spring” says Lauren “followed by various festival performances throughout the remainder of the year. We’re currently looking at Europe again for early 2019.”
Joal adds, “We’re also about to kick off a song writing initiative related to the creative space we’ve been building at home. We’re going to be launching that this fall and are curious to see how that goes. We have a lot of different fans and friends who have expressed interest in helping us set aside more time for songwriting so we can do this full-time and not have to worry about other side avenues to pay the bills.”
There are a number of ways in which Joal recharges his creative wellspring. He explains, “I find getting out into nature by myself and spending time alone and reflecting, bringing a little notebook with me and jotting down ideas is my number one preference. If I don’t get the chance to go out to the mountains, I like to go for a nice long drive. I also love researching western Canadian history. A lot of the stories from the past bring up very vivid imagery in my mind and I find it an inspiring way to reconnect with songwriting and my own Canadian heritage.”
*Taken from the CMI website: Canada’s Music Incubator (CMI) is a not-for-profit incubator based in Toronto with a mandate to help artists and artist managers evolve from starter companies into sustainable businesses through hands-on networking, mentoring and collaboration.
Originally founded by Coalition Music in 2012, CMI established itself in November 2014. CMI programs (Artist Entrepreneur and Artist Management) reside at Coalition Music, which allows direct access to an active music business environment, a community of like-minded artists across all genres of music, touring professionals, artist managers, industry experts and decades of experience and expertise.