Interview With Canadian Roots Musician, Kevin Roy
Kevin Roy is a Winnipeg singer-songwriter who combines good old-fashioned twang with stories that explore the lives of ordinary people. His latest album Heartworn Highways continues in that vein and brings in a talented cast of Winnipeg musicians to add more depth to the music. I talked to Kevin about how he first fell in love with music, his creative process and how he recharges his batteries to keep on creating new music.
Interview With Kevin Roy
Karl Magi: How did you first start out making music?
Kevin Roy: I’ve always been making music. I was influenced by my grandfathers. I played a lot of guitar and harmonica with them because that’s what they played. I think that music skips a generation in my family. My mother says that she doesn’t have a musical bone in her body. I started writing music when I was around high school age and I started performing through university with various bands. I went through the education program and became a teacher, but I always wanted to take the next step with music. I decided to take a leave of absence from teaching and give being a musician a try. I wanted to see what it was all about for a couple of years and I’ve never looked back.
KM: Talk about your approach to music and the themes or ideas that you like to explore in your songs.
KR: The tunes that I did for the first record were about my past, my roots and the experiences I’ve had in my life. After the first batch of tunes, I went out on the road and the songs after that were born out of the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met and the stories I’ve heard. It’s very social music. I’m really into story telling so I love hearing what people have to say, I love meeting new people and learning about where they all come from and the struggles that they all have.
KM: What route do you take from the initial idea for a song through to a full-fledged piece of music?
KR: There’s not necessarily one way that I always do it. A lot of times, I write everything all at once, so the words and the melody come out at the same time. I might write a hook or a chorus and then sit down and riff off of that. More recently I’ve been doing a lot more thematic writing and planning it all out. Once I left my teaching career and started doing the music thing full time, I realized that I should start setting aside song writing time during the day. I used to only write when I was inspired, but now I set aside time to work on music.
KM: Tell me about the birth and development of your latest album Heartworn Highways?
KR: Heartworn Highways was originally going to be a follow-up EP to my first six song EP Taller Than The Trees, but after looking at the album there were a few more songs I wanted to add to it that fit in really well with the themes I was writing about. I went back to the studio a few months later and put the rest of them down. We’re blessed with a lot of really talented musicians in Winnipeg, so when I made the album I tried to include some of my talented musician friends who are in town. A lot of Heartworn Highways was done live off the floor, so everyone was playing together in one room. We tried to harness that live feeling and get the kind of energy you have in a live show.
KM: What’s the significance for you of the track entitled Mighty River on Heartworn Highways?
KR: The song is about the hardships of growing up in flood prone regions. Ironically, it was inspired by seeing the devastation of areas off of the eastern slope in Alberta (Calgary, High River etc;) I released the music video last spring using home videos from the 1950 Manitoba flood that were provided by the Manitoba Archives. In Winnipeg, it is not a question of are we going to flood, but how bad will it be?
Since I am on the road for most of the spring, I am unable to help out in tossing sandbags. Since last spring, I have been using this song as a fundraiser. I now donate 100% of the song proceeds (or two dollars from every Heartworn Highways album) to the Canadian Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund to support those affected by rising waters. The response across the country has been amazing and I am continuing to raise funds through this spring’s touring.
KM: Talk about the challenges that you face as an independent musician in today’s music industry.
KR: It’s a challenge because there’s not a lot of money out there. You’ve really got to work hard to make it in the industry. What it comes down is that you have to essentially grind it out. You have to tour, you have to play shows, you have to get out here and be entrepreneurial as well. The romanticized image of being talented, getting scooped up, and getting that record deal represents .001 percent of people these days. So much of it is DIY now. You’ve got to get out there, you’ve got to be hard-working and you have to have a good head on your shoulders. Of course, you have to have good songs too.
KM: How do the other activities about which you’re passionate tie into your music making?
KR: I’m an avid fisherman and I’m big into photography, but it’s only in the last year or so that I’ve been thinking about re-branding and marketing this whole thing and including those things as part of what I do. Music is the vehicle that gets me around to really beautiful places and I take photos to share those places with friends, family and people all over.
You drive eight hours a day to get to shows, you play a show, go to bed and get up to do it all over again. If I can take a day to do some fishing, it’s a therapeutic way for me to connect wit myself again.
KM: What’s your view of the folk/roots music scene in Canada?
KR: It’s a big scene but it’s still tight-knit. For example, we were in Thunder Bay last night and I was talking to some of the guys in Greenbank who we were playing with there. It turns out that we’d connected already and I’d just forgot about it. Neither of us remembered that we’d messaged each other before. I like to say that things like that make your backyard just a bit bigger.
When I first started out, I knew that there were lots of great musicians in Winnipeg, but once you start touring you also have your friends in Calgary or your friends in Edmonton. There’s also a lot of crossover with different genres as well. I’ve got friends who are making punk rock or metal, but they still come out to the folk music shows. Good music is good music and the people who do this are all in it together. We all help each other out and support each other when we can.
KM: Where do you want to take your music career in the immediate future?
KR: The tour I’m on with Greenbank wraps up in a couple of weeks and I’ll be back home. I have some festivals and another short tour lined up this year, but I’m trying to focus on getting some songs together for the next record. I’ve got a few songs that I’m demoing back home and just kind of figuring out who I’m going to assemble to work on the new album and what sound I want it to have. There are some protest songs that I’m working on because we’re living in a politically charged time and I want to write some songs for the people. I don’t know exactly how its all going to come together but I’m really excited to start working on it.
KM: How do you recharge your creative batteries?
KR: When I get home from this tour, it’ll be spring break. My partner is a teacher so we’ll have that week off. We’ll head out to cottage country. That’s our escape place. I use it to escape the grind of touring. It’s beautiful and there’s lots of fishing for me to do and beautiful places to take pictures of.