Published May 13, 2014After subtly announcing the indefinite hiatus of his band Constantines in 2010, it seemed as if the career of singer-songwriter Bry Webb was in a downward spiral: His follow-up act, the Harbour Coats, suffered from stop-start recording sessions; his subsequent solo attempt, 2011's Provider, was initially plagued by fits of writer's block and self-doubt; and to make ends meet, he began a job in demolition and construction.
A few years removed from his solo debut, it appears Webb has found a new lease on life. He spends his days working as the programming coordinator at Guelph, ON's community radio station (CFRU 99.3 FM), lives in the city with his wife and young son, and has recently reunited with Constantines for a string of summer shows. He even gets to record now and again.
"In the last two years it's been nice because now that I have a day job and a family and a lot of other things that occupy my time, music is compartmentalized into this place where it's a joy to just go and have two hours to come up with an idea," Webb tells Exclaim!
That newfound sense of liberty perfectly manifests itself on Webb's upcoming sophomore solo disc, Free Will. The album arrives May 20 through Idée Fixe Records. But in the meantime, stream the LP in full here on Exclaim.ca.
Although he created a home studio in 2013, Webb once again joined forces with previous Constantines studio engineer (and Idée Fixe co-owner) Jeff McMurrich, who had also recorded Webb's debut solo effort.
"For me, it's healthier to go into a space with someone who knows what they're doing and who I trust, like Jeff… and just focus on being in the band and performing well enough," Webb says. "It's just a healthier arrangement that way."
By diverting production responsibilities and separating his creative work from his work life and family, Webb was able to take a more relaxed approach to songwriting, which allowed past songs to resurface in a new light. Album bonus cut "Someplace I'm Supposed to Be" was originally recorded alongside Provider in 2011 at the request of NPR radio program This American Life, while the tracks "Big Smoke" and "Positive People" previously appeared on the soundtrack to the critically maligned Canadian drama This Beautiful City in 2007.
Originally a lo-fi synth affair, Webb decided to revisit "Positive People" after feeling it "could have a new life on a new record," but primarily because of how he viewed its paradoxical message following the birth of his child.
"'Positive People,' in particular, was a song that I wrote a long time ago that was kind of a satire about heteronormative ideas; seeing a lot of people who were having kids several years ago and being puzzled by it, given the state of the world," he says. "Although I love kids, it was written in a bit of a satirical tone. Now being on the other side of having a child it seemed a bit too rich, the irony of using that song again and interpreting it, although I still feel like anything heteronormative is bullshit."
While his previous work with Constantines was driven by his punk rock ideologies pre-fatherhood, Webb says he continues to write and record primarily for his son, who is similarly finding his own sense of free will in the world.
"The reason I write music now is to preserve something or make something for my son more than anything," he says. "That was the case with the songs on Provider, but now my son is a toddler — he's three years old — and he's discovering his own agency in the world. His willfulness is manifesting itself very strongly every day.
"So that's been the last year and a half of my life: figuring out a balance between trying to teach this person to be a respectful and responsible person and be safe, to be able to live well, but at the same time celebrating whenever he makes a decision that is the opposite of what I have decided. That's one of the most joyful moments of a parent."
Listen to Free Will here in our Music/Video section, and check out Webb's upcoming solo dates and those with Constantines below.
Read our Questionnaire with Bry Webb here.
Bry Webb tour dates:
05/14 Boston, MA - Tt The Bear's *
05/15 Brooklyn, NY - The Bell House *
05/16 Philadelphia, PA - Milkboy *
05/17 Washington, DC - Rock And Roll Hotel *
05/18 Pittsburgh, PA - Brillobox *
05/19 Cincinnati, OH - Motr Pub *
05/20 Columbus, OH - The Basement *
05/21 Indianapolis, IN - Do317 Lounge *
05/22 Chicago, IL - Empty Bottle *
05/31 Toronto, ON - Massey Hall ^
06/07 Hamilton, ON - Hamilton Blues & Roots Festival
06/16 Kelowna, BC - Fernando's
06/17 Victoria, BC - Copper Owl
06/18 Vancouver, BC - The Biltmore
06/20 Calgary, AB - Sled Island
06/21 Montréal, QC - Montréal Folk Festival On The Canal
07/09 Saskatoon, SK - Amigo's
07/10 Regina, SK - The Exchange
07/11-13 Winnipeg, MB - Winnipeg Folk Festival
07/18 Sudbury, ON - River & Sky Festival
07/19-20 London, ON - Home County Music And Art Festival
07/26-27 Guelph, ON - Hillside Festival
08/01-3 Sackville, NB - Sappyfest
08/08 Owen Sound, ON - Mudtown Music & Arts Festival
08/09 Kingston, ON - Wolfe Island Festival
* with Chad Vangaalen
^ with Coeur De Pirate
Constantines tour dates:
06/07-08 Toronto, ON - Fort York (Field Trip)
08/03 Sackville, NB - SappyFest
08/22 Peterborough, ON - Peterborough Folk Festival
08/23 Ottawa, ON - Arboretum Festival