After the release of his sophomore record, North Americana, in 2013, Leif Vollebekk was, in his own words, "a bit of a hustler." He toured extensively across North America and Europe, taking every show that came his way. But Vollebekk eventually reached a point where he felt he needed to stop, so he took time off to be alone. His latest record, Twin Solitude, out now on Secret City Records, bloomed from his solitude.
"Once I stopped playing shows, these songs started coming to me," he tells Exclaim! "I used to write like this and I kind of forgot about it, because I got in my head about how I should write a song. I could have written another record sooner, but I didn't realize that I wasn't listening to me and to my subconscious."
Vollebekk's new songs developed naturally during his time off: "Vancouver Time" came all at once, every line perfectly intact, as he played guitar in his apartment in Montreal; "Elegy" started to form when he was on a bike ride and then, a few months later, its missing drum beat emerged while he was swimming. He would go to bed and write a song, and then wake up and write another. By the time Vollebekk headed into the studio at the end of 2015, he had amassed about 20 songs.
"What would happen for a long time is a song would come to me, and as it was coming, I would start writing another song. I would use its voice, or melody, or lyrics and be like, 'Oh, I need a song that does this,' and then start changing it. The songs always come to me, but for the longest time I wasn't writing them down. I was dismissing them."
Vollebekk took this instinctive approach into the studio. The majority of the songs were recorded in one take during Vollebekk's first week at Breakglass Studios in Montreal with Olivier Fairfield (drums) and Shahzad Ismaily (bass). Traces of this spontaneity have been woven into the record — "Telluride" begins with some last minute directions; on "Elegy" Vollebekk mimics the drum's beat before it comes in — heightening Vollebekk's wandering lyrics.
"Each song has its own little feeling, because I don't think I had played them for anyone yet," Vollebekk explains. "I was reading off a page — I had written it and then brought it into the studio. Nobody knows what it's going to feel like, nobody knows what it's going to do."
Although Vollebekk's songs tread on darker themes — death and heartbreak most prominently — at its core, Twin Solitude is a peaceful record. When Vollebekk sings, "I'm just gonna close my eyes and put my hand on my mouth" on closer "Rest," he commits to pay more attention to his subconscious and to let things unfold as they will. When the soporific haze of the pump organ and saxophone of "Rest" clears, you too are left with the feeling that everything will be okay.
"For the most part, [Twin Solitude] was an exercise in letting things be the way that they are going to be and seeing where it goes."
Vollebekk's upcoming Canadian tour dates include April 13 in Quebec City, April 14 in Ottawa, April 16 in Toronto and May 4 in Vancouver.