Thursday, 28 May 2015 10:37

Swift Current's Colter Wall celebrates debut album

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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A dream of a musical career is rapidly turning into a reality for 19-year-old Swift Current singer-songwriter Colter Wall and he is grasping the opportunity with both hands.

He has just completed the second year of an education degree at the University of Saskatchewan, but he will be taking a break for the next year to focus on his music.
“I'm going to dive into the music thing because I've been lucky enough to have it open up at this point,” he said. “I've got a lot of opportunities and chances to take the next step and make it a full time thing. So I'm going to give it a shot and hope it works out.”
The past few months have turned into a real whirlwind and the official release of his debut album “Imaginary Appalachia” will take place at the Lyric Theatre in Swift Current on June 4.
“It's been a big shock in a lot of ways just because it was all very fast,” he said. “Back in October I put out just some early really poorly recorded demos that I did in my apartment in Saskatoon while I was attending school, because I had some songs I'd written and I wanted to get them out there and from that point people started to hear them and then things started to happen.”
He has been playing gigs at different locations and within a very short period he became familiar with a variety of people from the Saskatchewan music scene.
“I got to make some really important contacts and ended up in one of the nicest studios in the country at Studio One in Regina and got to meet a guy named Jason Plumb, who is now my producer and manager,” Wall said. “It's just been one thing after another kind and now we've got this whole record out and we're getting radio play and touring. So it's all been a kind of a whirlwind but I'm grateful for it, for sure.”
He believes it is a combination of good songwriting and his distinctive voice that have been drawing the attention of audiences.
“People often say it’s the voice at first that grips them, which is a huge compliment because I’ve never thought of myself as much of a singer,” he said. “I think I shock some people sometimes just with the way I sound or at least that’s what I’ve been told at live shows.”
He has a baritone voice, but it sounds more mature and different than when he is speaking. He joked it probably has something to do with his smoking habit, but noted it took a while to discover his real singing voice.
“Singing for me has always been sort of tricky,” he said. “It took a while for me to be able to access a lower register ... but once I found it, it's not a strain to do it. That was just where I was comfortable singing and where I could sing and not hate the sound that was coming out of my mouth.”
His music reflects a variety of influences, but a crucial moment was around Grade 10 when he listened to Bob Dylan's early performances.
“It was just him and a little acoustic folk size guitar and a harmonica, playing these folk songs,” Wall recalled. “That was really when I decided I wanted to try my hand at writing because before that I just played guitar and tried singing. At that point I really wanted to try to write music and it took a while for me to figure it out.”
He has always been fascinated by blues music and this interest in the history of folk music resulted in a growing focus on American roots music styles.
“My first songs I didn’t like at all,” he said. “I’d write them one day and listen to them the next and they just didn’t work out. I suppose that’s all just part of the learning process. ... I remember my first song that I wrote that I was pleased enough with to play in front of people rather than just garbage it right away was probably just a little over a year ago.”
He is intrigued by the songwriting process and the experience to create a song is always different.
“I have had songs that just seem to come from somewhere else and it’s almost like they’re just pouring out of your head and you can’t keep up,” he said. “There’s something about that process that’s very just interesting and almost otherworldly, but then on the other hand I’ve also written songs where it’s been a bit of a battle.”
He has written six of the seven songs on his debut album. It was a last-minute decision to include the song “Nothing” by one of his favourite songwriters Townes Van Zandt. It is the only song on the album where Wall played electric guitar instead of an acoustic guitar.
“I decided last second because I just had started to play this song in my live set and it always went over really well,” he said.
Two songs from the album have already been released digitally. The one song – “The devil wears a suit and tie” – has a darker tone while the second one “Caroline” is a ballad with Regina singer-songwriter Belle Plaine.
“She came in on really short notice,” he said. “We just found out she was in town and I've written a song that both Jason and I thought it would be really nice to have a female vocal on because of the nature of the song lyrically and also of the way it sounds musically. ... She was great to work with.”
Wall collaborated with a number of other Saskatchewan artists during the recording of the album, including the Regina bluegrass band Dead South.
“It came out really great, I can't wait to get that one out,” he said. “They had a lot to do with getting me started in the Saskatchewan music scene as far as just offering for me to open for them in a lot of shows because they like my stuff thankfully.”
He will be on the road for most of the summer to promote his album during a country-wide tour. He and Regina artist Danny Olliver decided to travel together to share the cost of the tour. Their Prairie Gentlemen tour already has confirmed dates at locations from east to west across Canada.
“It will be an experience for sure,” Wall said. “It's always been a dream for me to be able to just take my stuff on the road and to just play. So it's a pretty big deal for me that it's happening this early and that it's happening at all, so I'm really excited.”
He has already been working on setting up dates for a number of shows in the United States during the fall and thereafter he will continue to promote his album in Canada.
His family has been very supportive of his plans to focus on a musical career, even though it means postponing his studies at university.
“It was a bit of a push to talk it over and smooth that over with the family members, but it didn't take long for them to come around and understand,” he said. “In the music industry it's not something where, if it's working out for you and if you have any kind of buzz, you could put off. ... You really have to strike when the iron is hot. If you want to do it, go for it otherwise if you wait, it's gone whereas with school you can come back any time.”
Wall is the son of Saskatchewan's premier and Swift Current MLA Brad Wall. In most instances this family connection has not influenced his efforts to build a musical career in the province.
“My goal is to just keep what I do and what my dad does entirely separate because they are,” he said. “People have been for the most part pretty decent about the whole thing and just accepting my music and deciding whether they like it or don't like it entirely on the music and not on who my dad happens to be.”
He is looking forward to launching his debut album in his home town at the Lyric Theatre, where his musical career started.
“That's where I learned how to play live just growing up in Swift and honing the craft of being able to play in front of people on stage,” he said. “The response around town has been really great for the success that I've managed to stumble across within the past few months. People have been really great about it.”
Tickets for the CD release party at the Lyric Theatre on June 4 are available at Pharmasave at $20 each. The price of a ticket includes a copy of Wall's album. The doors will open at 7:30 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m.

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