Land of the living soil
Edmonton singer-songwriter Colleen Brown finds inspiration in gardening, prairies, and her parents’ van
Creative City Centre
We all know the life of a musician isn’t as glamorous as the media makes it out to be. But when you’re Edmonton-based singer-songwriter Colleen Brown, you still somehow manage to find the nugget of gold buried in the pile of dirt.
“So far, what [the tour] has been is a twelve-hour drive through the mountains,” Brown joked. “We played a show in Chilliwack, which was a really good show, but I was totally really exhausted.”
It may not be that glamorous, but I guess this is the way things happen when you’re on tour for an album called Colleen Brown’s Dirt.
But, while the tour isn’t the first time she’s been on the road to promote her album, it’s a better experience than her first tour, which she did in 2005.
“I did a tour by myself in my little Toyota Echo from Vancouver out to Toronto and back,” Brown said. “That was something I probably don’t ever want to do again.
“I was sleeping my car a lot of the time.”
The Colleen Brown that toured back in 2005 was a different Brown, a softer, prettier, and sweeter singer-songwriter than the one Brown thinks she is now.
“I was feeling really inspired and excited to rock out and do things that were maybe a little bit beyond what Colleen Brown the singer-songwriter could do, so there are some songs on the album that are a bit more rockin’, and a couple of swear words that I generally wouldn’t have wanted my parents to hear,” she said.
I guess this is where her Neil Young, David Bowie, and Heart influences come into play.
And, in case you were wondering, Brown thinks her parents are OK with her swearing. I mean, they have to be considering they just sold Brown a van for her to travel in during her tour.
“I just bought my parents’ van off them,” Brown said. “So I’m really excited that, for the first time, I have autonomy, I have my own vehicle. It kind of feels like I am in my first apartment or something like that.”
Brown manages to keep a vibrant, chipper, and infectiously positive attitude about everything she does, which is necessary given how heavy Dirt can be at times.
“The first thought that came to me was, you know, like dishing the dirt, really personal stuff, getting down and dirty,” Brown said. “But then at the time, it was starting to be summer. I really enjoyed gardening, and I was trying to put my garden together at my place. And it just occurred to me that so many of the songs had this theme running through them of trying to get to the root of what it is to be a human being without all this ego stuff, I guess without trying to be something that I’m not.
“Part of this personal journey I’ve been on that’s trying to discover a way of existing without being in pain all of the time.”
It’s heavy stuff for someone who gets compared regularly to Joni Mitchell.
“Being in the garden and the dirt and stuff for me ties into that because it’s such a fickle and grounding experience, it helps me feel I’m just a human being, I don’t have any greater responsibilities beyond just living my life,” Brown said. “Sometimes I felt I had so much responsibility to be the next Joni Mitchell or just all of this weight of just trying to be big, those expectations.”
It’s not hard to see the comparisons between Brown and Mitchell, even if Brown denies their music is at all alike. She said such comparisons are “really flattering and I’ll take it any day,” but she admits they both have this distinctly prairie vibe that’s hard to find in other musicians.
“We both have the Saskatchewan accent,” Brown said. “Kind of a little bit of a local peculiarity, having grown up in the basically the same area, it’s kind of natural to both of us.”
And, despite now spending most of her time in Toronto, Brown still finds that people can still recognize her prairie influences.
“People will say that there’s a quality that’s different about I perform and how I write music that’s just very ‘of the prairies,’” Brown said. “I don’t know exactly what it is … I do think it’s important and I do think it’s part of my identity. I’m earthy, I’m not especially cosmopolitan, [and] it’s really important for me to be surrounded by nature."