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Turning a painful past into a beautiful present

By Alejandro Bustos on June 1, 2015

Sometimes in our lives there comes a moment when we snap.  When something deep inside us explodes, forcing us to stop what we are doing and . . . well, that’s the significance of that moment, because we’re not really sure what comes next.

For Vancouver singer-songwriter Rodney DeCroo, that moment came five years ago when he ditched his band and label after having released five studio albums.  Having lived a rough life, which included struggles with alcohol and being diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), DeCroo was emotionally spent.  From this dark place he started a long healing process.

Five years later, the B.C. musician has released  his sixth album Campfires On the Moon, a hauntingly beautiful record that may be his best musical work yet.  Having addressed his demons, the multi-talented artist will be performing this Wednesday, June 3 at Raw Sugar (692 Somerset Street West). Great Aunt Ida and Chris Page are special guests for the concert that begins at 8:30 pm.

poetry book

Cover of Rodney DeCroo’s poetry book

For audiences who want to see him across the river in Quebec, meanwhile, he will be performing at Kaffee 1870 in Wakefield on Friday, June 5.  That show also starts at 8:30 pm.

In anticipation of his Ottawa show this Wednesday, Apartment613 interviewed DeCroo via email while he was on a Canadian tour. Below is an edited interview, shortened for length, with this multi-talented artist, who has also written a poetry book, released a spoken word record and performed a one-man show.  (In addition to music, DeCroo went to theatre school for a couple of years and has acted on TV and film).

Apartment613: What does music mean to you?  I ask this for two reasons.  First, because press stories about your newest album often focus on the healing process you have undertaken during the past five years.  Second, because music is only one art form that you practice.

Rodney DeCroo: Yes, music is only one of the art forms that I engage in.  The thing that I like about music is that I mostly play with other people both when recording and playing shows.  There’s a collaborative element that’s exciting because yes, I write the songs, but I get to play these things that I’ve written out of my life and I get to perform them with very talented players who bring their own sensibilities to the songs so they became much bigger than me.

There’s a bond that’s also created when playing with others that is powerful, whereas writing poetry is a solitary endeavour and for the most part it’s experienced by others in solitude.  I do perform some of my poetry but it’s not the same thing.  Also, poetry tends to be a more marginalized art form and a lot of people are hesitant to engage with it, but everyone likes music and gets it.  It’s a universal language and playing my songs with my friends for an attentive audience is a tremendous thing to experience.  I feel very fortunate to be allowed to do this.  I spent a lot time living an alienated / isolated life mostly due to my own choices, active addiction and PTSD.  So, I’ve experienced these two extremes of being and this one is way better!

campfiresApt613: You have acknowledged that some of your previous albums may not have been universally accessible.  With Campfires on the Moon, however, you have said that you finally made an album that anybody could like.  What makes the songs in this record different from your previous work?

RD: Well, it’s funny, because for the most part my earlier albums are more direct lyrically.  Some of the poetry in the new songs is more oblique, but there was an edge, an anger, a darkness in the older material that appealed to certain people but turned others off.  I love those songs and the fans that appreciated that material. I still play it and I’m proud of it.

But there’s something about the tone of this record.  It’s warm, Mark and Ida’s playing is beautiful, it’s more reflective and generous lyrically and I think these qualities draw people into the songs and maybe they relate to them more.  Also, I think the quieter sound of this record allows people to hear / experience the poetry and stories the lyrics impart.  I’ve also worked hard to improve my singing!

Apt613: I get the sense that journalists and fans often get serious when speaking with you, so let’s focus on something different. What was the most joyful part of writing this new record?  

RD:  Well, my songs and poetry tend to be serious, so it’s not surprising that people get serious with me.  But you know, there is a place for seriousness.  I mean life is a serious life.  I found a graphic novel by Seth in the place where I’m staying and it’s called It’s a Good Life if you don’t Weaken.  I mean, that’s a seriously on the mark statement but it’s also kind of funny and strangely joyous too, no?  It’s a great title.

I find that when I hear something that is truthful in a deep way, well, I also find a sense of joy from that because it acknowledges the truly mysterious thing it is to be human. However, to get back to the spirit of your question, I alluded to it in a response to your first question. I really heard Ida’s voice / sensibilities in the back of my mind when I wrote this record. So, these songs were an attempt artistically to collaborate with Ida and the songs were coming out differently. I could feel that these songs were not like my earlier material. There was something different about them at every level.

Apt613:  Similarly, on the latest tour, what are some of the most fun moments that you have had as a musician?

Rodney DeCroo

Rodney DeCroo

RD:  Being onstage at The Fox Cabaret in Vancouver ( my adopted hometown) debuting the new album was incredible. It sounds a bit vain, but I  always wanted to be on the cover of The Georgia Straight, so when the Straight’s music editor Mike Usinger texted me to say I was on the cover and Adrian Mack was going to do a cover feature on myself and the new cd, well, I was blown away.  I was “cover famous” for a week at home (the following week a local species of frog was on the cover, so that puts things a bit more in perspective), but people in Vancouver took it seriously and really came out to support the album and myself.

So, there were 200 people gathered in this beautiful room in Vancouver listening silently to every word and note while Mark, Ida and I actually played these songs together ( Ida recorded her parts in Detroit) for the first time.  It felt like a homecoming of sorts and I felt at home which for me was a weird, but wonderful feeling.

To feel so accepted and embraced by people listening to us play my songs about things I’ve experienced and felt, wow, how could I not feel like the luckiest person alive in that moment?  On another note, Mark and Ida are incredibly funny people.  We spend many hours a day in the van together and I spend a lot of that time laughing.