Interview: Tim Chaisson (part I)

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The east coast of Canada, and especially its Maritime Provinces, seem to produce a fair number of very talented musicians who come from large musical families. For those of you unfamiliar with the culture of the Maritimes, there is a heavy Celtic influence, including on the accents of the inhabitants, some of whom sound like they’ve just arrived from Ireland.
Tim Chaisson is a 24-year-old musician from just such a family, and he has garnered a large fan base in Canada through several years of touring and winning awards and generally being very good at what he does, as can be heard on his latest album, Broken Hearted Beat.

Tim grew up, and still lives, on Prince Edward Island (PEI), but he’s about to leave his bucolic home to support Shannon Noll on an Australian tour, starting 11 October in Sydney, and playing at the Sydney Blues & Roots Festival (scroll down to see dates listed after the interview). I talked to Tim by phone from PEI last week because even though he’s not really playing country music, he’s country enough for me – and also because I have a very soft spot for Canadian singer-songwriters, who tend to produce consistently high-quality music.

What happens in the Maritime Provinces that you all seem to come from large musical families and end up being musicians?

I know, it’s true … I grew up in a really big family and music was everywhere, and that was just the way it went. It went back a lot of generations. There’s a lot of Chaissons on PEI, and everybody plays, so it was kind of a given to play. You’d be a little different if you didn’t play.

At what age did you start playing? It sounds like you play a few different instruments, so you must have picked up something pretty early.

I started off playing the fiddle when I was about six. And I still play the fiddle, but that was kind of the more dominant instrument – everybody started off on the fiddle in my family. And then I moved over to guitar and a few other instruments as time went on. I have a few older brothers and they have played different instruments, so there was always something kicking around. So I always got my hands on whatever I could.

Do you write your songs on the fiddle or the guitar?

Mostly on the guitar. The odd time I’ll write a song on the piano, but most of my stuff comes from the guitar. I find the fiddle is a tough instrument as an accompaniment – it only has four strings, you hold it up on your neck. To have the guitar as an accompanying instrument is a lot better, and better to write songs to. The piano is also just a little bit fuller and good to write on, I find.

At what age did you start singing?

I kind of always sand when I was younger. But I didn’t start singing in public, or at shows, until I was probably thirteen years old. But I sang when I was a kid at family concerts. I dind’t really start taking it seriously until I was a teenager. [While] there were a lot of singers in my family. a lot of my cousins were instrumentalists, so a lot of us didn’t sing.

Do you consider yourself more a singer or a songwriter, or both equally?

I guess both equally, because I sing my own songs and write my own songs. I do like writing songs for other people, or writing songs but having somebody else in mind to sing them. I hope to do more of that in the future.

It seems in Canadian music that there’s a very supportive community – in the Maritimes, in the Halifax scene, across the whole country, really. You all seem to be friendly and collaborative.

Yeah, that’s very true. I think in Canada – and I hear the same about Australia – that for the most part we’re all for letting other people in and being nice and curious and laidback, especially on the east coast, I find. Collaborations are huge here – teaming up with other bands. And being a fiddler too I find that some of the bands I play with, they all like hopping up on stage and playing with other bands, or if they have a recording to do they’ll ask me to play on their recordings or sing on their recording. There has been a lot of that. Even the more popular bands, too, they do the same kind of thing. It’s just like helping each other out and doing what you do and having a good time. It’s not so much of a cut-throat thing in Canada, I find. We like to help each other and we’re all friends.

Living on PEI, are there logistical challenges for getting your music ‘out there’?

Yeah, definitely. We’re pretty far east in Canada, so even to get to Vancouver is a pretty far drive and even a far flight. We’ve been to Vancouver a few times. Every time we [Tim’s band is Morning Fold] tour it’s a lot of driving. [But] these days it’s a little bit easier to get things done, with social media and stuff like that. Growing up on PEI – I love getting out there but it’s great to come home, to your ‘home’ home. There are definitely logistical challenges but I think it’s worth it, in a way.

Perhaps your music would change if you lived in Toronto. You’d be out of your context, in a way.

It’s funny, because we’ve spent a lot of time in Toronto over the last two years. At one point I thought about moving there because we were there so much and I was there so much, and it’s the hub … But you’re in a big city and you have that city feel. It’s very different to PEI, which is very rural and very laidback. The vibe is completely different. And that comes out a little bit, I think, in the music.

Part II of this interview will be published tomorrow.

Tim Chaisson tour dates

For more info go to http://www.timchaisson.com/

Twitter: @timchaisson
11, 12, 13 October 2011 – Brass Monkey, Cronulla NSW (supporting Shannon Noll)

14 October 2011 – The Basement, Sydney NSW (supporting Shannon Noll)

15 October 2011 – Cessnock NSW (supporting Shannon Noll)

20 October – The Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, Adelaide SA (supporting Shannon Noll)

22 October – The Tempo Hotel, Brisbane Qld (supporting Shannon Noll)
25 October – Brass Monkey (solo)

27 October – Sydney Blues & Roots Festival Opening Gala NSW

28-30 October – Sydney Blues & Roots Festival NSW

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