After well over a decade as one of Canada's best singer-songwriters, Kathleen Edwards decided the music business had become too much of a daily grind. So she found another kind.
Edwards first gave a hint last February she might be changing course with a Facebook post, one which included two possibilities: "Coffee trailer owner" and "Stittsville eating spot." In September, Edwards combined the two ideas to open up Quitters, a coffee shop in the Stittsville suburb of Ottawa.
"The first few days we were open were amazing and crazy and flying by the seat of our pants," Edwards says. "We've basically been just slammed. We've been so busy out of the gate so it's kind of been an amazing and terrifying experience to be honest."
"My first job was at Starbucks," she says, noting that she actually hired her then-manager to help run Quitters. "I loved being a barista and I loved the coffee shop life. So it kind of feels like putting on some old skates and finding your pocket again. But it's been amazing. I went from knowing nobody in Stittsville to pretty much knowing everybody and loving it."
Running Quitters has been a bit of a whirlwind for Edwards, but quitting music for the time being has helped her find a better emotional space. She says touring behind 2012's "Voyageur," an album dealing with her divorce, had taken its toll.
"In retrospect I feel hugely proud of myself for fighting through it and for sticking my heels down and just fighting to do it," she says. "Probably the hardest thing I've ever done was put that record together and tour it. Just in all aspects of my life. But I look back and think, 'You've pressed on.' I felt it was one of life's really big hurdles and I made it through."
She also says she isn't overly concerned with the idea that stepping away from her musical career for a period of time will negatively affect her in the long run.
"I think there's an aspect of the entertainment business where it's out of sight, out of mind," she admits. "You know I don't give two shits about that. I used to worry about that. I used to have somebody who represented me who used to make me feel very worried that if I didn't stay in the fight, stay in the ring as long as I could, that all of this stuff would go away.
"I look back now and think that's total bullshit because if the quality of your work is compromised by you trying to actually put out work then there's no point in calling yourself an artist. There's just no aspect of that that's creatively satisfying. I have a good name and I feel really proud. I'm lucky but it came because I put 110 per cent into making sure what I was putting out was actually something I believed in before anything else."
Edwards also hasn't felt any external pressures from labels to get back into the studio and work since opening Quitters -- and adds she "would have no problem slamming the door in anyone's face if that ever came up."
Perhaps the only minor obstacle was telling her parents her plans. "I think my parents thought I was crazy only because they're really proud of me," she says. “"You worked so hard by being on tour all of those years and the sacrifices you made and the good name you built for yourself, why would you walk away?' Of course, that comes from a place of love. Nobody can decide for you what you need to do for yourself."
Edwards says her years of touring brought her to some memorable coffee shops in Europe (Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen) and the States (Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles), aspects of which she tried incorporating into Quitters.
"That had a huge, huge impact on me actually doing this," she says. "I loved going into every different city and searching for where people go for coffee. There were a couple of us in the band, Jim Bryson as well, we loved trying to find that great coffee shop. So I just went off that and wanted to bring it to my own neighbourhood."
As for the day-to-day work at Quitters, Edwards says she's happy with a new espresso machine which "drives like an Audi" that set her back $15,000. And she's also finding a balance between chatting with people eager to meet her while ensuring everybody gets what they ordered in a timely manner. She's also had notables visit from musicians as well as Ottawa Senators head coach Dave Cameron.
"Maybe the only thing I didn't anticipate in this coffee shop venture is how many people are coming to see me," she says. "And that's really nice but I also just want to be a barista and make some muffins, make some great coffee for people, have fun meeting my neighbours and run a business. I don't feel like answering it every day, 'So are you ever going to sing again?'"
Quitters also won't evolve into a venue a la Toronto's Hugh's Room with nightly concerts and entertainment, though Edwards says she's considering staging a few house shows at some point but nothing is confirmed. A liquor license application has also been filed which is waiting approval.
Outside of the coffee shop, Edwards knows two things. One is if David Letterman asked her to perform on his show before he exits in May she would "do it in a second." Letterman had Edwards on a handful of times over her career and highly praised her "Failer" debut.
The other is that she's probably returning to "the drawing board" at some point regarding music.
"I can't wait to work in this goddamn fucking stupid coffee shop for a year and hate it so that I can't wait to go and work on music," she says. "I know I look back at my last 10 years. It's like, 'Well, okay then you spend six months trying to work on a record and your days are sort of aimless and structureless. You don't have any real commitments other than to put together a couple of words or a couple of chords.'
I'm like, 'What a dickhead! I should have written 20 records based on how productive I am now.'”
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