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On Writing 'Mule in the Flowers,' a Duet with Baby Eagle

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Writing songs is a strange thing. Lonely in its own way, so often done in a bedroom, in stolen moments of introspection; it can change your life a little, or simply keep you dreaming all day long, staring out the window, moving around words in your head.

And then, once you've written songs, you gotta spend your money or someone else's to record them, and then suddenly you're driving around the cold snowy country, playing shows to nobody, or to not nobody...all for songs, that seem as ever both so ephemeral and so important.

And yet in this, there is a whole other thing. Friends; the community of people I have come to know through music, songwriters flung across my city, my country. It is always a joy to me to think of friends, their lives, conversations, moments we have shared. And then, too, to think on their music, how it illuminates and shapes them, rising above and out of strange flows and eddies of their own peculiar hearts. A whole aspect of that person that there could be no other way of knowing. A creation of will and also a little compulsion, or maybe of no reason at all.

A funny thing sometimes, somebody's music. You get used to it, almost, but you forget that not everybody has this thing, trailing them around. Like a shadow, or maybe the opposite of a shadow...

And so when I travel, and people compliment what I do, I always want to introduce them to my friends. This is why I began my duets project, a series of singles, songs written collaboratively with these songwriters that I love. Songs that make these introductions. I also began it to simply to have fun, to learn from those I consider to be the best, to make less lonely that lonely process of writing songs. To allow other people to enter them, to change them. To go into other people's songs and change them myself. A duet is a dynamic thing. You see it one way, but what about the way I see it? What happens if someone else walks into the room? Who are they, and what have they got to say? To who? What does it mean, this conversation? Isn't that everything?

I called up Steve Lambke, my You've Changed Records label bossman (and friend) with the idea, hoping he'd want to collaborate. I was excited and nervous all at once, as I'd respected and loved Steve as a songwriter ever since, back in 2003, I heard him sing "Scoundrel Babes" on "Shine A Light," the classic Constantines release.

I'd followed his work through his Baby Eagle releases, the near perfect Dog Weather, the vivid Bone Soldiers, swooning over his ability to take a little incident, a down to earth descriptive passage, and imbue it with meaning and philosophy. Little lines that catch me, coming up in my mind unannounced, revealing always a little deeper shading of meaning.

Luckily, Steve dug the idea and sent along an unfinished song he had kicking around. The first two verses of "Mule In The Flowers." I found it easy to add in my perspective, that of a friend, meeting on the street. A brief partial conversation. We put together a few little changes, a chorus, and recorded the song in the kitchen, with little fuss. It's a humble little song, but lovely in its way. I think it captures friendship, warmth, hope appearing where it tends to, in places unexpected.

Indeed, it does just what I hoped the duets would do.

The Weather Station's 'Mule in the Flowers' is one of five songs nominated for the 2013 SOCAN Songwriting Prize, honouring the best independent music by Canadian songwriters as voted by the public. Once voting closes on July 3rd, $5,000 prizes are awarded to the winning songwriters as well as a $3000 gift certificate from Roland and a Les Paul Studio guitar with Min-ETune from Gibson. All eligible voters are entered into a random draw for an iPad and Roland headphones, and recipients are announced after voting ends.

SOCAN Songwriting Prize Nominees
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