Even though he is only 26 years old, Spencer Jo Burgess exudes an aura of someone with much more life experience. Maybe it’s his taste for single malt whiskeys. Maybe it’s his ability to take roots and folk standards and make them into something that at once straddles the wisdom-weary icons of yore and a more modern, youthful exuberance, where the world is still an oyster waiting to be shucked. Or maybe it’s because, even at his relatively ripe age, he talks with a sort of self-awareness that is usually the product of a couple more laps around the sun and a couple more bumps on the head.
“Here’s how I stand as a 26-year old man: I have no training in anything. I don’t know how to do anything, except music,” he candidly reveals on the patio of the Ship & Anchor. Ship Regulars revel around us for their party in the midday sun, girls swirling their drinks and sundresses, the boisterous chatter of the truly day-drunk buzzing happily over day tripping cruisers on the street behind us. At first, it might seem like he’s just selling himself short, chasing the dream like any other young musician. But his pedigree betrays him: already, he has a handful of releases under his belt, from the folk punk stylings of Rum Runner, to the age-old, now-anonymous, folk standards released under his Kitchen Chorus project, and now including his most current release, a split 10″ of sorts, on which he plays with both the River Ramble and Mountain Jack. “I should be banking on it. The idea is that I could do this enough… I could live on what I’m doing, I could live on music.”
To be sure, for all his external confidence, Burgess never lets the reality of the situation hide too far behind the excitement of a burgeoning and increasingly sustainable music career. Above all, he is prepared for the long road ahead. “If I could just make a living at what I do — it’s hard work — that would be good for me,” he states, resolutely.
Burgess is fresh off his longest tour yet, a five-week cross-Canada road trip in support of the 10″ that took him and the River Ramble as far east as Halifax. Though this is certainly not his first time on the road — he turned 20, for instance, in London, Ont., while on tour with Rum Runner — it was indeed the first time in which he was the leader of the troupe, a responsibility he shouldered with pride.
“It was different because I had a role to play… With Rum Runner, I was kind of along for the ride, I was young. This time, while Fire Next Time (the band with whom they toured) had a rapport with the people at every place we played, I was still representing myself. I had a role and I like to think I played it pretty well. It was nice to have a bit more responsibility on tour.”
Time and time again, this theme comes up: Burgess is no longer a punk kid just getting by, but a man almost full-grown. It’s a transition that happened gradually, but one that he welcomes whole-heartedly. In his mind, becoming a man and shouldering the responsibilities and realities a career in music demands comes hand-in-hand with making a living off music.
“In Canada and the Western world, we have this incredible luxury of not having to grow up,” he explains. “So, I just pushed it for as long as I could. The tour with Rum Runner when I turned 20 opened my eyes to it. Shortly after, we toured Europe and that put me in touch with myself. Over the next couple of years, I decided that it was time to stop fucking around.
“I think I’m just discovering it now… and there’s still some growing up I can do. But, at least, now I’m conscious of it.”
Spencer Jo & the River Ramble will release their 10″ at the Palomino (Calgary) on October 26 and at Brixx (Edmonton) on October 27.
By Sebastian Buzzalino