By B. Simm
CALGARY — Originally from Ontario, Dave McCann spent the last 20 years in Alberta carving out a countrified rock ‘n’ roll name for himself that spills well beyond these regional borders. After three solid albums and international acclaim for his rough and rugged, outlaw revivalism, McCann saddled up for Nashville recording his fourth recording, Dixiebluebird, with noted Americana songwriter and instrumentalist Will Kimbrough. For his recent release, Circle of Light, McCann preferred to keep it homegrown with Leeroy Stagger helping out in his adopted town of Lethbridge.
BeatRoute: There’s a lot good stuff channeling through on this recording. A lot of bluesy twang, southern country, soul and swagger. Early ‘70s Stones, Skynyrd, Ryan Adams, Bo Diddley, even snatches of Guns N’ Roses’ “Knockin’ On Heavens Door.” Dixiebluebird had a nice ragged country delivery as well, but this record seems to have a little more sonic depth, breadth and soulfulness than what you did in Nashville. What do you think made that difference?
Dave McCann: Nashville is a great place to make a record. We had incredible gear choices to play around with and working down there with Will Kimbrough was nothing short of magic. That rubbed off on Dixiebluebird for sure. With Circle of Light we were able to bring all our own gear. That brings a different comfort level in the studio altogether. A lot of the songs weren’t really played live at all before the studio, so it was a fresh experience outside of a few rehearsals. That’s where I had fun. We were able to surrender a bit and let the songs find their own sound at a slower pace and with low pressure. In the end we leaned louder and further away from country. Hand-built rock and roll!
BR: Tell me a bit about The Rebeltone Ranch and teaming up with Leeroy Stagger for Circle of Light.
DM: The Rebeltone Ranch is Leeroy’s Studio down here in Southern Alberta. It’s a great, small room with a good feel and it gives you a pretty tight sound. I like the option to build without headphones sometimes, so I can hear what’s really going on. I like to play loud and Leeroy never once asked us to turn down. He knows what he wants things to sound like and there really wasn’t anything to disagree about. The end result is we were able to build some ideas and culture some interesting sonics right here close to home.
BR: There’s a romanticism about Circle of Light that stretches out with a yearning to embrace and squeeze life for all it’s worth, and then a cautionary reminder you could travel the rocky road as well. How would describe some of the overriding themes you’re writing about?
DM: These songs came in a huge transition time for me. I left everything I thought I knew. I moved down here to Southern Alberta, got married, had two kids, lost my father, and all within a short period of time. It strengthened my brighter side with some reluctant optimism. That kinda informed the theme for this project. The record shines a bit, it feels good to me.
BR: I really like that line in Circle of Light… “there’s just too much wilderness in our blood.” What’s that in reference to?
DM: The idea being projected these days that everything should be the same, standardized. Like a cultured environment, manicured,
so calculated. I can’t stand it. I need wilderness. It’s the antithesis, the unpredictable mystery. Real life should be teaming with the unknown. Sometime’s that gentle chaos is the only thing that recharges me. It’s my blood.
BR: I find Lethbridge, the city and its culture a little more brash and upfront, stripped of pretensions compared to other places. And the surrounding landscape, while beautiful, the vast expanse and stark, rolling hills can be lonely, haunting and spooky. Has the region there influenced your writing? In what ways, and why do you think?
DM: I love it here! The windtorn hills, the history. the sweeping grasslands. Beyond the city of Lethbridge itself is very powerful Blackfoot Country and the people here have been keeping the spark that holds that magic alive since the beginning of time. I like being connected to that. I hope that essence can inform my art. I guess time will tell what it does to my pen.
Dave McCann and the Firehearts release show for Circle of Light is Sept. 12 at the Ironwood in Calgary. They also appear at the Love and Records festival in Lethbridge on Sept. 13 and in Waterton at the Opera House on Sept. 24. McCann performs a solo acoustic show in Cochrane at the Legacy Guitar and Coffee Shop on Sept. 20.AB, Alberta, Circle of Light, Cochrane, Dave McCann, Dave McCann and the Firehearts, Ironwood, Ironwood Stage & Grill, Legacy Guitar and Coffee Shop, Love and Records Festival, Opera House, Waterton