By Sebastian Buzzalino
CALGARY — How do you make something special? Truly special, in the face of relentless apathy? All artists have to face indifference on a daily basis, enduring their own vision against a mass of blankness, but few have had the opportunity to face what Kevin Stebner has in the past 15 years. Regularly dubbed one of the hardest-working musicians in Alberta, Stebner is well known in DIY circles for his eternal dedication to the scene, not only playing in cornerstone bands like Stalwart Sons, Cold Water and, most recently, Prepared, but also manning two record labels, Bart Records and Revolution Winter, as well as working on his poetry. All of these tie into a larger, Stebnerian aesthetic, one that is deeply rooted in raw, unmasked emotions and the kind of stark, windswept gravitas that dominates his prairie home.
This month, Cold Water, his heavy-folk-meets-post-hardcore project, is set to release their debut, self-titled LP via Revolution Winter — and Stebner’s umpteenth album either via one of his bands or labels — and, once again, Stebner is faced with the question of how to get people to care about the release: how does he transform this into something viable, something meaningful?
“The thing with how you stay motivated is that it’s for me,” he says after some thought. “If you are an artist, you are a musician, you are a writer, that’s what you do: you make music all the time. It’s easy enough to get discouraged and no one cares and there’s no justice in the art world, the good people get looked over time and time again, while the mediocre stuff gets lifted to prominence. That no one cares should be a given, so you have to reevaluate what motivates you: it’s about making the best thing you can make, following your vision and making it happen. There’s no goal other than I want to make the best thing I can make.”
Cold Water’s debut marks the realization of an idea and aesthetic Stebner’s had for years. “I love folk music,” he says, “but I’ve always played in heavy bands, played in hardcore bands, and I love the weight of loud music, playing things hard and heavy, exuding, yelling, putting out emotion and raw sense. That’s what always bugged me about folk music: it always deals with these super heavy, raw emotions, but it always treated it so slightly, I could never reconcile that. If you’re singing about these super heavy things, why are you just lightly strumming? Why not play with the full weight of your emotions? That’s the idea behind the record, to make a folk record, but play really loud.”
Armed with a release full of “some of the most personal songs” he’s written, Stebner and Cold Water fixed their attention on the release show on May 16, which also serves as a cross-Canada tour launch in early June, returning, once again, to the question of how to make the release something special, not just another bar lineup to be lost amidst all the other listings. The idea of doing a Band-inspired Last Waltz show — no openers or headliners, just a revolving door of friends and musicians coming together, collaborating, covering, hootin’ and hollerin’ on jams — seemed like the perfect antidote for indifference, a celebration of all the best parts of a release show combined with something that personally interests the band.
“I’ve been playing in bands forever, for 15 years, and everyone does the same thing over and over. So, how do you make one thing special, just once? How do you make people care for a little bit? I’ve been dealing with indifference forever. No one cares, so, in the end, you just do the thing that interests you. This sounded like a fun idea and who doesn’t like The Band, coked-out Neil Young, Ronnie Hawkins stealing the show? It’s an excuse to learn friends’ cool songs, have a good time.”
Cold Water will release their debut, self-titled LP on May 16 at the National Music Centre. The Cold Water Revue is a Last Waltz-styled release show featuring musicians from The Collapse, Knots, Slates, Brushsigns, Laura Leif, No River and Lucid 44.AB, Alberta, Cold Water, National Music Centre