Edmonton folk duo 100 Mile House finds peace in ‘melancholy nostalgia’

Monday 14th, November 2016 / 12:50
By Amber McLinden
Peter Stone talks about being open musically and “the most exciting thing” about making music. Photo: Jessica Fern Facette

Peter Stone talks about being open musically and “the most exciting thing” about making music.
Photo: Jessica Fern Facette

CALGARY — Hiraeth is a Welsh word, and although its meaning doesn’t translate directly into English, the rough definition is that it’s a sense of longing for a place or person, even one that may never have existed.

“A melancholy nostalgia” is how Peter Stone of the Edmonton-based kitchen-folk duo 100 Mile House describes the term, the lucid ambivalence of which names their new full-length album.

“I think it is the most open and honest album we’ve done, for sure.” Stone explains. “Not that we’ve ever been particularly hidden, but this kind of lays out our personal lives kind of completely out there.” While personal content isn’t necessarily new for the duo, whose ruthlessly honest and domestic storytelling won them the Calgary Folk Fest songwriting contest a few years back and set the stage for their current career, this new release touches on some pretty sensitive content. The narratives inside stretch from laments about getting older to the trials of loss along the way. The defining feature of the album for Stone is using music as a medium, allowing the moods and motions of their string driven melodies to bring up personal topics aren’t necessarily always made explicit, especially in music, but many people experience and grapple with.

Depression and grief are deeply personal, but also extremely ubiquitous, and as such, there isn’t any reason to keep them private. The songs they wrote for the album have broadly impactful themes, but touch topics that doesn’t seem much explicit exploration. “I’m not sure why we were ever told that [depression is solitary]; I guess because it made people uncomfortable, talking about it,” Stone comments.

Working on Hiraeth proved to be therapeutic, both for Stone, and his partner in life and music Denise McKay. This effect is also starting to be seen by their listeners. The first folks to hear Hireath found it to be deeply relatable, which Stone explains, is kind of the point. “The actual creation of a piece that deals with an issue is really sort of healing, and then when other people connect to it, then that’s another stage of healing as well.”

This album is the first that Stone and McKay have recorded in a proper studio, but despite the change of scenery, the couple has continued to experiment, producing some of their most complex compositions to date. Both their music and their lives together have had some time to develop, and it provides a different perspective to their writing and production.

“It freed up our brain space, if that makes sense.” Stone suggests, “instead of having to wear so many hats and do so many different jobs, we could just be musicians and [perform] for the first time on the recordings, if that makes sense.”

Hireath is a departure from their previous recordings. Recording in a studio has done a lot to add professionalism to an already functional formula, but 100 Mile House have created deeply emotional album that discards some of their Americana aesthetic. A diverse range of string instruments permeate the record, but they have also introduced elements of rock in the hope that they can make the themes permeable to as many listeners as possible. “Having your songs hopefully connect with complete strangers who somehow will feel connected to you once they hear your music. That’s the most exciting thing,” Stone explains, “When your song connects with someone else.”

100 Mile House releases Hireath at Festival Hall in Calgary on November 18th, and at La Cité Francophone in Edmonton on the 20th.

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