2 May 2019 - After an incredible half-century-long career as a singer/songwriter/guitarist, Bruce Cockburn (Coe-burn) is still going strong with numerous awards and 33 albums under his belt, as well as a 526-page memoir and nine-disc boxed set (both titled ďRumours of Glory,Ē 2014), and heís coming back to Maine to perform at the Waterville Opera House on Saturday, May 11. To that end, I requested a telephone interview to reconnect with this talented gentle man once again. He kindly agreed and called me from a recording studio in Nashville, Tennessee, on the 16th of April.
I began by asking him how things were going?
Cockburn: Oh, things are going actually really well right now. Weíre just putting the finishing touches on a new instrumental album. Weíre mixing it now, and weíll probably get done by the end of today. And, Iím quite excited about that, actually. Otherwise, life goes on and I donít know if I had my second daughter yet when last we spoke.
Q: I had even had my first and only daughter at that time!
Cockburn: (Laughter) So, some of us have been sort of saving it up, right? Anyway, my younger daughterís 7 and in second grade and can write and speak fluently in English and French.
Q: Oh, Lord!
Cockburn: Yeah, itís pretty impressive, actually, and my life is a lot of getting her to and from school. In between those missions (chuckle), then I get to do what I do, which ó at the age I am now ó half the time is going to doctors and the other half is sort of trying to get work done.
Q: Speaking of work, and the fact that youíre getting ready to complete a new instrumental album, let me ask this: have you done many such albums over your career?
Cockburn: Just one previous one and that one is called ďSpeechless.Ē It came out at the end of the í90s or the beginning of the 2000s, I forget what year. And, it was a compilation of previously released instrumental tracks from throughout the passage of time, with several new pieces, as well. The intention with this album was to do kind of a Volume 2 of that ó we wouldnít have called it that, necessarily.
Q: Was it going to be set up the same as its predecessor, format-wise?
Cockburn: Well, we ended up with so much new stuff that itís just an album of new pieces, so itís not ďSpeechless 2Ē at all. It will be called ďCrowing Ignites,Ē which is the translation from the Latin of the Cockburn family motto.
Q: Now, just out of curiosity, are instrumentals easier to write than lyrical songs?
Cockburn: Itís a whole different thing. In some ways, yes. Thereís one less step involved really, because the songs that I write, most of them have a pretty important instrumental component to them. Itís not like just writing words and a melody for me; thereís always some sort of relationship between the sung part of the song and the guitar. So, in that sense, itís simpler, because thereís only part of it that you have to worry about, but at the same time it involves the same kind of waiting around for a good idea. In the case of instrumental pieces, the good ideas will come out of practicing. I mean, they donít come out of the air so much as they do from having your hands on a guitar. You stumble on something that sounds like it could go somewhere, and then you wrestle that into a piece. These pieces are, for the most part, kind of structured like a jazz piece with a head and an improvised section, and then youíve got the head again. Most of them are like that, but not all. Some are more folk-y and some are ó I donít know what to call them ó theyíre certainly not jazz. Itís not a jazz record, but thereís a fair amount of improvisation on the record.
Q: What are you playing on this album?
Cockburn: Itís mostly acoustic guitar, and, in terms of the kinds of structural choices you make, itís really whatever you think of. For me, Iím not constrained by any particular genre. Iím only constrained by my own technique. I guess (chuckle), itís certainly a constraint, but basically I can do whatever I think of.
Q: Now, when you come to the Waterville Opera House, oh, Iíd better ask this first: Have you ever performed there before?
Cockburn: I donít think so.
Q: Well, then youíre in for a treat, thatís for sure. Now, when I saw you in the past, you had backing musicians. Will that be the case this time Ďround or will you be solo?
Cockburn: This will be solo, yeah. And, I mean Iím not going to be stacking the show with pieces from the new instrumental album. There will be time for that when the albumís actually out.
Q: Will you do any of that new material?
Cockburn: I donít know what Iím going to do. But, thereís a chance I end up pulling out a couple of those pieces, but itíll be a cross section of newer and older, typical of my shows.
Q: Now, when you go into a solo show like this one in Waterville, do you make up a set list or just wing it?
Cockburn: I have a set list ó I donít trust my memory.
Q: And with 33 albums out, how on Earth do you create a play list out of all that material?
Cockburn: Well, itís a balance. Itís like, hereís a bunch of songs that I want to do and then thereís a bunch that people in the audience are attached to, and if you donít play them, they will feel like they didnít get their moneyís worth. So, those go in a show. So, I try to do a mix of old and new, so that some of it is still fresh for people. The last album, which is now a couple of years old, was ďBone On Bone,Ē and there will be stuff from that, for sure.
Q: I have one last question before we bring this chat to an end. Is there anything, Bruce, that you would like me to pass on to the folks reading this?
Cockburn: Well, just ďhelloĒ and ďcome to the show,Ē I guess.
~from Lucky Clark on music - Bruce Cockburn