-- Always Circling - A conversation with Bruce Cockburn --
-- by Vish Khanna --

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Jul 4 2019 - In his 2014 memoir, Rumours of Glory, music icon Bruce Cockburn writes of trips he took on freighters across the ocean to Europe as a young man, his desire to leave his hometown of Ottawa after high school for the Berklee School of Music in Boston, and drives across Canada with his partners, just for the adventure of it all.

In a sense, he has always been moving and very soon his current tour will bring him to Hillside for an evening, main stage performance on Sunday July 14.

"I had this spiritual wanderlust or something," he says now, over the phone from another tour stop in Massachusetts. "I understood I needed to be somewhere else. The situation I was in in Boston felt like it wasn't going anywhere, or at least not going where I needed to go. I didn't know where that was; I had no sense of a goal or anything. I just knew I had to move on from where I was and so I went back to Ottawa and joined a band. And then I ended up being me."

It all worked out well for Cockburn, who is one of Canada's most acclaimed and decorated guitarists, songwriters, and singers and well-known for his outspoken social and political views and advocacy for those who are impoverished or living in third-world countries that are ostensibly corrupt war zones. He has written songs about such people and circumstances and he has travelled to these places himself, meaning many of his artistic renderings are firsthand accounts. Again, it speaks to the world explorer within.

"Travel is now less for an adventure and more just for getting to gigs," he admits. "I'm balancing that against having a family that's stationary. My wife has a job in San Francisco and my daughter is in school there. I spend less time on the road at a stretch in order to have a family life that's functional. As anybody who does this much travelling will tell, it's very hard to balance those things out. If you let the travel dominate you, you don't have a family life for long."

In a fascinating turn, Cockburn's family ties led him to naming his next album, his first collection of all-new, original instrumentals, Crowing Ignites.

"Long ago when the Cockburn clan had a clan chief, in the 1600s or so, they came up with a family motto, which in Latin is, 'Accendit Cantu,'" Cockburn explains. "The most common version of that family crest or coat of arms has three red roosters on a white shield but there's a badge that goes with that that the lesser beings, who weren't entitled to flaunt the coat of arms, could wear. And that one has pictures of crowing roosters with this motto.

"It gets translated in different ways but I've seen it as 'Music excites,' which I thought, 'How cool and ironic is that?' But having studied a bit of Latin in high school, it didn't add up so I looked it up myself and what it actually means is 'Crowing ignites.' And my wife said, 'You have to use that as an album title,' and so I did."

His 34th album, Crowing Ignites was produced by Cockburn's longtime collaborator, Colin Linden, and it's out September 20 via True North Records.

"It's an instrumental album that's all guitar and I think it came off really well. Guitar is what got me into music. I didn't start out as a teenager wanting to be a songwriter; I wanted to play guitar. I got interested in composition through guitar but imagined myself as a jazz guitarist, which is what I went to school to study. It turned out I realized that wasn't where I wanted to go."

Indeed, Cockburn became a gifted lyricist, which proved to be a great outlet for a poetic, opinionated fellow. During our conversation, he talks about the U.S. political climate and shares his feelings on everything from our impending ecological collapse to the state of modern, mainstream radio. With so many things to talk about, it's interesting to hear him leave his voice behind for a new record.

"We put out an instrumental album a few years ago called Speechless that was a compilation of previously released pieces with a few new ones on it," he says. "And the original intention of this new one was to do that again. But we ended up with so much new stuff, it became a new album. And it's a fact that I didn't come up with any new [lyric-based] songs in that same period.

"It is also a fact that at this point in my life, I've said a lot of stuff already and a lot of what I have to say is the same," Cockburn admits. "It can be hard to have new things to say or new ways to say the old things because of how much I've already done."

Listen to this interview with Bruce Cockburn on the Kreative Kontrol podcast. Also Listen here on


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This page is part of The Cockburn Project, a unique website that exists to document the work of Canadian singer-songwriter and musician Bruce Cockburn. The Project archives self-commentary by Cockburn on his songs and music, and supplements this core part of the website with news, tour dates, and other current information.