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BRUCE COCKBURN > Interviews

Bruce Cockburn: A Journey Celebrated in Music

Bruce Cockburn views time as his most precious currency. The 74-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter intends to spend well what he has left, his role models being aging musicians such as John Lee Hooker (1917-2001) and Mississippi John Hurt (1892-1966), bluesmen who played their harps until their lips trickled blood, and strummed and pined through their last shaft of sunlight.

“In the context of contemplating retirement, I admire the old blues guys who never stopped working until they dropped,” says Cockburn. “That’s what I fully expect to be doing myself.”

Most of those blue legends kept playing out of financial necessity, of course, but they also loved what they did. “Growing old gracefully, I’ve learned, is much different than simply keeping going,” explains Cockburn. “We either die or we get old – those are the choices. At this point, I’ll choose growing old, and I’ll choose getting better as a musician, and as a human being.”

Over five decades, Cockburn, whose music has been formed by political dissent, religion, romance, and spiritual awakening, has released 34 albums over his lengthy career. He stresses that his work has experienced a large resurgence, now that he himself in his 70s, a period in life when many other people his age are shutting down the store, and segueing from living to passing away.

Indeed, a conversation with Cockburn isn’t merely a chronological recap of his life; it’s a vivacious discussion about today and tomorrow and the viaduct that links the two. It’s all about his willingness to explore new fields as an artist and as a human. His interaction with his fans, he says, has matured in novel ways in recent years. Up until a few years ago, he had resisted greeting audiences, or signing autographs following shows. Now all that is something he commonly does – and something he enjoys.

“There’s an element of unreality to those encounters,” says Cockburn. “When you are on stage, by default, you are larger than life, and that’s a distortion. If you stick around long enough to converse with people, it gets better and more interesting.

“I now have a multi-generational fan base, including kids who were raised on my stuff, among other things. These are people who’ve hung in there all these years, and now they’ve brought their own kids; what kind of huge compliment is that? The alternative is watching the audience turn into skeletons attached to the walls with cobwebs.”

Crowing Ignites Bruce Cockburn

Prolific and multi-dimensional, Cockburn’s stage life has been guided by ingenuity. He decided to go wordless on his recently-released Crowing Ignites album (his second instrumental album, following Speechless in 2005), and he shows no signs of calling off the hunt for the muse.

“I feel like I’ll get on to something – whether guitar-tuning, or a certain way of going at words, like the spoken word stuff of the ‘80s and ‘90s, when what I was doing was exploratory, and expanding the song form. The challenge is to find different ways to put all of that stuff together and still call it a song.”

Cockburn admits that now it’s harder than ever to find untrammeled paths, and confesses that occasionally he finds himself hovering in his own footprints. His job description, however, remains the same: trap the spirit in the scrawling of pen on paper, and then pull bright notes out of six-string, 12-string, and baritone acoustics.

“It’s easy to make mistakes (as a singer-songwriter), and now I mostly worry more about repeating myself than I do copying stuff from other people. In the early days, I went out of my way to avoid being influenced by other singer-songwriters. From the late 1960s to early 1970s, I made it a point not to listen to anything remotely close to what it was I was doing.

“So I didn’t listen to pop music, or singer-songwriters or anything else that was similar to what I was playing. Later on, it was easier because I had established a road for myself that wasn’t like anyone else’s. Now, if I have an idea, and if it seems like a good one, I need to make sure it’s not one that I wrote 20 years ago, and yes, that does happen.

“A lot of songs are stillborn because of that. You are never going to find new thematic material for songs, because life is life. But it’s a little harder as time goes on to find fresh ways of going at things, or not saying what you’ve said before.”

To stay prepared he has embraced everything from folk, reggae, jazz, rock, Latin, and Delta blues, an internationalist slant he has nurtured while travelling to such places as Guatemala, Iraq, Venezuela, Mali, Mozambique, and Nepal.

One of his trips inspired a memorable song that made its way on to “Small Source of Comfort.” Cockburn followed his younger brother, John, a doctor in the Canadian army, to Afghanistan in 2009 for one week. John joined the army at age 55 and worked for the Canadian Forces at Kandahar Airfield. In “Each One Lost,” he recounts witnessing a plane arrive that was carrying the bodies of two Canadians who’d been killed that day.

“I had been in war zones before, but never with an actual military and with people whose language I spoke. I made a song out of it, and I’m grateful when that happens.

“While I was there, two girls were being treated who had been too close to a roadside bomb. Most of us don’t need to be reminded that war is horrible and fucked up. There are a few important people who need to be reminded of that concept.”

It’s interesting to consider Bruce Cockburn’s theme of spiritual growth as an individual path of self-reflection and accountability, rather than one that follows socially-sanctioned rules. At their core, his songs are stepping stones to self-realization and maturity.

“One’s condition is fluid throughout one’s life as an artist,” said Cockburn. “The work evolves because of that inner quest and you are shaped by all of your experiences in life… The closer you get to the inevitable horizon, the less inclined you are to put up with stuff you don’t need.”

Even after forty years in music, it’s evident there are few subjects Cockburn deems unworthy or off-limits. That bold range is manifest in a catalogue of songs touching on topics from the International Monetary Fund to the plight of refugees to dealing with land mines. He’s disciplined about writing on political opinions; something about the messy truth inspires his most bighearted, beautifully rendered music.

Indeed, Cockburn’s most endearing tunes include one of his political tracks, “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” about the slaughter of innocent civilians from the air in Latin America, and the radio-friendly “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” which peaked at Number 21 on the U.S. Billboard “Hot 100” in 1980.
10 November 2019:

Bruce Cockburn’s music has often been noted for its empathetic qualities, qualities that reflect the artist’s desire to expand his and others’ capacity for empathy and compassion and thinking outside the tribe, so to speak.

“For each of us I think that there is always a kind of inner struggle between having empathy with others and selfishness. So, for me, expanded empathy is a good thing. You need enough ego to survive – it is a kind of survival tool.

“I think we all feel it in different degrees. But beyond that, it’s the fairly obvious sense that we are all in this boat together, and we need to approach each other from that perspective. I’m on a constant campaign to suspend judgment of others. It shouldn’t be the attitude where you only look out for yourself, and to hell with everyone else. People are tribal with the group they feel closest to: their neighbors, their church groups, whatever, and their sense of self expands to include that group, and not anyone else.”

Striving to be both a tribe of one and the head of a family of tens of thousands, Cockburn’s sense of purpose always pulsates through both his close at-hand live performances and reverberations far afield.

“I believe that all living things are made up of music,” said Cockburn. “I see music as my diary, my anchor through anguish and pleasure, a channel for my heart.”

Credit: Montana Press – Brian D’Ambrosio

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Bruce Cockburn back on tour, plenty of books in tow

by ANN WRIGHT

14 November 2019

Bruce Cockburn has been on tour one day, and he’s already been given two bags of books.

Cockburn is an avid reader, and he has authored a book himself: “Rumours of Glory,” a memoir released in 2014.

“People give me books all the time,” said Cockburn in a phone interview just hours before performing in Vancouver, Canada, on a tour for “Crowing Ignites,” an all-instrumental CD that came out in September.

Cockburn, 74, is joined for this tour by his nephew, John Aaron Cockburn, who is adding accordion and harmonies to Cockburn’s music and will be with Bruce Cockburn at his show in Grand Junction at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, at Avalon Theatre, 645 Main St.

Touring with his nephew “has been real fun,” Cockburn said. “It’s been working quite well.”

And as a bonus for people who previously have been to a Cockburn show, “they won’t have seen this particular presentation before,” he said.

“We’re doing a few pieces from the new instrumental album, but there is a cross section of songs from through the decades,” he said.

Those decades, which start about 1970 with the Canadian musician’s debut release, include more than 30 albums and hundreds of songs with Cockburn’s genre-crossing guitar playing, dynamic lyrics and songwriting that has run the topical gamut from relationships to political and environmental activism.

His discography reflects a man constantly on the move, both professionally and mentally. While Cockburn isn’t slowing musically, he has made changes in recent years to his touring schedule.

“I’ve got a young daughter at home and I want to be home sometimes. My touring is structured so I can do that,” he said.

Instead of six weeks or more on the road, “now we go for a couple weeks and take time off,” he said.

Any longer than that and Cockburn might need a trailer for all the books he has been given.

Right now he’s struggling to focus on books with “serious stuff,” he said.

“I read way too much news and magazine stuff,” Cockburn said. It’s interesting, informative and mind-widening, “but a lot of it is an invitation to wallow in the worst of humanity.”

But he still can put a James Lee Burke novel away in a couple of days. He was given “Collected Stories” by Raymond Chandler for Christmas last year and “that was fun reading through those and it took very little effort,” he said of the noir mysteries. “They’re just fantastic.”

He did bring his own reading material for this tour, before the two bags of “wonderful” book gifts.

The first was “Laphman’s Quarterly.” It looks like a trade paperback, but it’s a magazine, he said.

“Climate” is the fall theme for the quarterly, with all kinds of juxtaposing articles, one by an ancient Greek writer, another by a current writer and so on.

It’s interesting reading and works well with being on tour because you can read a bit at a time, Cockburn said.

The other book he brought is the biography “Hitler’s Priestess: Savitri Devi, the Hindu-Aryan Myth and Neo-Nazism” by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke.

It was sent to him by a friend, who looked over the book and wrote, “It talks about God and war and it sounds like it’s right up your alley,” recalled Cockburn with a chuckle.

“It’s an interesting and disturbing book,” he said.

But books aside and on to Grand Junction, where he last performed about 10 years ago. “I’m looking forward to coming and playing,” Cockburn said.

Credit: Grand Junction Sentinel


No words required for Bruce Cockburn to say something – Crowing Ignites

November 7, 2019

by Mike Devlin

Bruce Cockburn is no different than other writers who make their living through music. Some new compositions sit around for years, such as Gifts, which was written in 1968 but didn’t appear on an album by Cockburn until 2011’s Small Source of Comfort. Others spend considerably less time on the shelf.

Making music is an interesting process for the 13-time Juno Award winner, who always seems to be flipping between the past and present, deeply adverse to the idea of stasis. He could have taken an easy route when making his latest recording, Crowing Ignites. He could have settled into an easy groove for his 26th studio album. But he chose to push forward into another phase of his career, one of the most illustrious in Canadian music. What emerged were 11 new instrumental compositions that find Cockburn still exploring the outer acres of his very capable, very esteemed guitar talents.

“Our original plan for this album was to make Speechless 2, because there’s a whole album left over from pieces we didn’t use,” Cockburn said of Crowing Ignites, the second instrumental album of his career after 2005’s Speechless. “We could have made a pretty nice album out of that, but I ended up with so much new stuff it took on its own life.”

The songs on Crowing Ignites say plenty, even though they don’t have words.

The new song Sweetness and Light was written on a particularly positive day, Cockburn said; the title simply reflected what he was feeling at the time. Easter was written on the holiday of the same name, while April in Memphis was written, on Martin Luther King Day, in reference to the anniversary of King’s death. Naming songs is never difficult, especially when lyrics are involved. But with an instrumental album, the task is more of an abstract exercise, he said with a laugh.

“There is an element of pointing at ideas or notions in the title-giving stage, but the music is just the music. The issue of ‘saying something’ comes into it not so much in the inventing of the music, because what I want to say is the music itself. But you have to give these pieces titles, otherwise you’re stuck with Opus Such and Such. I don’t care for that approach.”

Cockburn, 74, is ending a brief break from the road (spent at home in San Francisco, with his wife and daughter) with a string of dates to support Crowing Ignites. He’ll be joined for his nearly sold-out show at the Royal Theatre on Friday by his nephew, John Aaron Cockburn, on accordion and guitar. Cockburn enlists his full band when the shows call for sonic sophistication, but he’s enjoying the understated approach the duo set-up provides. “For this time period and the nature of the album — it’s basically just a bunch of solo guitar — it didn’t seem appropriate to celebrate that album with a band, particularly.”

Shows on his Canadian run won’t be heavily focused on the new album, and the new songs he is committed to doing will be presented in a redesigned manner, Cockburn said. “A piece called Blind Willie, for instance, where Colin Linden plays a great slide guitar part on the album, will be done by John Aaron on the accordion. They will have a different feel, but they give you the same kind of rootsy energy that the recorded version has.”

That Cockburn chose to make an album with no lyrics at a time when he could have said something powerful was a curious decision. Long outspoken, on topics ranging from Christianity and environmental disaster to war, many expected him to offer his eloquence on climates both political and personal. He never felt pressure to add his voice to chorus, however, which at this point in his career should go without saying. Of the songwriters working today, Cockburn — who recently offered his thoughts about the environment on False River, a song from 2017’s Bone on Bone — is as credentialled as anyone, and has nothing to prove in 2019.

“I haven’t felt motivated to add to the clamour,” he said. “Everybody who listens to me, or takes me seriously, knows what we’re dealing with here, and would agree with me on what I’d say about Donald Trump, et cetera. Donald Trump gets more attention than he deserves as it is, he doesn’t need help from me in that regard.

“It’s not like I’ve been silent on that stuff. People are wondering: ‘Why an instrumental album now?’ But I don’t think it’s a meaningful issue, that I did an instrumental album now. I could have done it at any time. It wasn’t a case of: ‘Jeez, I don’t want to talk about this now or talk about that now.’ There’s lots to talk about, but there’s also lots of talking going on, and nobody is really paying attention to what is being said.”

Credit: Times Colonist

mdevlin@timescolonist.com


Bruce Cockburn on Garcia Confusion, Echo Chambers and Singing Bowls

by Dean Budnick
November 6, 2019

“The original was to do Speechless Two,” Bruce Cockburn explains, while describing the origins of his new record, Crowing Ignites. On 2005’s Speechless, he recorded some of his prior instrumental compositions, placing a particular focus on his stellar acoustic-guitar work. (Speechless earned him a Canadian Folk Music Award for Best Instrumentalist.) But, while Crowing Ignites once again finds Cockburn on an acoustic, this time the 11 compositions are all new. He explains, “We had a lot of unreleased material, including recordings that didn’t make it on Speechless. But, once I started coming up with a few new pieces, they just didn’t stop coming.”

I wasn’t there but, apparently, when you performed in the Relix office, some of our younger staffers were unaware that your song “Waiting for a Miracle” was not a Jerry Garcia original.

Yes, the kids recognized the song because they are paying attention to the Dead and Jerry’s music. That association is entirely complimentary—it’d be nicer if everyone went, “Oh, yeah, great song,” but that’s the way it goes. I was at the home of someone I know in Oakland, playing some songs to help cheer up his son, and this woman from next door sat down for a while. She was a big Dead fan and, when I played that song, she had no idea it wasn’t a Jerry Garcia song. She was quite skeptical of me claiming that I wrote it. I said, “Yeah, it’s my song,” and she looked at me like, “He’s bullshitting me.” [Laughs.]

These things happen. They don’t happen to me very often because, compared to other songwriters, not a huge number of famous people have recorded my songs. Some have tried, but I don’t know if I’ve ever met a Jimmy Buffett fan, for instance, who has made the connection that he’s recorded some of my songs.

As a young person, it didn’t really matter to me who wrote the song. “Ivory Joe Hunter, who the hell was that?” Now, it’s a bit more fashionable to pay attention to those things, but it’s not that big a deal.

I imagine that some people have been surprised that you released an all-instrumental record during this politically charged era?

Yes, apparently everybody’s expecting me to say something bad about Donald Trump. But everybody else is doing that already; I don’t need to do that, too. He gets enough attention.

Plus, when I look around, everyone’s nattering away: Liberals are bad. Liberals are weird. Liberals are gonna do something bad to my kid. And then, on the liberal side of it, all the conservatives are gonna do these bad things. It’s ridiculous. But who’s listening? We’re all only listening inside our little echo chamber.

What we need is something that promotes unity, something to pull us together and to allow to look at each other and go, “Hey, we all appreciate the same thing here.” That happened in a different kind of way in the 1980s, with Stealing Fire. In the Reagan era, I’d play these shows, and I’d look out at the audience. In response to songs like “Nicaragua” or “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” people were looking at each other going, “I’m not alone here” because there was no media coverage at that time with a dissenting view. But when all these people were in a concert hall and listening to this music, they were looking at each other and going, “Oh, yeah, all these people feel the way I do about it.” It’s empowering, and a great feeling for me, to witness something like that.

What we need now is something that will come out and do the same thing in a much more difficult context, where you’re dealing with people that just don’t agree with each other. Many of us are coming to recognize that it’s not sustainable to continue like this. There are people interested in exploiting this intentional fragmentation. We’ve got to fix it. I don’t think a song can fix it, but I think a body of popular sentiments expressed in song might.

The song “Bells of Gethsemane,” on Crowing Ignites , features a number of singing bowls. How did that came about?

I went into the studio with all the pieces composed, except for that one and “Seven Daggers.” Over the years, I’ve accumulated a number of singing bowls. They sound so beautiful, and I’ve just always wanted to use them for something. But, the application of them to my normal music is kind of limited because I can’t play the guitar and play those bowls at the same time. Also, they’re not tuned to A440; they’re tuned to whatever they’re tuned to and they’re suggestive of notes, but they are not very clear that way. You have to establish a context. I just thought, “I want to make a piece out of singing bowls. I want to build something using those.” I have all these other things—orchestral chimes, and various other ring-y things that I’ve accumulated. The intention was to build a piece out of all that stuff. So, I put down a couple layers of singing bowls, chimes and various other things, and added the baritone guitar over the top. I was very pleased with how it came out. It’s exciting for me to get that rich sound into a recording.

Your songs often have overt political messages. How do you respond when people receive them in a way that doesn’t entirely align with your intent?

I have to let go of my intentions for a song once it’s out there. I’d go crazy trying to understand where everybody could possibly take my ideas, or how they want to interpret them, unless it’s something really flagrant or they’ve completely got it backward. If someone came up, for instance, and said, “Oh, I really like that ‘Rocket Launcher’ song. I really want to go down and kill Guatemalan soldiers; it gave me all kinds of energy to do that,” then I’d have to take them up on it. I’d have to say, “Oh, no, that’s not the idea.”

Think of an abstract painting. If someone were to have a conversation about Salvador Dalí and his melting clocks, I’m sure he would have something to say, but it would be foolish if he thought that what he understood those things to represent was universally grasped by everyone. It’s true no matter how simple an idea seems to be. Something like motherhood means different things to different people. We can talk about motherhood and apple pie, but there are some people who didn’t have a very good time with motherhood or don’t enjoy apple pie. You have to have a lighter grasp of your intentions, once the piece is out there. Once it’s out, it’s up for grabs.

Credit: Relix Newsletter & Daily 7


Live at WFUV Studio

16 October 2019 –
by Paul Cavalconte

Canadian singer-songwriter and instrumentalist Bruce Cockburn has given us a lifetime of deep songs and engaging performances. His newest effort is an all-instrumental album called Crowing Ignites. The odd phrase is a literal translation of the Latin expression that is on the Cockburn family coat of arms.


https://www.wfuv.org/content/bruce-cockburn-2019
– Click Through for audio interview and photo slide show

Bruce Cockburn Live WFUV studio photo Nora Doyle July 2019

That anchor in tradition and Cockburn’s identity drives the new music, which he says invites participation. As a songwriter who skips the words on this go-around, the listener is challenged to use their imagination to fill in the blanks.

In Studio A, Cockburn performed the flamenco-tinged “Angels In The Half Light,” and he also sang “States I’m In,” from the 2017 release, Bone On Bone.

As he also told me in our conversation, life and his music is a journey that finds it’s own path. Fifty years after his debut album, Cockburn recalls his own 50th birthday, and how life magically got easier and more rewarding because so much of the heavy lifting was already done.

[Recorded: 7/18/19; Engineer: Sam Lazarev; Producer: Sarah Wardrop

Bruce Cockburn in Studio A (photo by Nora Doyle/WFUV)

Credit: WFUV.org


Bruce Cockburn: From A Yorkville Hippie To An Officer Of The Order Of Canada

11 October 2019 –

Musician Bruce Cockburn has been a singer and songwriter of poetic lyrics and bon mots for more than five decades.

In Conversation:

There are times when being a part of history, albeit a tumultuously famous (some might even say infamous) one, becomes a badge of honour, the tipping point from which many other seismic life events are launched. Toronto’s Yorkville scene in the mid-to-late 1960s and early 1970s was such a place. Although today’s well-heeled visitors to the area might not be able to fathom it, Yorkville in those earlier days was comparable, on a smaller scale, to New York’s bumping Greenwich Village. The hub of a creative, nonconformist, bohemian, longhaired subculture, Yorkville’s hippie scene was entrenched in a tie-dye plethora of folk, rock and jazz music, suede and leather-fringed jackets, a surfeit of free love and, oh yes, a lot of marijuana smoking, which five decades later would become legal — a fact that no one would have imagined at the time.

Bruce Cockburn - Dolce Magazine - 11 October 2019 - photo Carlos A. Pinto

One of Yorkville’s greatest contributions to music aficionados was the exceptional quality of musicians who got their start in the 40-plus coffee houses and bars that dotted the streets of the Yorkville scene, which encompassed Hazelton Avenue, Cumberland Street, Avenue Road and Bay Street. The famed Penny Farthing coffee house attracted big-name talent such as James Taylor, and Simon & Garfunkel. And the renowned Riverboat Coffee House, where stars such as Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot and Neil Young played, is also where Ottawa native Bruce Cockburn — folk singer, songwriter, author and multiple Juno awardee — often played. On the big stage, the singer shared a concert bill with a who’s-who of musical proficiency, including The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream. With his ever-present round-rimmed spectacles, and his long, dark hair curling out from underneath a fedora trimmed with leather strips, Cockburn’s gentle, commanding voice and poetic lyrics captivated audiences. They knew all the words to his wildly popular, songs-for-the-decades hits, such as “Wondering Where the Lions Are” (1979), “Rumours of Glory” (1980), “The Trouble with Normal” (1983), “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” (1984), “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” (1984) and “Call It Democracy” (1986), to name just a few.

A man whose words shone like beacons in his lyrics, Cockburn’s ability to interact with others throughout his younger years was one that was fraught with angst and rage. “I was wrapped up in myself — not in a narcissistic way, but in terms of mistrust of the world. I was not open to other people,” Cockburn says. “A lot of my adult life has been a big learning curve in terms of empathizing and loving people. In the process of navigating through life, I have learned things — sometimes quickly, and sometimes as an uneven trickle. Every time there has been a discovery, there has likely been a song. We all have a lot in common throughout our lives, including scars. None of us gets out of our childhood/youth without some damage. The scars unite us; if we find those scars in a person and are open to the energy they offer from that place, then it is a binding agent. We are all in this together.”


Bruce Cockburn: The Roots Music Canada interview

by Ted Ferris – October 2, 2019

Bruce Cockburn’s 34th studio album, Crowing Ignites, was released on Friday, Sept. 20 on True North Records. The instrumental album contains 11 original songs and was produced, recorded and mixed by Bruce’s long-time confidant, Colin Linden. The album was recorded in a former fire hall located just a few blocks from Bruce’s home in San Francisco.

I recently had the privilege of speaking with Bruce about his latest album, the upcoming North American tour, and what comes next for a guitar legend.

Ted: The liner notes explain that the title, Crowing Ignites, was translated from Accendit Cantu, a Latin phrase that appears on the Cockburn family crest. I’m curious to know whether you’ve always been aware of this part of your family history or was this a more recent discovery?

Bruce: Not exactly recent, but it doesn’t go all the way back either. I’ve always been aware of, and always felt kind of connected to, my Scottish ancestry, but I had not ever particularly researched the family history. My Dad did that in the ’70s and ’80s … but I think it was actually my brother who came up with the family coat of arms with that motto on it. It was initially translated as music excites, which I thought was very exciting, and so does he, because what more appropriate (laughs) family motto could I have? But later on I came across other versions of it that weren’t – it was clear that none of these were actually translations. So I actually just went back and translated the Latin, and it came up “crowing ignites,” which I thought had a much better ring to it than the other versions in English. [It’s] just a strong poetic phrase. As far as the ancestry side goes, my Dad actually put it together in a kind of self-published book. He’s the one that did that work; not me. But the connection to Scotland has always been there and remains. It was in the ’90s when we discovered that motto, but the translation was only this year … I was looking at that Latin phrase and thinking … “It doesn’t say ‘music excites,’ and it doesn’t say ‘he arouses by crowing,’ and it doesn’t say a couple other things that people claimed it said. So I got excited and went after it and translated it. And then when I discovered what it really said, I got much more excited … Then my wife said, “You gotta use that for your album title.” So I did.

Ted: Was the concept for Crowing Ignites being an instrumental album in place before the selection of the album title?

Bruce: Oh yeah. It’s not a concept album other than the fact that it’s all instrumental, and that was the intention to do that. Instrumental music, for me at least, isn’t really about anything in particular. It’s about itself … It exists, and it has the capacity to touch you in whatever way it does, and that’s it. … Pieces get titles because you have to call them something, and sometimes you get lucky and think of a title that really fits the piece. Sometimes the titles are obvious right away, and other times you have to struggle with it for a while. But in terms of the album as a whole, the plan was to initially to make a Speechless Two. We were going to collect the various previously released instrumental pieces that weren’t on Speechless and then add some new pieces to that and basically do the same thing we’d previously done ’cause there seemed to be some interest on people’s part on having that, and it appealed to me. But then I started writing pieces, and they just kept coming. So it became Crowing Ignites instead of Speechless Two.

Ted: You recorded the album in a former fire hall in San Francisco. Did you encounter any challenges converting the space into a functioning recording studio? From the photos that I’ve seen online, it looked like there were several hard surfaces you may have had to contend with.

Bruce: No, actually, far from it. It was the easiest thing. Kind of the most hassle-free recording I think I’ve ever done. … The room sounds great as it is. It’s true when you look at pictures you see a cement wall, but the cement wall is very heavily textured so it doesn’t reflect the sound … at all. And there’s a lot of wood in the room, so it really sounded nice. I had heard music in there before, and so I knew that it sounded like it did, and it just seemed like the combination of that and its proximity to where I live and my daughter’s school and so on it made it very convenient. My friend, who owned the place, was very happy to let us use it. Colin … went out and rounded up the gear and brought it in and set it up. It didn’t take much. It came in suitcases and it set up on a table, and there it was. I brought in all my stuff that you can see in the pictures: chimes and Tibetan singing bowls and all sorts of things with strings on them, and then we just – we spent a great week making a record.

Ted: While it sounds like the studio came together quite well, did any particular song present any unique challenges? I understand that “Seven Daggers” and “Bells Of Gethsemane” were constructed in the studio, and you used a vast assortment of unique instruments on each song. Did you have any difficulty putting them together, micing and recording them?

Bruce: Well, … not beyond what you’d expect. Let’s put it that way. I mean, everything’s a challenge. You’ve got to get it right, but there [were] no real difficulties at all. The most complicated one is “Seven Daggers.” We constructed that one and “Bells of Gethsemane,” as you pointed out … in the studio. All the other pieces, I knew what I was going to do when I went into the studio. But with those pieces, all I knew was that I had an idea for certain kinds of layering that I wanted to do. In the case of “Seven Daggers,” I wanted to use little kalimba things that I have, and the charango. … The charango can be tuned so it will play in A minor with the kalimbas. So we created loops out of those and made a layer out of that and then just started adding things to it. [Then] Colin put on the baritone guitar part, and I played the 12-string over top. That was the most elaborate of the constructions. “Bells of Gethsemane,” I just put down a layer of singing bowls and then another layer of singing bowls and then a layer of chimes and some other stuff and just played over top, playing the baritone myself on that one. So I wouldn’t call them challenging. There’s a process, but the only real challenging part, which is always there, is to get past the conditions of the day … How tired are you? Or how imaginative do you feel at this moment? … Those kinds of things. But that’s always there.

Ted: I recognized a few of the musicians that perform on Crowing Ignites. However, one name that I didn’t recognize was Bo Carper’s. I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about him.

Bruce: Bo Carper is a guitar player that I’m acquainted with here in San Francisco – a very good guitar player actually. We met at a social gathering, and we ended up jamming together, so that’s how I found out what kind of guitar player he is. Because I don’t really know many people in the music scene here, I [contacted] him and asked him if he knew any percussionists, because I was interested in having somebody play percussion on some of the pieces. He gave me a couple of names. … One I didn’t get a hold of, and the other one … was already booked for the time period that we needed him for. So that didn’t pan out … I let Bo know that, and he said, “Well you know I’m a really great shaker player.” I had never heard anyone say that about themselves before, so I immediately perked up. And so he came in and played shaker. I thought this will be fun to try, or whatever. It’s not what I was exactly looking for, but it might work really well. And I think it does, and I think he did a fantastic job. A couple of the pieces we played live together, and then a couple of them he did as overdubs. Colin was involved in every aspect of the album, and he plays on the aforementioned “Seven Daggers” and also on “Blind Willie,” putting a great slide guitar part on that. And then Janice Powers, Colin’s wife, plays keyboards, as she’s done a lot of times before for me on other albums. She’s really great at coming up with these atmospheric keyboard kind of landscapy parts that I think contributed greatly to the overall effect of things.

Ted: Another person listed on one of the tracks is your daughter, Iona. What was it like including her in the recording of the album?

Bruce: It was fun. She got to clap along, and she was excited to be able to go in studio and clap her hands. I don’t know if it’ll mean too much to her in the long run, but it was fun at the time.

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Bruce Cockburn on his lyric-less new album, Crowing Ignites

CBC Radio · Posted: Sep 23, 2019

One of Canada’s finest lyricists has decided to lose the words — at least for the moment.

Bruce Cockburn’s new album, Crowing Ignites, is his second foray into instrumental music. Instead of lyrics, Cockburn’s deft and soulful guitar playing takes centre stage. He dropped by the q studio to perform songs from the new album, including a duet with our own Tom Power.

Credit: CBC Radio q


Interview: Bruce Cockburn on “Crowing Ignites,” Meeting Jerry Garcia, and ‘Little Ass’ Bells

September 17, 2019 – Melissa Clarke

Americana Highways recently spoke with Bruce Cockburn about his new instrumental album, Crowing Ignites, due to be released September 20th. Here is what transpired.

Bruce Cockburn - 2019 - photo Daniel Keebler

AH: The title of the album is Crowing Ignites. Tell us the story behind this title!

BC: My brother discovered that the Cockburn family motto as part of the coat of arms is “Accendit Cantu” which is a Latin phrase. We were all excited because it was translated for us as “Music Excites” which seemed like a really fortuituous circumstance, especially for somebody like me. But awhile later I was looking up information on the family and it was translated differenty; it was translated as “He Arouses Us By Crowing” and there were some other variations, so finally I looked it up myself, and translated it myself and it came out “Crowing Ignites”! And it was such a punchy phrase it was exciting. My wife suggested I use it for my album title and I thought “yes I should”!

AH: This album is instrumental, as was your earlier album Speechless. In the absence of spoken human language, what does music, on its own, convey?

BC: It’s unusual for music without a lyrical content attached to it to convey a specific idea. But it certainly carries feelings. And it contains the capacity, depending on how the listener approaches it, to transport the listener to a place of their choosing. If I listen to mournful sounding Baroque pieces, for instance, I get a tremendously wistful peacefulness from that music. And there’s music that gets you all fired up and other music that makes you uncomfortable and so on. So it has that capacity as well.

In making music, basically what you hope for is that a listener will get out of it what you put into it, but there are of course no guarantees there. Fundamentally everyone experiences any kind of art through their own filter, and they are going to bring their own understanding of how it fits into their lives to the picture.

You can steer them by your title. But even there, does “Sweetness and Light” mean the same thing to me as it does to everybody out there? Probably not. So you’re always at the mercy of that subjectivity. But that’s both a strength and a weakness. On the one hand you can be specific about what you want to say but on the other hand there is still a universality to the absence of words because nobody has to get stuck on language, which can be another source of various interpretation. And then half the time people don’t understand the words anyway either.

AH: The song “Seven Daggers” has these wonderful layers, and different world instruments. I wasn’t even sure what one of the was when I saw the instrument list. How did you come to choose them?

BC: It was constructed in the studio. As is the pattern for me, I generally don’t go into the studio to make an album until I know what’s going to be on the album. For this album this was the case, but there were two songs, and this was one of them, that existed in my mind as a concept and had to be developed in the studio, because it was all about the layers.

I had this charango. A charango is a stringed instrument that is a little bit like a mandolin but is native to the Andes region of South America. You’ll hear Bolivian street bands in Europe playing it. I came across this in Chile in the early ‘80s, and I had one and I got another one, and now I have a solid body electric charango which I got in the late 80s that was made by Linda Manzer whose guitars I also play a lot. It’s traditionally tuned to an open A minor 7 chord. And so I thought I also have this sansula, which is kind of like an African thumb piano, and this is a particularly nice version of that with a skin head and it plays so nicely. And its tuned to A minor.

So I had these two instruments that are built to play in A minor, and I thought I can make a pattern here, there’s a piece here. So that’s how it started. And there’s another African instrument in there too, the kalimba.

AH: What about the “little ass bells” you credit in the liner notes? How little are they?

BC: They are quite small! (laughs) Those are a variation of the Indian cowbells you see around in yuppie gift stores sometimes. There was a store in Vermont where I spent a lot of time. This particular store had an incredible array of these bells. The buyer for the store had gone out of her way to get really nice sounding ones, they weren’t clunky at all. These are not tuned in a Western way but they have a really pretty sound to them. So I bought all of them! One of each of the different pitches. Some of them were actually quite large, they were practically a foot long and a few inches around and others that were tiny. I bought a whole selection. And I strung the tiny ones on a metal rod, and you can shake them that way, and that’s what you hear on the record. There are ten of them strung on this thing and they work in a way like sleigh bells, except they don’t sound anything like sleigh bells. They are much prettier.



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