Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sunday Spotlight - Kensington Prairie

This week, I'm proud to introduce Kensington Prairie to you in the Sunday Spotlight. Although she gets some help on a few of the tracks, for all intents and purposes, Kensington Prairie is the solo project of Rebecca Rowan, the singer / songwriter of Vancouver band Maplewood Lane. She's stepped outside of the group to put together ten tracks that she's written herself and collected together under an album titled Captured In Still Life.

Becca was kind enough to take the time to tell me about Crooked Things Straight, the seventh track on the album. Text in red is her, black questions are mine.


Songs are often a mixture of reality and fiction, and the lyrics can come without even the artist knowing the whole meaning- the powerful thing about that is, that a song can then have multiple meanings at different times for the artist and listener. I think a lot of the time, this is the case for my songwriting. Although with the song, Crooked Things Straight, it came pretty specifically.

I wrote it within a year of having our first daughter. At that time it seemed a bunch of our friends were going through some rough stuff, especially a few of my friends struggling through post-partum depression. So, with my specific friends in my thoughts, I sat on my bed, looked out the window at the big whispering Fir, and tried to work through my feelings by strumming and writing.

The lyrics in the first verse, " ...all our friends are dropping like flies", refers to that sense of helplessness when you see people you love, walking through something difficult. Sometimes there are no easy answers to pain, and that's why I often use questions to work through what I see going on around me, "...tell me, tell me, is there a way to make crooked things straight, or to replace all the joy to your eyes?".

I think when you start to really look Life in the face, you realize everybody has their secret sorrows...none of us are untouched, that's what I'm referring to in the second verse's lyrics, "...seems so lately, all the rivers are flowing to the sea, and the sea's never full of her misery". I think we all go through seasons, where it seems bad things happen around us, and then we go through seasons of relative peace. When you're in that season of turmoil, it's hard to make sense of it and that's what the chorus speaks of..."you never really know, what kind of things will show up in your way/ you never really can tell, the ringing of those bells in your ears/ or what kind of black cloud's gonna start raining down on your parade".

When I was recording this song in the studio, laying down the scratch tracks I had one of those inspired moments and the ending of the song just came to me minutes before putting it down (I had never been satisfied with the way I'd had it before) and it just seemed to pull the whole song together, to end on a note of hope- "...don't let it get to you, it's the best you can do." There's a lot in life that is out of our control, sometimes we get dealt the wrong hand...but for me, this song is just about taking it one step at a time, and believing that you'll get through it. Subsequently, my friends whom I wrote this song for have found a way through to the other side, and feel stronger for the journey.

And a few additional questions for Becca:

1.) How did writing and recording this album differ from your work with Maplewood Lane? Did you find it less confining working on your own? Have these songs been kicking around inside you for a while just waiting to come out or did you give birth to them after deciding to record an album on your own?

With the Maplewood Lane recordings I had my guitar parts and vocal parts that I would put down in the studio usually after the drum and bass tracks were already the songs were already in the form we had rehearsed. I think what was really freeing and fun for me with this solo project, was that I came into the studio with a set of songs that were really mine to make into something- and I loved that creative process. I think being able to tinker with xylophone, vibraphone, rhodes, guitar, harmonica, vocals, jingle bells etc. made each song feel personalized. Of course, having a producer like Jon Anderson around who has an ear for every instrument under the sun made it all the more fun! I think it is less confining working on your own, but it's also scarier...because you don't have the safety net of everyone else's parts and input.

Most of the songs on the album had been percolating in my head for awhile, songs that perhaps wouldn't fit on a Maplewood Lane, that was really what prompted me to embark on a solo project. With Maplewood Lane becoming more electric, I wanted an outlet for these songs that would allow them to meander through a simpler landscape.

2.) Listening to and reading your lyrics, I noticed that all of your songs deal with time - either looking forward or, more often, looking back. Was that a conscious choice on your part or did they just develop on their own that way?

I think that I am a reflective person by nature, so most of my songs have this underlying theme...I guess I am fascinated a little with time, and the effects of all its experiences upon us. As a kid, I grew up partly in Africa, partly in Canada and partly in I think the travels, the many goodbyes, the many places and peoples that I've seen have had a huge affect on how I see my world and the processing of my own story within that framework. So, no it wasn't a conscious choice to write these songs that way but it was neat to bundle them all together and notice how they flowed even though I had written some of them recently and some of them quite a few years earlier.

3.) Is the picture of the young girl on the cover you?

The picture on the cover is not me, but it is a picture of my husband Nathan's mom. She was about three in that picture, and there's something about her expression that really captures the feeling of the album.


The album comes out a little under a month from today, on April 22nd. It's full of dreamy Americana-esque tracks that really revolve around Becca's soft and sweet voice. Much of the album centers itself on two topics: separation and time (as noted above), and although somewhat melancholy, it carries an upbeat hint of hope. For those readers north of the border, you'll be able to catch two songs from the album, A Million Skies and Disappear from View, on the CBC’s brand new show Heartland. For those of us in more southern climes, enjoy the following tracks and then pick up the album.

Visit her website and become her friend on MySpace.


BTinNYC said...

Great interview, but a grammar point..." for all intensive purposes" should be "for all INTENTS and PURPOSES"...just thought you might wanna know...!

Sean said...

Quite right BT. Thanks!