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HEALING TERRA FIRMA, ONE TREE AT A TIME


(Into my arms ... Terra Lightfoot. Photo by Lyle Bell)



THIS IS A STORY THAT BEGINS and ends among the trees, about an album that begins by a lake made by someone who saw herself rootless. Nature is calling, and someone was listening.


Just after midnight in Vancouver, back at her temporary base after a show in the city’s fabled Commodore Ballroom (“It was a huge rock ‘n’ roll show.”) Canadian guitarist and commanding soul/rock singer, Terra Lightfoot is looking surprisingly perky and every more surprisingly amused.


She’s just been told that her new album, Healing Power, starts with a song that has me picturing her with asymmetric hair, a bank of synths behind her and everyone around her doing that classic ‘80s big arm-swinging dance. No hiding it, Cross Border Lovers, is such a big burst of pop, almost acrylic and practically beaming in day-glo.


“It sounds funny now to think of it, but I wrote it on a beautiful lake. My neighbours have this beautiful cottage and it was in the middle of the summer and high had of couple of days at home and I said can I go to your cottage and sit on the porch and see what happens? And that song was one of those ones that happens really quickly, and it was immediately something,” Lightfoot says.


“I came home and I played it for my husband and he said, oh yeah, that’s something. And he’s a songwriter too … so I got this very nice affirmation. Them with the production [with her old producer Gus Van Gogh] I said, ‘you wanna go 80s? Let’s do it!’, So we plugged in a Jazz Chorus [amplifier] and it was all over.”


After that exuberant opening, on the next song, I Need You Tonight, she sings “Can’t get enough of you, you’re the kind of man I need by my side”. Ok, we’re only two tracks in, but we could even think she is happy. Like, really happy.



“Oh my God!,” Lightfoot chuckles. “It’s possible. It’s funny because I wrote Cross Border Lovers for two other couples, so I thought, but my partner is not Canadian, decidedly, and obviously I realised that it is about us too. So there is a certain level of happiness [on the album] and I Need You Tonight is an unapologetic torch song to him. Yeah, it does feel nice. I am happy.”


This sort of thing could catch on. Musician happy. Musician writing happy songs about being happy. Musician happily living a good life.


“I spent so many years on the road with nobody at home, nothing to come back to. I just felt totally disconnected in some ways. Being with Jon for the past five years or something [saw her realise] that’s a solid base to jump from. And to me that means everything,” Lightfoot says. “It enables me to go out in the world and do my thing and feel connected to something. That’s what I really needed. It’s not for everybody but for me it has changed how I work, how I do everything.”


The supposed ideal of the travelling musician is that they are deliberately without ties and always looking to where they go next, but even ye olde troubadours find they like having a centre, a base, someone on the end of the line or someone there when they get home. It shouldn’t surprise that it makes such a difference.



But then for Lightfoot, this newfound place has given her “a musical and creative jumping off point”, going past the happy love story to something wider and deeper, to friendships and death, but with something more than grief.


“With this record too I had the luxury to write about people not being around anymore. Which I had written about on the last record but now there is a sense of, yes that person is not around anymore but we are, and we should be so grateful that we are,” says Lightfoot, adding with a wry laugh. “There’s a track that I thought was a love song and I showed it to my husband, and he was like, this is a song about death, I’m sorry.”


It’s more than a song about death, it’s also a song about how people who matter are honoured by us going on and being better people ourselves, being to others what they were to us.


“Yeah, like just being grateful to be with someone in this moment, in this day.”


If the frequent mentions of this “husband”, almost like she’s still trying out the word, hasn’t already made it clear, Lightfoot is very recently married – “We had a crazy Canadian wedding actually. You can picture it: it was at a ski hill,” she giggles. “But it wasn’t snowing.” – to legend of modern power pop, Jon Auer, one of the two singer/songwriter founders of the band The Posies. An American, sure, but one with benefits.


While Auer is from a mid-size town on the American west coast and Lightfoot is from a mid-size town in Ontario, their new home avoids urban living altogether, the pair having moved to the country just before the plague years. A most fortunate timing.



“Many people had the 2020 from hell, it was not fun. But Jon and I ended up uprooting from Hamilton and moving two and a half hours north, a little closer to my grandparents’ house which is in this different, rocky, land of lakes,” she explains. “You can see the stars every night; it’s the opposite of Hamilton basically. And that’s where [the songs on the new album] come from and I so wish that all musicians could have that, a safe place to be, a home that is yours.


“It really does something for your creativity. What’s becoming important to me now after having made a few records is to try and help others get there or see what it’s like to be there. Trying to make people realise that they are not alone. That is my base thing.”


To really understand that motivation it’s helpful to go back to the roots of Lightfoot’s new songs, to go back to the origins of the cover image of the new album, to go back to of all places, Austria.


“This was one of those extremely rootless times and I was coming off six weeks in Australia, stopping for a few shows in Germany, and I could either have headed home to Hamilton and then to the States for six weeks, or drive to Austria. Why not? I’ll go by myself,” she recalls. “I ended up but this mountain, I grabbed my guitar and walked as high as I could walk, to where there were no trees at all – it was like a Sound Of Music mountain range – and I walked, huffing and puffing thinking ‘oh woe is me’. Then I see this beautiful tree, on its own. It’s not the most beautiful tree you have ever seen, it is kind of misshapen, strange, and you can tell it’s been there a while though it’s very short, but I thought wow, this tree has made it up here where everywhere around it there are trees that have been burned, trees that have not grown, that this has persevered. I have to be like this tree.


“I sang myself a couple of Bonnie Raitt songs to make myself feel better, then I walked down the hill and it was a couple of days later that I met Jon for the first time. It was darkness that led to the light.”


Five years later, ahead of the wedding, Lightfoot and Auer went back to that spot, doing the same hike up the mountain, carrying guitars. And he took a photo of her in front of the tree, the tree which is now the cover of the album. A tale of healing, survival, and celebration.


Yep, like she tells us in those first songs. Guess we better believe her then.



Healing Power is out today.



Read more from Terra Lightfoot in these earlier interviews.




And if you want to know a bit more about “the husband”, try this live review of The Posies.


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