During the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses, offices and factories were closed for safety concerns. The result was that normally bustling communities were almost turned into ghost towns. Ottawa singer-songwriter Lynn Miles lives on what is usually a very busy street full of cars, buses and trucks. But not during the lockdown.
“I’d look out the window in both directions and see nothing,” she said recently. “I thought one day, pretty soon, tumbleweeds are going to be going across here.”
Which leads us to Lynn’s new album tumbleWeedyWorld, releasing March 17.
“I have a friend called Lonesome Paul who’s kind of a muse,” Lynn said. “I’ll ask him, ‘Give me a title to something’ or ‘If I could write you a song, what would you want?’ and he just said, ‘Palomino pal of mine.’ I took to it and thought of the slow gait of a pony crossing the prairie with the line, ‘I’m a lonesome drifting girl in my tumbleweedy world.’ So I had tumbleweed on the brain for sure.”
Lynn’s new album is the latest in a long line of critically acclaimed records. It tackles “a world of unreliability and shaky situations when cracks begin to appear in everything around you.” It might be a challenge for some to write about but not Lynn.
“Writing’s easy for me, I love to write so I would never say anything like that is difficult. I really enjoy the challenge of it,” she said. “Some of the songs I wrote before the pandemic, and some during it, so it was actually a joy to write. I’m not afraid of looking at the dark side of things so I wouldn’t say that was an issue. The whole thing was a joy…lucky me.”
tumbleWeedyWorld uses a different musical palette than Lynn has employed in the past. It’s a more bluegrassy, rootsy approach with mandolin and dobro leading the way.
“I’ve always wanted to do a record with those instruments,” she said. “I would never refer to myself as a bluegrass artist because I have way too much respect for the genre. I aspire to it a little bit. I love bluegrass, and I love the instrumentation, so when I was putting a list of songs together that I wanted to do, I thought I could finally do this record where I had a lot of dobro and mandolin, upright bass and banjo. So I just decided to go for it.”
Helping Lynn out to create the sound she wanted was Stuart Rutherford on dobro, Michael Ball on bass, Joey Wright on guitar and mandolin, James Stephens on fiddle with Rebecca Campbell, Jim Bryson and Julie Corrigan supplying harmonies. Dave Draves helped Lynn produce the album
Along with her storied career as a musician, Lynn is also a public speaker and writer on mental health issues, a professor and leads songwriting workshops. It was at one such event in Halifax where she met someone to collaborate with.
“Usually when I do a workshop I ask everyone to briefly tell me why they’ve come to the workshop,” she said. “Maxine Wallace said, ‘I write a lot of lyrics but I’m not a musician, and I’m always looking for people to write music for my lyrics.’ She showed me the words to 'Johnny Without June'. I looked at it and thought, ‘Oh my God, that’s so good.’ I said, ‘I would be honoured to try to write music if you’ll have me.’ Maxine was really happy about that. Then we wrote another one. If I do tumbleWeedyWorld-2, I think I would probably put the other song we wrote together on there.”
The journey to get tumbleWeedyWorld released was difficult because of financial challenges Lynn has had to face. But a GoFundMe campaign started before the pandemic allowed her to start recording, and the support by True North Records since then has helped a great deal.
“I’m an artist that didn’t make it in a capitalist system,” she said. “I take that as a badge of honour actually. The system isn’t built for people like me, so how would I expect to actually survive in it? So I’m fine. It teaches you a good lesson on what you can live without.”
Going forward it’s the music that guides Lynn’s career.
“My theory is, just do it anyway and stuff will happen. That’s been my experience. I think if you honour the music, the rest of the stuff will take care of itself. And so far it has. So it’s been really great.”
For more on Lynn Miles and tumbleWeedyWorld, go to lynnmiles.ca.