Stephen Fearing’s new album, Vejpoesi, is essentially two albums in one, and as such, it showcases the two sides of the singer-songwriter. Side One, titled "The Maskinhallen Sessions", was recorded in May of 2022 with the Danish band The Sentimentals at a refurbished generating station turned arts centre. The word “Vejpoesi,” by the way, is Danish for “road poetry.” Side Two of the album, "The Muleskinner Live", is a solo performance recorded in 2018 at a former textile complex in Hamilton with the late Bob Lanois.
Stephen’s work on Vejpoesi with The Sentimentals is a re-imagining of selected songs from his last album, The Unconquerable Past, whose release fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I contemplated re-releasing it but that would have been even weirder because it did go out to the media people I always send music to,” Stephen said. “But I never got to actually tour it, which is how I primarily connect a new album with an audience.”
Any thoughts Stephen may have had about re-releasing The Unconquerable Past were quickly dashed in one conversation with his agent.
“She said, ‘I hate to break it to you but even though nobody heard that record, it’s going to be three years old by the time you actually get to tour again.’ So I started thinking, ‘What am I going to do?'”
The prospect of writing new songs for yet another album so soon after the last one was not at all appealing to Stephen.
“I wasn’t one of those artists who found the pandemic the ‘pause that refreshed,’ for being creative,” he said. “I found it really difficult to write anything. There was despondency of having written/produced/recorded the last record. We created it from nothing in about eight months. It was written in July, recorded in August and released in late November of 2019. It was a remarkable push of energy, partly because I knew in 2020 Blackie & The Rodeo Kings were going to release a new record (King Of This Town).”
“We pushed really hard, and when everything stopped, there was just this feeling of depression. I couldn’t write anything more. I had just put my heart into these tunes.”
It was a chat with MC Hansen of The Sentimentals that gave Stephen the idea of re-interpreting some of the songs from The Unconquerable Past.
“This band knows the material because the one thing I did get to do before everything stopped was tour through Europe with them playing that new material. We did 20-something shows, so they knew the material, and of course it had changed and morphed.”
So getting together as soon as restrictions eased, Stephen and The Sentimentals went to the northern tip of Denmark to record songs and shoot videos for them.
“My suspicion that nobody had heard the songs was affirmed by the response to the song ‘Sunny'," Stephen said. “With the video and re-recording I was able to release a new version of it. People heard it for the first time and really connected to it.”
The songs on Side Two of Vejpoesi, recorded at The Mule Spinner in Hamilton, go back to when Stephen was touring in support of his 2017 album Every Soul’s A Sailor.
“Bob Lanois died during the pandemic, and at the time, I recall thinking, ‘I have this recording I haven’t really listened to,'” he recalled. “Bob had just opened The Mule Spinner with Glen Marshall and was really excited about the acoustics of the room. He called me up and said, ‘I want you to be one of the first concerts.’ Then a couple of days beforehand he said, ‘You know what Stephen? I think we should record this!'”
While perhaps not as well-known as his brother, super-producer Daniel, together they established Grant Avenue Studios in Hamilton, which was a creative hotbed in Canada’s roots music scene.
“Dan went on to incredible things. He’s one of the world’s greatest producers,” Stephen said. “But Bob was equally intense and equally gifted when it came to sonics. He was really good at knowing that if you ran a signal through this transformer, it would open the sound up. He was just an incredible creative being.”
Since he was busy with his touring schedule at the time, Stephen didn’t have a chance to listen to the tapes until the pandemic lockdown.
“When Bob passed away I was really determined to re-visit them,” he said. “I spent a chunk of time mixing it and thought it was the perfect companion to the Danish sessions. It’s like bookends to the pandemic. One is recorded beforehand and the other was after. Both of them very much ‘on the road.'”
Vejpoesi is working as a stop gap between studio albums for Stephen, reminding fans what it is he does on tour because he knew he would eventually be back on tour.
“Whilst I work up a head of steam to write/record/produce, all the many hats that have to be worn to make another record of new material, this is a way to kind of put out what I do in front of people and remind them,” he said. “I knew when this phase of the pandemic was over and things started to open up, we’d all be lined up at the gates like greyhounds, ready to go! The only way to make a living these days in music is playing live. That’s it! You have to be touring.”
In the pre-pandemic times there was a natural staggering of new releases and touring schedules for artists. Coming out of the pandemic, everyone was ready to hit the ground running.
“The starter’s pistol went off, and we all started running as fast as we could.”
During the pandemic Stephen was able to do some backyard concerts on Vancouver Island for 50 or so people at a time. He found the experience very moving.
“Just seeing people’s faces was really emotional,” he said. “I had to make sure I didn’t choke up during the shows. People have forgotten a lot of things in the past two years. They’ve forgotten how to go to venues and how to support them. We’ve lost a lot of venues. It’s really a time to go back to square one and remind people of the value of this scene, this live music, that’s so important to all of us.”
For more on Stephen Fearing and Vejposi, go to stephenfearing.ca.