“This softball game is kind of like the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series over the New York Yankees! It was a legendary game.”
Tom Wilson (Mohawk) is talking about the time in 2016 when he first met fellow singer-songwriter iskwē (Cree Métis) in what was clearly a non-musical scenario.
“I don’t drink, and I’ve never seen iskwē have a drink, and it was a beer baseball league,” Tom remembered. “iskwē’s partner and my son-in-law did like to drink so they were in the league.”
“I was technically on the team Tom,” iskwē interjected. “I was technically playing that game except you would never know it because I was off the field having chats with everybody else!”
As it turned out, Tom had met iskwē before that fateful game on the recommendation of his daughter to see her perform at a club in Hamilton.
“And then her partner started teaching my grandkids piano. So it was more than a baseball story; it was a Hamilton story,” Tom said. “If you run into somebody in Hamilton, you end up running into them either at the grocery store or the coffee shop or they just start showing up at your house. If iskwē wouldn’t have started coming to my house to pick up her partner, I would have found my way to her house for no reason!”
The details of this initial get-together of Tom Wilson and iskwē has nothing to do with their collaboration on the new album Mother Love. In fact, their subsequent performance together at the 2020 Indspire Awards also had no part in the creation of Mother Love.
“It was a lovely surprise to both of us that we were invited to do this event honouring Indigenous folks winning incredible awards,” iskwē said. “We were joined by an incredible trumpet player, Chuck Copenace, who I knew loosely from Winnipeg. The life of us working together was created in that moment.”
And yet once the awards show ended, Tom and iskwē went on with their individual careers.
“We were like, ‘Great, job well done. Tom that’s a fantastic song, thank you for including me. Chuck you’re a great player, it was awesome,’ And then we went our separate ways.”
But over the next few months the reaction from their performance started to have an impact.
“Then it just became this thing that, as Tom likes to say, we literally had no control of and no clue what was happening. We were just along for the ride.”
They went into Jukasa Studios south of Brantford, ON to record three songs for Red Music Rising.
“I produced the songs,” said Tom, “and again we kinda said, ‘Okay, well that was great,’ and we kind of walked away.”
‘Blue Moon Drive’ and ’Starless Night’ started to get a lot of airplay, which they both put down to as a blip on the screen.
“By the way, everything we do creatively now is a blip on the screen,” Tom recalled, “and we should be happy with that. That little blip lead to people asking us if we would do more recordings.”
It was iskwē's vision to use a female producer for Mother Love, which ended up being Serena Ryder.
“I was into that,” said Tom. “Serena and I got together and started writing songs thinking how iskwē was going to sing them and how fantastic these songs would be with her singing them. And we were right!”
“Tom is my favourite songwriter,” said iskwē. “The places he goes when writing, you can feel the sentiment coming from a place that a lot of people hope to reach and aren’t able to get to. Not just as a songwriter but as a human. Where we can go and tap into sentiment, emotion, memory, experience, thought…all of these things, it’s a real gift to be able to participate in that with him. It makes my job just so incredibly easy.”
As much as Mother Love is a collaboration between Tom and iskwē, it’s also a collaboration between Tom and Serena, which iskwē benefits from.
“I get to show up and sing these beautiful songs,” she said. “It’s basically like I got to make a record of me singing in the shower of all my favourite songs. You’re in there going, ‘La la la la,’ singing like nobody’s listening, and it’s, ‘Oops, that was a take!’ You don’t pay attention to the rest because you get to lose yourself in the narrative, the melodies, the harmonies and all of these different parts that, because I wasn’t a part of the creating, it was a brand new experience for me, and it was awesome.”
Interpreting someone else’s songs, such as Serena’s 'Rolling In My Dreams' gave iskwē the opportunity to see similarities in background stories even though they grew up in different circumstances.
“Serena and I had a big chat about that one before we did the vocal take,” iskwē said. “She and I have interestingly parallel experiences of knowing some members of our family and not knowing other members of our family. The connections between the both of us was unknown at the time the song was written but then was so relatable between us both. I got to the places that I needed to from it, based on my own personal narrative. Discovering there were similarities in mine and Serena’s life stories made it so much more impactful for me afterwards.”
'Rolling In My Dreams' also affords Tom the rare opportunity to sing the opening line, “I’m not the girl I used to be.”
“Well I’m not!” he said. “I just do what Serena tells me, and when I don’t do what Serena tells me, I do what iskwē tells me, and life is very perfect that way!”