Arts & Culture

Ottawa’s favourite quitter, Kathleen Edwards, retunes

Her words and actions are often headline news. When she said she wanted to take a break from music, people sobbed. Later, she opened a café in Stittsville with the wink-wink name Quitters. But being part of the news cycle worked in her favour when her two stolen guitars were found this past summer. They’re back in hand, and Ottawa’s favourite daughter is writing again. With that characteristic mix of quick wit and wrenching vulnerability, Edwards headed back to the stage for a short summer tour, in part to shake off the dust before she performs at the NAC on Nov. 24 as the first of Petr Cancura’s Crossroads Jazz Series [now sold out]. This collaboration, a reunion of sorts given that Cancura played on Edwards’ first album, features jazz interpretations of various songwriters’ works. She likens the upcoming performance to an opportunity to have a “clean slate,” the ability to reinvent her songs. It’s an auspicious reboot for a musician who quit her first love only to find it again.

 

Kathleen Edwards with her companions. Photo: Jamie Kronick
Kathleen Edwards with her companions. Photo: Jamie Kronick

How is it to have a day-to-day routine? For years you were everywhere from dive bars to the Letterman stage.

This is definitely the most at home I’ve felt in my adult life. I started this place [Quitters], and I learned who lives in this community very quickly. It’s like after the show where there are one or two people that stand out because they get you and you get them. It’s the same thing here. It’s like everyone is looking out for you.

It’s also a community that loves its pets. I hear you have several …

I have two adopted dogs: a Labradoodle and a Golden. I have two rescue cats — both Siamese. My golden is named Redd after the father in That ’70s Show. Penny is my Labradoodle, and my cats are Mister T and Little T. I’m the weirdo you’ll see if you look out the window in the evening: it’s me, my two dogs walking off-leash, with the two cats following right behind. I trained my cats to walk with me. You just go down a house or two and call them and they’re like, “Oh, we get to do this?”

What songs will be reinterpreted  during the Crossroads Jazz series?

I’d like to cover songs from some of my favourite Canadian songwriters: Hannah Georgas, Old Man Luedecke, and something a little off the beaten path from Blue Rodeo.

Is there a new album in the works?

In my dream scenario, I would spend the fall and winter recording. This time away from the music industry has put so many things in a new light that I knew in my heart but wasn’t living. For example, I went to Toronto a while ago for a launch. I was at this party with a lot of people who are amazing and a lot of people for whom it’s just a big air balloon of bullshit. Before, I would endure it, navigate it, smile through it. Now I just think, I don’t have the time of day for your look-me-up-and-down-and-comment-on-my-weight disgustingness.

Your last album, Voyageur, was critically acclaimed, and the crushing break-up theme was so tender. It must have been painful to churn it up night after night.

I was experiencing depression, and there were times I dreaded going on stage and felt so raw, so on edge, or just really low. I remember one night in Calgary, I looked out and there was this couple who were super in love and it took everything in my power not to feel devastated. Then you’ve got to sing “A Soft Place to Land,” and you’re thinking, I don’t want to be the person singing right now.

It was headline news when your guitars were stolen last year and then again when they were found this past June.

Talk about slow news weeks! At the same time, I have a close friend and he said, “Kathleen, I don’t think you realize that people are watching and listening to what you do and say. Someone stole your guitars and it was a viral story. People care!”

How did the guitars come back?

Someone left them in a garbage bag in a park in a very calculated and intentional move so that they would not be seen dumping them but they would be discovered. This guy was walking his dogs, saw them, took them home, and left his name at the shop. I got to his house, and I just had this huge serotonin rush. I hugged him about eight times. Both guitars were gifts from Colin, my ex-husband and former bandmate. We’re still close, and he was the first person I told.

You’ve always been frank about your experiences and feelings. Do people take advantage of that?

I had a bunch of guys doing landscape work at my place. One of the guys came up to me and said, “Is it true that you used to date Justin Vernon? He’s my favourite.” I was like, oh, really, right now, here? Who in the real world hires a landscaper and then gets asked about a painful old relationship?