Many Albertans are already familiar with the Calgary-based singer/songwriter Nancy Laberge through her past work within the provincial scene. But on her second solo outing, When We Were Friends, officially released April 28, Laberge has made a dramatic leap forward in terms of both writing and production, leaving little doubt that she’s ready for the national stage.
Coming off her previous album, Write From The Heart, Laberge’s extensive journey in creating When We Were Friends began with the spark of the heart-wrenching title track, a glimpse into her past experiences. As more material accumulated, Laberge teamed up with Juno and CCMA-award winning producer Mike Little, who gathered a top-flight group of musicians to complement the wide range of emotions embedded in each song.
Like artists with whom she shares stylistic similarities, such as Melissa Etheridge and Mary Gauthier, Laberge maintains that making music is ultimately about baring your soul. That belief stems in part from nearly losing her life at a young age due to a rare illness. Through the support of her local Shriners, she was able to get the necessary surgery performed in Toronto, and since then Laberge has used her music to raise awareness for this important community-based organization.
Laberge also relies on her natural sense of humour with audiences to complement her music’s quest for love and understanding in a hostile world. For every upbeat snapshot of innocence on When We Were Friends there’s also the bittersweet resignation. In the end, there’s no light without darkness and no happiness without pain. Call Nancy Laberge a late bloomer, but any roots music fan will agree that what she’s achieved with When We Were Friends has been well worth the wait.
Find more at nancylaberge.ca
What sets When We Were Friends apart from any previous music you've made?
This album shows an evolution in my songwriting. I don't feel the themes are different, but as I grow as a writer the melodies and message have become stronger, richer and deeper. “When We Were Friends” is the most personal song I have written. It took a very long time to create because I had to become vulnerable and at the same time make it relatable for the listener. Working with Mike Little was invaluable as he included me every step of the way and pushed me to deliver the strongest performance possible. His approach to the production has elevated the sound and style. He was able to capture the emotion and message I was trying to convey with the songs. I feel this project has strengthened my confidence as an artist, but mostly as a writer.
What were some of your main inspirations for these songs?
I am in love with love—good, bad or ugly. For me, life is one big relationship and I feel deeply about my experiences and the impact joy, sorrow and all the emotions in between have on me. I love to listen attentively when people share their journey. Many songs are about other people’s stories, and especially how our worlds can be turned upside down in a moment of intense hurt or mad passion. I was fortunate to co-write with some special writers who helped pull the best out of me and were committed to writing a great song. In the song “When We Were Friends,” there’s the line, “Love and pain change who we are.” I am grateful for both.
What song in your catalogue means the most to you and why?
On my first CD I wrote a song called “I Won’t Wait.” A co-worker I knew for 10 years was diagnosed with cancer, and I told her if you ever want me to come over to visit, I could play some music for her, she just had to let me know. I didn't want to intrude on her time since she was going through chemotherapy and stopped coming to work. One day I heard that she was in hospice and I was mortified. I went home that night and wrote “I Won't Wait.” I was so upset that I had waited for her to call me rather than reaching out. When I went to see her in hospice, she was heavily medicated but still recognized me. The nurses brought all the patients to the common area and I played music for them for an hour. The last song I played was “I Won't Wait.” Three days later my friend passed away. I recorded the song for her family and gave them copies. It was so emotional, powerful and an incredible reminder to love big and passionately while I have a chance.
What song by another artist do you wish you had written?
I hate choosing just one song as I admire soooo many writers. I am the hugest Lori McKenna fan, so I will say “That's How You Know”... wait, "Humble & Kind,” no, “Time I've Wasted On You”... or maybe “The Most.” (laughs)
What's been the biggest change in your life over the past year, and what are your major goals for 2017?
My musical goals this year are to continue to co-write with incredibly talented and fun writers, perform more, get my music in the hands of other artists who might be interested in recording my songs, and focus on licensing my work.
I am learning to let things go and the value of forgiveness. I breathe easier, love deeper, laugh bigger and cherish my amazing friends and family. I now have some tools that help me to deal with tough moments and spend less time feeling angry and hurt. I have so much joy and happiness in my life now, which all comes from awareness, gratitude and hard work.