Multi-Juno Award winner and co-founder of Blackie and The Rodeo Kings, Stephen Fearing has been regarded as one of Canada’s great musical storytellers — not to mention one of its most acclaimed guitarists — since the 1980s, and his 13th solo album The Unconquerable Past, out Nov. 15 on his own Fearing & Loathing Records, adds another unique chapter to that impressive body of work. It’s also a striking and often surprising example of his restless creative spirit.
While fans of his solo work may be more familiar with Fearing’s acoustic side, brilliantly displayed on his 2018 vinyl-only release The Secret of Climbing, or his electric-trio work on 2017’s Every Soul’s A Sailor, The Unconquerable Past finds him stepping back into the wide-screen world of layered instruments and arrangements in collaboration with Winnipeg-based producer/songwriter Scott Nolan (William Prince, Mary Gauthier, Hayes Carll) and a superb group of players featuring acclaimed pianist Jeremy Rusu, bassist Julian Bradford, drummer Christian Dugas, vocalist Andrina Turrene, and Nashville’s legendary multi-instrumentalist Jim Hoke.
Like other artists who are loosely categorized as “folk” and “Americana,” Fearing questions what those terms really mean. The Unconquerable Past can be seen as embracing and transcending the labels and genres simultaneously. Above all, on The Unconquerable Past, Stephen Fearing steps out once again with a fresh perspective and a new batch of songs and stories drawing deeply from over thirty years of writing and playing across Canada and around the world.
Fearing next performs on Nov. 22 in Penticton at the Dream Café. Follow his tour schedule and order The Unconquerable Past at stephenfearing.ca.
What makes The Unconquerable Past stand apart from you past work?
Making it in Winnipeg, and the fact that I had never worked with any of the other players on this record before. The whole thing was a leap of faith and an exercise in trusting your instincts and trusting the path that is opening in front of you.
What songs on the record are you most proud of and why?
The title cut is probably the most influential song on the record in that the phrase “the unconquerable past,” which I read in some unknown book earlier this year, informed the whole record in various ways. But the song that probably came the quickest and easiest and so, in some ways the most “unconscious” song, is Someone Else’s Shoes. It’s a trick to get out of the way and let the song come through. Occasionally I get it right.
How would you describe your artistic evolution so far?
Learning to get out of the way and let the song come through!
What's been the biggest change in your life over the past year?
I have spent the past 30 years playing my “Manzer Cowpoke” [acoustic guitar] built by Linda Manzer in 1989. This year Linda gave me a new Cowpoke, and as a musician, this is possibly the most significant thing to happen. I already know that the biggest thing to happen next year will be my other “project,” Blackie and The Rodeo Kings, turning 25! Tick tock, tick tock…..
What's your best touring story?
What immediately springs to mind is playing a gig at a Taco Bell stand in Sault St. Marie—on the American side. This was a gig put on by the local “folk club” and they used a Taco Bell stand that was closed on Sundays as their venue. The sound system was a crappy guitar amp with the vocal mic plugged into one channel and guitar into the other. Everything fed back and distorted, the promoter got drunk on “Cardboard Sauvignon” and I slept that night fully clothed on a stranger’s couch with a tire-iron in my right hand and fled at dawn’s first light. That’s the condensed version.