He’s travelled between urban hubs, riding the rails across the nation like a drifter. But it hasn’t been all about soaking up the sunsets while pondering life’s great mysteries for Alberta singer-songwriter Jon Gant. From mountain top to whistle-stop, the talented storyteller has also been doing what he does best as he roams from Toronto to Victoria — composing bittersweet tales of redolence and redemption.
Gant is quite accustomed to plying his trade under the accompaniment of some of Calgary’s most noted indie players, both as a member of the punk outfit Boston Post and more recently as the leader of Jon Gant & His Band. Temporarily forgoing the bonds of brotherhood, Gant opted to go the solo route for the six scenic songs that comprise his new EP. Wheatfields sees the golden-throated Gant taking his signature roots rock sound into progressive new territory while simultaneously redefining his position as an autonomous musical entity.
“This new recording is definitely different,” Gant explains. “It’s more sample-based and weirder than what I’ve typically done in the past. It’s an amalgamation of stuff that didn’t really fit in with what I was performing with my band at the time. Songs that came together late at night, when I was alone in my room, and that I’ve been hanging on to for about a year. In realizing this album, I made a conscious effort to steer away from the acoustic side of things. I decided to take some risks with the material and added in what I consider to be unexpected and avant-garde sonic elements.”
Featuring supporting performances by guests plucked from Gant’s extended family of session-ready musicians, Wheatfields is a solid solo effort that benefits mightily from collaborative cross-pollination. The ample attributes of grain-fed gentry: crooner/pianist Paul van Kampen (Beija Floor, Magnetic North), composer/multi-instrumentalist Chris Vail (XL Birdsuit, Key to the City), verismo/free jazz percussionist John de Waal (Reverie Sound Revue), session darling/keyboardist Ryan Rollinson (Problush), and drummer/draft horse Corey Worsnop (Toledo Speedway, The Mants) come to bear as they harmonize with Gant’s tobacco roll timbre on cuts such as “The Way it Goes” and “Wheatfields.”
“My voice is somewhat limited, but I didn’t want the music to be. I tried to make my vocals make sense in a lot of different settings and I was surprised how often I got away with it,” says Gant. “There’s a danger to sounding too rootsy in that you can get stuck by specializing in a certain genre. I wanted to find a good acoustic fit for my voice and found that it’s absolutely hard to really become the person that you pictured singing a particular tune. I try to converse and emote honestly with my breath, instead of putting myself through some endless vocal gymnastics. Much like Leonard Cohen, I like to think of myself as being more of a musical stylist than a singer.”
Impervious to the presumed romanticism of working on the road, Gant brings a certain degree of pragmatism to his wayward adventures. Threading together pearls of bucolic wisdom and unrequited ardour, his introspective lyrics give him the final say when it comes to historic transgressions. A psychological tidying up of loose ends, Gant’s eighth professional release swings history shut on its leather hinges.
“I’m a pretty private guy so it’s strange that I feel so comfortable onstage singing about such personal things,” he says. “Mainly, I tried to deal honestly with the tail end of things I’ve been writing about for a while. The songs are about love and heartbreak. Essentially, it’s a summing up of relationships that I didn’t understand at the time, but that have become clearer with the ease of perspective. I feel like I’ve said it all now. You won’t be hearing about those subjects again.”
Gant’s upcoming CD release marks the launch of The Greyhounds and Taxis Tour, which will take him across the prairie provinces. This follows last year’s Festival Express à la Gant, when he travelled and performed on VIA Rail trains on his Great Canadian Rail Tour.
“There’s something about seeing your country from a moving locomotive…. The way Alberta looks in the evening light; that big sky sends you into a dream-like state like the philosophical exercise of staring out onto a vast ocean. Chances are, if you grew up here you don’t even notice those things, but as soon as you go anywhere else you miss those tidbits about a place and the people who make it home.”