Five Questions With... Darcy Windover
The Toronto-based roots-rocker is releasing a second album. Here he describes its dark themes, his favourite songs, musical road trips growing up, and a love of Neil Young.
By Jason Schneider
Ask any artist why they make music and chances are they’ll say that, at least in part, it’s a form of therapy. That was true for Darcy Windover as he made his latest album, one whose title, Cope, pretty much says it all.
For the Toronto-based singer/songwriter originally from Sarnia, Ontario, the new 10-song collection is the summation of a difficult period, encapsulated in the album’s opening track “How To Be Lonely,” which Windover had previously entered in the 2017 edition of CBC’s Searchlight contest where it was named a regional finalist.
That momentum helped Windover complete Cope a year later with producer John Dinsmore (Kathleen Edwards, NQ Arbuckle) and his trusted band, including co-writer and duet partner Stacey Dowswell. Together, they built on the foundation of “How To Be Lonely” with songs that look at the causes and effects of mental illness from various perspectives.
But what perhaps is most impressive about Cope is its immediate sonic appeal, particularly for anyone who appreciates classic roots-rock sounds. As a songwriter, Windover draws inspiration from heroes such as Tom Petty, emphasizing melody and hooks above all else, with a little twang for good measure. With a wealth of experience embedded in it, Cope marks the formal arrival of a major voice within the Canadian roots rock scene.
Darcy Windover officially launches Cope on Thursday, April 18 at Toronto’s Dakota Tavern. For more info go to darcywindover.com.
What makes Cope different from your past work?
Cope is much darker, thematically and sonically. It touches on themes of depression and anxiety and investigates these concepts through several relatable narratives. I came through a difficult time in my life, with the loss of my mother and a few personal struggles, and that set the tone for the record. She suffered from grief due to the loss of my father and had a host of mental and physical health issues that followed. My previous work grazes some of these topics but doesn't thoroughly step into the darkness. The most significant influence on the sound of this record, though, is the band.
Stacey Dowswell co-wrote a number of the tunes on the album and helped me articulate what I was trying to work out with these songs. Kevin Neal acted as a co-writer too, but most importantly, his pedal steel playing helped shape the sound the record, creating an atmospheric soundscape that took my music into new territory. Playing with bassist Kurt Nielsen and drummer Dave MacDougall for many years helped make the recording process smooth and effortless. They helped the sound remain buoyant in spite of the darker elements. And John Dinsmore pushed us to be more experimental with some of the sounds he had at his disposal at his studio, Lincoln County Social Club, contributing to the lush sound of the album. My previous work had a far more traditional roots/Americana vibe, which was intentionally limited.
What songs on the record are you most proud of and why?
I wrote “How To Be Lonely” after my brothers and I moved our mother from Sarnia to a long-term care facility in Toronto when she became unable to care for herself. When I got her settled in, and I was getting ready to leave for the day, she exclaimed, “Well, I guess this is how to be lonely.” The song wrote itself a couple of weeks later. It serves as therapy for me, and I feel like her frustration, anxiety and difficulties come across in the lyrics.
“Simple Words” is a song that talks about the relationship between the artist and the muse. Inspiration can often be overlooked by an artist if they aren't taking the time to listen. I'm proud of these lyrics, as well as the sonic qualities present in the recording. I had a lot of fun laying down a number of subtle guitar and keys parts, and Kevin's steel work is a real treat.
“The Edges” came to me as I watched the fireworks on Canada Day 150. It allowed me to unpack the struggle between settlers and indigenous Canadians and talk about the polarization that has occurred politically in this country. John took the song, which initially had a folk-rock, Byrdsy vibe, and thankfully pushed the tune into its current arrangement. It's one of my favourite tracks on the album.
Lastly, “Take It Slow” was an exercise in restraint, both in the writing and recording of the tune. Just like on the rest of the album, Kevin's eerie pedal steel work emphasizes the spiritual elements throughout. I wanted to capture the feeling of the witching hour—that moment late at night where people lay down their vulnerabilities and give in to the mystical. We end up in Twin Peaks/David Lynch territory, I think. I'm also really pleased with the vocal performance and the blend between Stacey and me.
How would you describe your artistic evolution so far?
I follow the songs that I write, and where they sit best is where my progression lives. As I grapple with things in my everyday life, those issues make their way organically into my work, even if they take on a different form in the end. I've always veered towards roots, rock, folk, and country, as those feel most natural to me. This album stepped in a slightly different direction, and I'm glad about that.
What are your fondest musical memories as you were growing up?
I remember being introduced to 1950s country and rock and roll early on by my dad, and my uncle and cousin. A fond memory is of our family driving from place to place with Solid Gold Hits collection tapes playing one after the other over the van stereo. So many of those tunes are etched in my consciousness. Around this time my brothers and I discovered the Beatles and wore out the red and blue [compilation] albums. After that, I remember hearing Pearl Jam for the first time, and then through them being introduced to Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young. More recently, the story came full circle, as I learned a lot of my dad's favourite tunes to play for him when he was in a hospice. Those tunes were the foundation for a lot of the music I play and write these days.
What song by another artist do you wish you had written?
There are so many, but I think “Old Man” by Neil Young might be near the top of the list. It's such a neat story about him and the groundskeeper at Broken Arrow Ranch. That intersection of lives at different ages is one that we all deal with as we make our journey through life. The other side of it is that very essence of humanity and fate—do we allow everything to happen to us, or do we affect the change that we live by the decisions that we make?