Today, Toronto-based singer/songwriter Craig Robertson is releasing his third full-length album, “Late Mornings.” Produced by Michael Timmins (Cowboy Junkies), this is an enjoyable and insightful collection of songs exploring stories and characters immersed in the darker, occasionally joyless sides of life. In songs such as “Box of Motel Keys” and “Cheap Old Watch,” common everyday objects become microcosms for larger tales.
Lest you think that the album is consistently dark – far from it. Robertson and his colleagues (guitarist/mandolin player Bob Strome, bassist Jamie Thwaites and drummer James Clark, who comprise his regular band, plus lap steel by Andrew James Barker and fiddle by James McKie) also include delightfully swinging tunes such as “You Never Meet Me in the Morning” (listen for the fiddle solo in particular). “Late Mornings” is a self-assured, powerful album that hopefully will gain Craig Robertson many new listeners – these songs are begging to be heard.
We’re thrilled that Craig was able to spend some time talking with us about the new album.
Your songs tell stories from “life’s other side” – what is it about that other side that attracts you and stokes your creativity as a songwriter?
I grew up in Scarborough, Ontario, and have seen, and known “life’s other side” – people who are down on their luck, or trying to find their place in this world. I’ve always been attracted to those who may be trying to find their way – which is something I can totally relate to as I’ve not always felt like I fit in. I’ve also seen the passing of both my parents which has fueled many songs. Writing can also be a way for me to communicate. Sometimes saying the words doesn’t come easily for me, but they can appear in songs, even years later. Songs like ‘Box Full of Motel Keys’ (about my dad’s travels as a salesman) and ‘You Never Meet Me in the Morning’ (about my Mother’s depression), are examples of that.
Your producer for this project was Michael Timmins; now that the album done and you’ve had a bit of time to look back, what did he bring to the project, that was uniquely his?
Michael Timmins was a joy to work with. He is so musical and has loads of ideas, but also lets the artist sense their own way through the songs. It’s a hands-off approach, but his presence is felt, which is calming. Michael’s production choices really stand out for me – the dueling guitars on ‘Holly Goes Raining’, the fiddle solo on ‘Past Due,’ the mood he created on ‘Cheap Old Watch,’ or the way he balanced the background vocals on ‘So Long Gone’. That is all him – how he heard and shaped the music. I couldn’t have asked for a better approach and am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with him.
Some artists go into studio recordings with a cast of musicians that varies from day to day, or project to project; you chose to work with your regular band, I believe. How does recording an album with musicians with whom you regularly perform impact the process and the end result?
On previous projects I worked with a cast of musicians, but on Late Mornings I really wanted the album to sound as close to the live band as possible. I’ve always loved artists that go into a studio and bang off songs – it’s immediate, human and real. Plus, I wanted listeners at gigs to walk away with the album in their hands and plug it into their player and hear what they heard live. There’s always production elements that make recording different than live shows, but this project is the closest I’ve ever come to translating the live sound. I hope we achieved that.
From some of your songs, it seems that you find inspiration in what others might consider discarded or insignificant objects, like old motel keys or watches – what draws you to the stories that such items might tell?
I find a lot of character and stories in old, discarded things. I’m drawn to antique shops and family heirlooms. I wonder where these objects came from, who owned them and how did they end up where they are? There are stories in them. I’m fortunate to have an old watch passed down from my grandfather, motel keys that my dad collected, old 8-tracks and flasks. All these things ended up in some of the songs on the album. Even ghost towns inspire me, which is where ‘Decker Hollow’ came from – an Ontario town that is no longer.
Once the album is out, what plans do you have for touring with the new material?
I just got back from a really successful small tour in Ottawa, Kemptville and Montreal. Future gigs include stops in Belleville, Orillia, Niagara Falls and Georgetown, along with playing a lot of shows in and around Toronto. I’m also planning on touring the Canadian east coast and west coast in 2019. I love being on the road and am looking forward to getting the word out about ‘Late Mornings.’