Holly McNarland has been in transition.
After a recent move from Vancouver to Toronto, the Winnipeg-raised singer-songwriter has released Run Body Run, her first album since 2007. The album's sparse production allows McNarland's dynamic voice – a staple of late '90s CanRock – to shine. The release has also put a spotlight on McNarland's social media skills. Run Body Run is McNarland's first full-length independent release, and the Juno winner has taken to Twitter and Facebook in an effort to spread the word and connect with her fanbase.
LSITN [Listen to "Alone's Just Fine," from Run Body Run.]
CBC Music recently spoke to McNarland about the challenges and benefits of making music as a parent, the space in between albums and going it alone.
Q: It's been five years since your last album. What have you been up to in the meantime?
A: Trying to make this album. It took a long time – two years in the making. It's hard to get everything done with kids, renovations, gardening, cooking. I write wherever my kids aren't [laughs]. I hide away. Eventually we're going to build a recording studio in our backyard.
Q: How does having kids change the songwriting process?
A: You pull from being a parent. It's a big job being a mom or a dad. It is a huge responsibility and there is so much good in it. With kids, it's hard to write. My 13-year-old is fine now, he's no longer jealous of the guitar, but he was. Now my little girl is.
I pick [my guitar] up and go blank, I go into my own world – so I think it's kind of a threat for her. There is so much going on with kids, and it changes your life.
Playlist: Holly McNarland shares her shuffle playlist
Q: The title track, "Run Body Run," is based on an interaction with your daughter.
A: She's been talking for a long time. Talking early, and talking a lot. She used to run and say "run, body, run!" in her kid accent – she calls it her kid accident — and I just watched her one day. I videotaped her, and went through the video and just wrote a song based on it. It was so easy.
Q: Does she get a songwriting credit on it?
A: I'm sure she'll ask for one. "Beautiful Blue" was about my son, and he still asks when he's going to get money for that. And I say: "Do you want to eat?"
Q: You've got a background in country music. It seems to shine a bit more on this album.
A: My mom sang country music. And she learned to play guitar when I was one or two, and that's when I started singing. And it was all country music. So that's how I learned to sing. And I grew up singing country and we'd do talent shows – my mom and I. Don Williams, Crystal Gayle. That's the way I grew up. Every album [of mine] has that aspect, it just depends how it's produced. The guy who produced this one is Chris Stringer and it's really bare bones. I think that's what I love about it.
Q: You are releasing this album on your own. How are you taking to life as an independent artist?
A: I like it, that's the game change for me – I'm actually enjoying it. There was a point in my career where the business end just was not fun. And it took away from the good stuff, the music. Right now, it's amazing. I get to connect with fans – get on the phone, on the internet. People talk about how people don't buy music anymore – maybe not, but they still enjoy it. And if people can connect to something and feel close to somebody on a personal level, I think it changes things for them. I think that's what's been missing in music. People were spoon fed whatever the radio was playing and now there is so much out there, so many different places to find music. And the same goes with artists – you can connect with fans, which is crazy for me. Before I didn't have any connection. At shows or events, but it feels good to do it on my own. I'm enjoying it.
Q: How so? What do you get out of that independence?
A: When we moved from Vancouver, I was kind of done. It's been three and a half years. I felt sort of washed up and I felt that I would just be a mom for a while and forget about music. Then we came out here [to Toronto]. My son was in a school with a bunch of other musician parents and it trickled down. Now I'm at the point where – and of course I want people to buy it and I want people to love it – but if I sell 200 records, at least I got to do it the way I wanted to do it. When everything is on your terms, it feels much better. And I've got kids, I can't go out there like I did when I was 20 and tour, tour, tour. It can only be as full time as I can make it.
Q: What are you reading these days?
A: The last book I read was by Steven Galloway, who is a friend of ours – The Cellist of Sarajevo. I read his book, and I bawled my eyes out. But I am a slow reader. I have no time. I wish I could just clean my house!
Holly McNarland happy to be free of record label with indie release
Holly McNarland's CBC Music artist page
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on May 26, 2012