Leif Vollebekk's songs have long been known for their high emotional quotient, with themes of yearning, lost love and adventure regularly threading through his work.
Over time, however, he found that he was becoming emotionally disconnected from his earlier songs. But rather than continuing to perform them, he made big cuts to his setlist and went in search of new material.
Those sparse, evocative songs became Twin Solitude, one of this year's Polaris Music Prize-nominated albums. Over the next several weeks, we're sharing five things you might not know about each Polaris shortlisted album. Here are five things about Twin Solitude.
1. Before writing Twin Solitude, Leif Vollebekk had to rekindle his emotions
The Montreal musician felt like he was no longer invested in the emotion of his songs, so he started doing covers of other artists’ work — among them Tom Waits, Kendrick Lamar, the Killers and Neil Young — in order to “remember what feels right.”
“I always want to make sure I feel the song when I play it live, entirely and fully,” he said in a q interview with Tom Power. “And that’s what was hard about these songs is that some of them, I didn’t feel the emotion anymore. Not that the song didn’t work, but I was not meeting the song. It was just how I felt when I was 23 or something. It’s like there’s a doorway into the song and if you feel that way, you can get in — and if you don’t feel that way you don’t fit through the door. So I was having to cut songs from my setlist.”
2. You might think the songs are sad — but Vollebekk disagrees
If you think Vollebekk’s songs sound sad, you're definitely not alone. Their dark, contemplative nature is often mentioned in reviews and interviews, and has even landed the songwriter’s music on a myriad of sad songs playlists. Vollebekk, however, begs to differ.
“I don’t feel like they’re sad at all. At all. I just feel like they’re somewhere in the middle. I don’t feel sad when I’m playing them. I feel like the music isn’t sad. And I feel the lyrics and the music aren’t really separate,” he explained in the q interview. “I think if I wrote you a letter with those lyrics maybe it would be pretty sad, but that one came to me in one shot, which was really fun. You’re just kind of writing it down, you’re not really thinking about it. Maybe after, if you read it over a bunch of times and try and figure out what it means you might get a little sad. But I feel like there’s a release that isn’t sad.”
3. The album was recorded live to tape
Twin Solitude was recorded live in studio, most tracks in a single take. “There’s a thousand reasons to record live to tape. The tape sounds good, and lightly compresses the drums and piano. It just makes everything gel together immediately. Playing live means everyone is listening to each other in the moment. For me, that beats everyone recording one at a time, trying to perfect their own part,” he explained in an interview with Brighton's Finest. “Also, when you’re all in the room together, your parts are naturally balanced. When you step back in the control room, you can immediately hear the song as a whole. You’re not waiting to assemble the pieces later on to see what you have. You know right there and then if you have it.”
4. He wrote 'Vancouver Time' while sitting at home in Montreal
The song "Vancouver Time" came to Vollebekk all at once, every line in order, while he was at home in Montreal, and he typed it out on a typewriter. It was the first song he wrote for the record.
"When I wrote that song it came out in one shot. I didn't change any of the words. It was done in like 15, 20 minutes. If I write songs out I can't read any of the words afterwards, so I type it out on the typewriter. I know it sounds stupid but if I'm on the computer I can't concentrate. So I use a typewriter," he said in a CBC Music interview.
"It was the first song that I wrote for the record. I was hoping to have some new songs and I had been forcing them and this one just came out so easily and felt so good to play. So I was like, ‘Oh, this is how I want to write the rest of the record.’
"My subconscious was like, we've been working on this for ages. And lyrically, it feels like the first one. It's a renewal. As a musician, you tend to get to bed later and wake up later. But when you get up in Vancouver to start a tour you feel so great because you're getting up at like 8; you're up with the sun. That's really nice. For some reason that was on my mind a lot. It's not that it's different over there, it's more like there's a certain spirit to being on the West Coast. And when I'm out there I feel like everyone leaves me alone. If anyone wants you from Ottawa or Montreal, you're safe."
5. His writing is inspired, in part, by Bob Dylan
Vollebekk says he spent a lot of time “at the school of Bob Dylan” and calls himself “a recovering Dylanphile.”
“For me, the greatest gift in music — aside from music — is when you listen to a song and a line floats around and hangs around with you for a few days. All Bob Dylan songs have these lines, and that was a big dream of mine. If you do it right someone’s going to go, ‘Oh, this line,’ and it becomes part of their life," he explained in an interview. "Like, ‘Sundown, yellow moon, I replay the past.’ Whenever the moon is yellow and the sun is going down, I can’t help but go there and I’m hanging out with Bob. It’s like an entire Murakami novel in one line. But you don’t have to read 1,600 pages to get the nugget. It’s somehow the last line of the novel about how you feel."
Vollebeck also says the Velvet Underground, Ray Charles, the Beatles and Radiohead have always been on regular rotation.
More to explore:
Watch Vollebekk perform on CBC q below.