If Kathleen Edwards writes a love song, it’s going to capture the stage of a relationship when both parties are so eaten up with ire that things could fall apart at any moment.
“I’ve always enjoyed the darker and more violent end of the emotion of love,” she explains. “There’s something romantic about the dark side of the tracks. People forget that break-up songs are love songs. They’re just the raw element.”
The 26-year-old Ottawa native made a name for herself with world-weary, whiskey-soaked tales set to visceral, countrified rock and dusty, delicate folk. Since her 2003 debut Failer (Zoe), she’s shown up on Letterman and Leno and opened shows for Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and AC/DC, all gigs for which her brash swagger is perfectly suited.
Edwards’ latest, Back to Me (Zoe), finds her threatening to turn her law-breaking lover in to the authorities on “In State” (the prequel to Failer’s “Six O’clock News”) and talking tough to an ex on the album’s title track. Rarely does anyone misinterpret her colorful storytelling, but occasionally that happens.
“Someone said my song ‘Back to Me’ was a date rape song, and I was fucking irritated,” she says. “I’ve got ways to make you strange / drug you up and drag you home / I’ve got ways to track you down / in all of the places you like to go,” she sings in the title track. “If that’s what you want to make of it, that’s fine,” she says. “But I think that’s slanderous because I would never promote date rape.”
Edwards recorded Back to Me after more than 200 road shows in support of her debut. The new album reflects a sense of alienation from familiar people and places. In “Pink Emerson Radio,” she is forced to choose which personal possessions to save as she escapes a fire in her home. In the plaintive acoustic ballad “Away,” Edwards’ wavering voice nearly whispers, “I don’t know who to call / I don’t know who to write / And I think I forgot / What your face looks like.” “Copied Keys,” a laid-back twangy rocker, tackles the matter-of-fact realization that her lover’s life is not her own and won’t ever be.
After recording Failer with friends from Ottawa, Edwards opted to work with her road-tested band on the follow-up. “There were suggestions to look outside my group of personal acquaintances to produce a record,” she says. “I didn’t want to go in that direction. I wanted to work with people I knew and prove I didn’t just get lucky with the ten songs on my first record.” The resulting tracks are even more engaging, muscular and immediate than the batch that put her on the map in 2003.
Edwards is known to complement her gritty storytelling and penchant for turning a coarse phrase with a good deal of drinking, although she points out that accounts of downing a bottle of whiskey a night are a little exaggerated.
“I drank a lot, and I was able to hold my liquor pretty well,” she says. “Then there were times in which I drank Fireball whiskey and became this horrible person, realizing a couple days later it was not cool. When [guitarist] Colin Cripps came onboard he was the first person to point out, ‘If you want to act like a bar band girl acts, then you are going to be a bar band singer for the rest of your life. You’re a singer/songwriter, and you don’t have to have alcohol be a major component in your show to compensate for what you think you’re not delivering musically.’ What he said pissed me off, and then I realized he was right. I’d rather be a great musician than a sloppy drinker onstage.”
This story by Julie Hight appeared in ROCKRGRL Magazine issue #57, Fall 2005.