Interview | Taivi talks collaborating with bluegrass star Claire Lynch on ‘Rising Tide’

Photo: Kevin Kelly Photography

Released in late 2017, Taivi’s new album Rising Tide is the culmination of a long journey for the Toronto singer/songwriter, while at the same time serving as her formal introduction to the wider folk music community.

Thirteen songs deep and recorded at various locales in North America and even Frankfurt, Germany, the Rising Tide sessions were mentored by Grammy-nominated, internationally renowned bluegrass star Claire Lynch, whose band backed Taivi on the album, along with a few other notable musicians.

Engineered by Nicolas Tjelios (Basia Bulat, Jenny Whiteley, Ken Whiteley,) the album’s foundation is Taivi’s focus on “life and connections” in her writing, with songs such as “Red Moon Rise,” “The Clearwater,” “When I’m With You” (a duet with Nova Scotian Ryan Roberts) and “One More Dance” all packing significant emotional punch.

Taivi took some time to speak with us about the album, and for more info you can go to taivimusic.com.

You recorded Rising Tide in many different locations. How did that affect the performances of each song?

The recording, once started, took on a life of its own, with geography becoming a fluid part of it. The changing geography was not a plan as such, but it sure added.

For instance, when I first started writing “Keep On Moving” I was thinking back to the roots of my northern European heritage. It was then spine-tingling for me to record my vocals in a studio tucked in the winding streets of old town Frankfurt, having just travelled down from the boulder-lined shores of western Sweden. It was as if my ancestor’s Swedish and Germanic influences, were there in the studio with me.

The song “Roses & Thunder” had a particular geographic odyssey. That one song was seeking its home on many levels and had quite a recording tour. I’d started it in Ken Whiteley’s Toronto studio, Todd Phillips ultimately laid down the bass in Nashville and I finally sang it in, in a quaint quarter of Frankfurt. Somewhat like weaving the threads of my own life.

Being in different locales also meant access to many musicians I admire and who added dimension to the recordings.   I’d sung the song “Parry Sound,” in a studio less than 100 feet from Katherine Wheatley’s home – and she, a Parry Sound native, ran across the street join in the harmonies. At Scott Merritt’s Guelph studio. Scott stepped downstairs for a few minutes to add the touch of banjo to the “Clearwater.” And I LOVED getting the fabulous Canadian east coast energy of Ryan Roberts’s vocals on “When I’m With You.”

How did you come to work with Claire Lynch and her band?

A great lesson for me in taking that chance!  Claire Lynch had been an inspiration ever since I heard her rendition of Gretchen Peters’ “If Wishes Were Horses.” I found myself at an event she was attending – so – I took a deep breath, walked up, introduced myself and asked if she’d ever consider doing a mentoring session. I no doubt caught her off guard – but she was game to give it a go.

We soon started looking at a demo of “Get On Home” – and she suggested that maybe her bass player, Mark Schatz, would be willing to help out. And it snowballed. There were no external deadlines or requirements – we could just follow the music. Truly a pleasure.

Tell us a bit about what inspired your writing on this album.

I remember being in a hotel room in California, and I thinking to myself, if I were Pete Seeger, how would I say what I wanted to say to someone I adored.  It would be simple. It would be direct. It would rhyme. I wrote, “When I’m with you, the love just flows, love flows when I’m with you…” Eighty per cent of the song poured out. But I knew it needed something further. I couldn’t identify what it was until I was part of an international song festival in Tallinn, Estonia. There were 30,000 singers on stage in a huge natural amphitheatre with nearly 100,000 voices joining from the audience. Incredibly powerful. And I thought of how that tiny country – through the centuries and generations, against so many odds – kept the seeds of its identity and culture alive with the power of song. From there came the bridge to “When I’m with You”: “We’re keeping our souls’ flame alive, Not letting go, not letting love die, Holding on with the breath of our song.”

Both the iconic documentary on Pete Seeger, “Power of Song” and the documentary about Estonia’s independence, “The Singing Revolution,” are at the top of my list of films. In retrospect, “When I’m With You” emerged out of strands from both.

How long have you involved in the Toronto folk scene and who are some of the artists (other than Claire) who have helped you along the way?

I’ve been lucky to be in the midst of a rich landscape of songwriters these past couple of decades. The Toronto folk network has many extraordinary writers and singers whose names you may rarely hear – they do what they do because it feeds their soul but they don’t necessarily pursue the public stage. Yet the depth of some of their music shared in intimate settings just makes me want to write more and dig deeper. Its perhaps done more to bring out my music than any other one element.

There are many individuals who have generously lent their immense talent, hosted concerts and kept me going. Being onstage with Garth Hudson or James Keelaghan, Paul Mills always keeping his studio door open, Ken Whiteley’s sage production advice, Theresa Doyle giving me a spot in her show, or Pete Seeger sending one of my recordings to The Ark in Michigan – all treasures!

And I have to mention Vivienne Muhling (Stenson) – she’s a great ball of fire and sure has the street cred! In the late 1950s –she was introducing the Weavers, Odetta, Josh White, the Kingston Trio – to Canada. Now in her 90s, she’s still going strong – and keeps a welcome mat for me at the Performing Artists Lodge.

What was the first song you wrote that you felt confident enough to perform in public?

One of the first songs that received public exposure was written specifically for an anti-nuclear benefit concert back in the 1980s. I remember creating the piece – I didn’t want to deliver a song that would just feed anger or despair. It had to reflect the gravity of the issue but leave people with a sense of hope. I had no idea of how that was going to happen but when doodling about on my guitar, my fingers stumbled upon a gorgeous chord – a mysterious almost foreboding dark chord … which then resolved, as if to foretell an emerging from darkness. Musically and lyrically, the whole song came from that musical moment. To reach others, to have power, a song has to be anchored in something genuine – and that chord was it for me.

Words by: Jason Schneider

Photo: Kevin Kelly Photography

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