Digging herself out of a familiar hole, with a hand from a new friend 

Since her 2003 debut album, Failer, Kathleen Edwards has gradually honed her craft as a singer and songwriter whose finely wrought character sketches teem with both sardonic humor and knife’s-edge emotional danger. “And then part of me felt like I had fallen a little bit too complacent,” says Edwards, an Ottawa, Ontario, native who now lives in Toronto. “I thought, ‘OK, I know how to write a song, I know how to write a chorus, I know how to put a guitar lick here.’ I’m not diminishing the heart and the truth of how I’ve approached music before, but I was ready to be more challenged by what I was doing. I felt like I had dug a hole for myself.”

Enter Justin Vernon, the mastermind behind indie-rock sensation Bon Iver, who was introduced to Edwards through a mutual friend. When the notion of Vernon producing her new album arose, she was skeptical. “I didn’t really see how his musical aesthetic would be right for me,” she recalls. “But he just got it. When you’re trying to do something different and you don’t know how to articulate what that is, if the other person is able to finish your sentences and you go, ‘Yes, that’s what I meant,’ you know you’re on to something. And Justin did. We just went from there.”

The result of their collaboration is Voyageur, as intimate and daring as any album Edwards has recorded—aspects she credits Vernon with encouraging. “The songs that I write are my life, they’re things that I feel, they are my victories, they’re my disappointments, they’re everything,” she says. “I can’t imagine being in a studio and working on this thing that is such a huge force in my life with somebody who you feel like you can’t trust.” Still, she notes that Vernon was adamant that Voyageur ultimately be Edwards’ own vision. “There’s a reason that Justin Vernon is currently one of the most respected and successful artists in popular music,” she says. “It’s because his intentions are in the right place.”

After a brief winter break, Edwards is eager to get back on the road and take her new songs to the stage. “I’m nervous,” she admits. “I feel pretty vulnerable right now. I wrote a really private record. I put my whole life into these songs. I’m excited to stop talking about them and actually let them be.”

–Chris Neal

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