Interview with Steph Cameron
Steph Cameron is currently touring Europe to promote her second Album ‘Daybreak Over Jackson Street’, which follows on from her Polaris listed ‘Sad-Eyed Lonesome Lady’. Not too many support acts get an encore but that’s what happened to Steph at the Malojian Gig in the Duncairn Centre. We talked to the Canadian singer/songwriter before the show.
Have you played in Ireland before?
No. I’ve never been to Ireland. Actually, this is my first tour outside Canada but I’ve had a great welcome here. We’ve played Denmark, Luxembourg, Holland, England, and just arrived in from Cardiff today.
You’re originally from Saskatoon in the middle of Canada?Big town or small town?
It has a population of about quarter of a million – a million in the province as a whole.
So, a little smaller than Belfast but not much.
Yeah, I guess so.
Who were you listening to, growing up as a young girl in Saskatoon?
My mom was a big fan of country music. There were a lot of truck drivers and farmers on her side of the family. My dad’s side had a lot of social workers and he loved Simon and Garfunkel – not that all social workers love Simon and Garfunkel but he did. There was a lot of music and a lot of choice in the house growing up.
(Steph also does social work back in Canada as an outreach worker with deprived families.)
Canada has such a great lineage of singer-songwriters; Joni Mitchel, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, and in some ways you are following in that grand tradition.
It’s nice of you to say that. I would include Buffy Sainte Marie in that list and I had the chance to tour with her a few years back for like two weeks. It was amazing just watching her perform and to see people’s reactions to her songs.
Like Buffy Sainte Marie, a lot of your songs are quite political. Many songs reference the struggle of the little man and the fight against corporations and authority. Do you see that as an important part of your work?
Very much so. It’s a huge part of who I am. A lot of my music is storytelling and I like to tell stories about people who are vulnerable, and not necessarily in positions of power, and I like to tell those stories with a lot of compassion. It’s always an important part of the music to be fighting for justice so I like to have that message in my music somewhere.
That comes through very strongly in your songs. A song like the title track ‘Daybreak Over Jackson Street’ is full of little vignettes and details of characters; the mother breaking bread and the bad guys. There’s a great line that says:
There’s gangsters on the street I know. They’re dressed the part from head to toe. You should see the way their badges glow.
That reminds me of something John Prine would have written.
Well, thank you for that. I love John Prine so that’s high praise indeed. He’s so playful with his words and so compassionate too.
Is there a real Jackson Street?
I suppose there are a lot of Jackson Streets all over the place but most of the album is written about Vancouver and my time in the downtown eastside part of that town, which is probably one of the most depressed parts of Canada.
I left Saskatoon to work in a safe injection site in Vancouver when I was seventeen and I saw a lot of not only just the visible poverty but there is just tragedy everywhere and desperate drug use.
It is really, really tough in that neighbourhood and there is a Jackson Street there but it’s really an accumulation of a lot of streets all over the place.
And the social work? Does that inform the writing as well?
Oh definitely. Well, certainly in the compassion, and I hope that comes through. I do my best to observe people as I go and treat people with kindness. That is a really important part of my music. It’s important that my music has the tradition of folk music and that tradition is steeped in songs about the working class as I suppose is country music.
Do you see the politics in your music increasing in light of what Trump is doing in America and with the rise of the women’s movement?
In terms of names, probably not, but the larger concepts and movements, certainly. I write constantly. I think I already have most of the songs for the third album written and there are probably more political songs and a focus on justice.
Both albums are very much guitar and vocal in a kind of classic singer-songwriter mould. Do you see you yourself working with a band in the future? Perhaps with a fuller sound?
Yeah. Just before I left Saskatoon, I just recorded a new single with a band. It’s my first kinda wandering in that territory and it went really well. The third album will be with a band. There’s something about collaborating with other artists that opens up possibilities that I wouldn’t have considered on my own. So yeah I’m looking forward to that.
If someone approaches you to buy one of your albums, which do you recommend?
Well I love them both, That’s such a mean question. The second album, I think, has a little more maturity and depth in the songwriting but I love the first album too. It has a different feel but I suppose the second is a little more mature, which doesn’t always mean better!
I tried really hard to make the new album sound like I’m in the room with the listener. Sales of both have been really good on this tour… much better than we thought.
The songs and your voice are great but does that sometimes mean your guitar playing is overlooked.
Well after a gig that is the thing that people actually comment on most, which is lovely.
For more album news, tour dates, etc, check out Steph Cameron online.