Lynn Miles Winter Songs about Winter and Christmas. Some recorded live with strings, some studio recordings.
Ottawa singer-songwriter Lynn Miles has a complicated relationship with the coldest season. Although she finds inspiration in the quiet stillness of a winter’s night, she abhors the cold and dreads driving in a snowstorm.
But an artist can’t stay home by the fire writing songs and playing guitar until spring. At some point, the songs must be presented to the people. And when the music revolves around winter, it makes sense to perform when the nights are long. Right?
Fortified with a fresh batch of winter songs written over the last year or so, Miles is determined to do them justice, regardless of the bone-chilling temperature. The first Songs for the Darkest Night performance took place last month, enthralling a sold-out audience at the National Arts Centre’s Fourth Stage with songs like Little Snowflake, High Heels in the Snow, Just Let it Snow and The Coldest Winter in the History of the World, a tune inspired by last year’s winter in Ottawa.
The concept has also snowballed into a video project, funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign that surpassed its $5,000 goal. The plan is to shoot Miles’ Songs for the Darkest Night concert at Wakefield’s snowglobe of a venue, the Black Sheep Inn, on Jan. 8, where she will be accompanied by vocalist Rebecca Campbell, guitarist Keith Glass and a string quartet.
But whether it ends up being released as a DVD or CD, or turns into a promotional package, is up in the air, largely due to the uncertainty of the music industry.
“We’re going to see what we get,” Miles says. “I suspect the songs will come out on CD but I’m more interested in filming it and then using it to plan a tour for next year because the thing I really want to do is tour around the country in the snow in a car.”
“Okay, it’s the last thing I want to do,” she admits, “but I really love playing the songs and I love having strings. It will force me to actually drive down the 401 in a blizzard, which is the thing I hate the most about living here and being a musician here.”
Born outside Montreal some 50-odd years ago, Miles has been pursuing music in Ottawa since the late 1970s, except for a stint in Los Angeles in the 1990s. She was originally inspired by Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, and the guitar work of Ottawans such as Bruce Cockburn and Terry Tufts. She honed her craft on the coffee house scene, including the fondly remembered Bronson Street nook, Rasputin’s Folk Cafe.
Miles has released 13 CDs of her bittersweet country-folk songs, earning a 2003 Juno Award for the album, Unravel. Her latest is 2013’s Downpour, unfortunately one of several in her catalogue that are out of stock.
Because of the decline in music sales over the last decade, Miles isn’t the only independent artist unsure of her next move. Some tough decisions need to be made about restocking her catalogue and/or making a new CD or two. In addition her Songs for the Darkest Night, Miles has been writing for her next studio album, whatever form it may take.
“I’m going to hopefully some day make another record,” says the veteran songstress. “But are people going to buy CDs any more? I don’t know.
“I think I’m in the last demographic of people that actually buy CDs. They go to a live show and they want a souvenir, but then they go home and download it to their computers anyhow. It’s a really tough time, financially. You have to make a decision about how many copies you can afford to manufacture and even if you can afford to record it.
“It costs a lot of money to make a record, and we need to make the money back because if we keep losing money, we can’t make records anymore. We won’t be able to go into the studio and we’ll have to be greeters at Walmart.”
The worldwide slump in music sales makes the live show even more important to artists trying to make a living. Fans may think twice about buying albums, but they continue to buy concert tickets, and Miles has worked hard to establish a reputation as a gifted performer.
She’s looking forward to another year of gigs and festivals, including her first trip to Denmark and, if all goes according to plan, a tour of Canada in snowstorm season. Bring on the winter driving: for musicians in this country, it’s snow tires before studio time.
-James Park, Ottawa Citizen