Tim Chaisson leans forward on his elbows at the picnic table settling in with ease for our chat. We’re in a park around the corner from Communitea, the Canmore venue for his evening concert. He sits down with me just after unloading his gear and braving the Highway 1 traffic from Calgary. The frenzy of his packed schedule does not seem to perturb him as he sits down to discuss his music.
If there were any imagined constructs of the lazy musician, Chaisson abolishes them when he outlines a typical tour day for him. That may include a 7 AM TV morning show appearance, a 6-8 hour solo commute to the next venue, media events in each location, and late nights after playing, selling merch, and stage tear-down. Prince Edward Island singer/songwriter, Chaisson released his album, The Other Side (2012), which has already won Roots/Traditional Solo Recording of the Year at the East Coast Music Awards and Entertainer of the Year from the Canadian Organization of Campus Activities. His “Beat This Heart” collaboration with Serena Ryder was also nominated for “Song of the Year” at the East Coast Music Awards. He has toured across Canada this past year, which included appearances at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, Vancouver Folk Music Festival, Stan Rogers Folk Festival, and The Canadian Country Music Association’s Awards. He also toured Australia in June and has another follow-up tour in Australia next month.
However, Chaisson’s career didn’t materialize over this past year; it has been building gradually. He has been playing fiddle since childhood and played in instrumental Celtic band, Kindle, before focusing more on singer/songwriter pursuits in his teens. Even while he was completing his undergraduate degree in Psychology and History, he would play at the University of PEI bar or tour when opportunities presented themselves. His multitasking ensured that he didn’t compromise his musical interests for academia but it did make his professors question his priorities: “I’d go away for two weeks, and my professors would be like, “Why are you even here?”” He says with a light-hearted ease reflecting back on his memories.
Photography by Twila
Patrons sip coffee and wine at the long communal tables, rows of chairs orient themselves to the corner for the evening’s live music offerings; the intimacy of the Communitea venue is a perfect compliment to his solo set. Chaisson begins his evening set with his album’s title track, “The Other Side.” Curving his shoulders, he begins with easy strums on his guitar before straightening out to add percussive drum stomps at the chorus. He follows his title track with “Beat this Heart,” “The Healing,” and “Come Clean,” singing them with an authentic torment and pliability in his vocals. Deciding to break into a jig on the fiddle, Chaisson first establishes a percussive foundation, which begins looping with a pedal. He embellishes upon this scaffold with his soaring and sinuous fiddle lines. “Long Hot Summer Days” finishes his opening set, where he pairs the fiddle with the tune’s soulful lyrics. The neighborhood coffee shop transforms into an Eastern Canadian pub with his bow strokes that have a sense of sureness about them.
Even though Chaisson’s solo work is primarily with voice and guitar, fiddle appears in every one of his sets. His fiddle heritage is not to be overlooked; Chaisson is part of the seventh generation of fiddle players in his family. In many ways, Chaisson inherited the fiddle. He grew up playing at local ceilidhs and touring as a fiddle player with Kindle. However, Chaisson deviated from the musical norm of his family by pursuing singing and songwriting. “Playing fiddle is awesome and it really connects with people. But words and melodies and songs… they grip more people. There is a broader audience. When you’re so genre-specific you’re missing out on all these people that could be listening,” he cites as a reason for his singer/songwriter focus now. He continues, “I write songs for other people so they will enjoy them and listen. But you also have to like your own songs as well. I’ve never gotten to the point where I had to write a song that I didn’t like that would appeal to more people. You can really communicate a lot through song and tell your experiences and storytell a bit… it’s a really neat thing when people can connect with a song and enjoy it.”
After taking a break from fiddle in his teens to focus on singing/songwriting, the distance brought a new perspective. “[The fiddle] is such a part of what I do and who I am,” he reveals with honesty. “I couldn’t imagine going to a show without taking my fiddle now. It’s definitely something I’ve inherited and will continue to do.” Chaisson smiles when he admits that his father would love for him to produce a fiddle record; however, he has introduced audiences to traditional music and fiddle music through his work as a singer/songwriter.
It is clear that the aspect of career and life balance is on Chaisson’s mind. There are many talented musicians in PEI, but many of them are not heard beyond the island’s shores. “You have to sacrifice a lot to make a touring life work,” he states. “Time is going past so fast, it’s ridiculous. It’s almost been a year since I put out my record and this year flew by… you have to be conscious of what you do and how you take your lifestyle on the road. If you spend so much time on the road, it can really wear on you. Have fun and live life because it’s short,” he says thoughtfully.
No matter where Chaisson’s career takes him in the coming years, regardless of his location or primary instrument, his genuine drive to communicate through music ensures his musical sustainability. And, who knows, maybe one day, he will release a fiddle EP that his father can play on his record player.
Lightning Round of Questions!
Listen to the full interview to learn more, such as how he approaches songwriting, if he’s been tempted to move from PEI, and the differences between performing tour shows vs. home shows.