Scott Ward of The Wardens took some time to chat with Folk on the Road prior to the group’s upcoming concert at the Horizon Stage. The trio of park wardens/musicians (Ray Schmidt, Bradley Bischoff and Ward) have been described as humbly telling homespun stories, and are based in the Canadian Rockies of Banff National Park.
Did you start out with the intention of making warden stories known through song?
Yes, we started at the national gathering of park wardens in 2009 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the park wardens service—we wrote some songs to perform there. We kept going after that and have branched out from that into mountain culture songs.
How do you do go about researching the stories that become The Wardens songs? Or are they from first hand accounts?
Most songs are from first hand experience and a few such as Bill Neish [“The Ballad of Bill Neish”] are based on research.
Some of the characters in The Wardens’ songs are really interesting — where did you find the characters that are woven into your songs like “War(den) Bride” or “The Ballad of Bill Neish”?
These characters are historical persons affiliated with the National Park Warden Service. Dorothy [featured in “War(den) Bride”] is a friend of Scott’s—he worked with her husband Ed during the first ten years of his career. Bill Neish was a warden from the ’30s. Lots of colorful characters to choose from in the Canadian Rockies.
Who writes the music and lyrics? Is it a collaborative process?
We each write our own songs, bring them to the group, and work on the arrangements together. Whoever is singing the song is the one who originally wrote it.
Where do you draw musical inspiration?
All three of us as singer/songwriters have different influences. Both Brad and I are big Tom Russell and Ian Tyson fans. As well I am influenced by Gordon Lightfoot, John Prine, Bob Dylan and a host of other “folkies”. Ray loves bluegrass. We all like folk/rock.
How did you gain your instrumental ability? And how did you maintain it while in the backcountry?
We have all played since we were kids. I had one guitar stashed for the summer in one of my backcountry patrol cabins—but my district had 13 cabins and 2000 square kilometers of area so I didn’t get to it all that often! We always performed or jammed at parties in the bygone days.
Are there any similarities between being a National Park Warden and performing in a band?
Similarities—both require hard work and team effort!
What is your favourite part of performing?
My favourite part of performing is meeting great folks from all over western Canada and hearing some of their stories and connections with people we know at the end of the show and often staying with hosts.
What is your most memorable warden story?
So many gripping stories—some that can’t be told and others told in song. This is what sets us apart—very real and gripping stories between the songs that lead up to a song. Mountain rescue, bears, lonely horse patrols for weeks at a time, working with wildlife.
What are The Wardens’ future plans?
We just finished our third album and it’s now in Toronto for printing—it’s definitely our best effort to date—recorded at Leeroy Stagger’s Rebeltone ranch in Lethbridge with four months of pre-production working closely with Vicki Ambinder a producer and performance coach from Oregon. It has 11 new songs and a new version of our classic “Ya Ha Tinda Bound”. We are headed to the International Folk Alliance in Kansas city as a part of Team Alberta in mid February. We plan to take this little band as far as we can!
Is there anything else you’d like to mention that we haven’t asked?
We are having great fun with this project now in its 8th year and are grateful to be playing fantastic venues such as the Horizon Theatre.
The Wardens are playing an afternoon show at Spruce Grove’s Horizon Stage on February 9th, for more information or tickets please see the Horizon Stage’s website.