Interview: Bry Webb On Fatherhood, Feist And Fronting The Constantines (Again)

August 31, 2014 at 1:55 pm  •  Posted in INTERVIEWS, Slider, WEB by

In 2010 Bry Webb placed his Guild Starfire guitar, on which he protested exclusively with The Constantines, into his closet.

Creatively lost and separated from his “on indefinite hiatus” band — Webb had earlier moved from Toronto to Montreal with his wife, contemporary dancer Katie Ewald — he found therapeutic solace with a job working demolition, gutting and rebuilding a place in the neighbourhood known as The Plateau. He stopped playing music and started planning a family. So they returned to his hometown of Guelph, Ontario.

“We had done so much, so intensely for eleven years that it was hard to imagine doing it in any other way. So I just sort of thought that I was stopping.”

Sitting on the edge of a grassy knoll at Guelph’s Hillside Festival, Webb becomes momentarily distracted by his three-year-old son throwing rocks into the water, sporting a tight black t-shirt that reads in gold: “The Cons.”

Through his comfortable smile and ease, it became increasingly evident that nothing is possibly more valuable to Webb than finding the joyful connection between his music and his son, whether that is seen through Asa’s dancing in front of the amps at Hillside, ten years after The Constantines had taken the same stage, or sharing footage of his recent performance at Toronto’s Massey Hall opening for Coeur de pirate, documented in the Live at Massey series.

“We watched it together and when the song ‘Asa’ came on, his song, I could see that he was happy. I think that helps and he understands that I’m professing my love for him on a nightly basis while I’m away.”

This current chapter of his folk-infused solo career birthed when he felt an impulse to write that lullaby for his then month-old son, but the Consantines reunion was birthed there, too. “I didn’t realize how much people cared about The Cons here until I moved back [to Guelph] and people were very generous about their love toward the band. It’s been amazing being here, having our kid here and enjoying it on a community level.”

That transition introduced Webb into a day-job as a programming coordinator at the University of Guelph’s campus radio station, reciprocating the admiration and support that he’d received when he was with The Cons. But even though there was now steady footing, it a phone call from a famous friend to push him forward.

“Feist asked me to sing on ‘Metals’ on ‘The Bad in Each other’ out of nowhere. I wasn’t thinking about playing at the time and she asked and it was just amazing, such a boost of confidence.”

She also asked Webb to join her subsequent tour. This didn’t all come out of nowhere, of course. The two were acquainted through Toronto’s Three Gut Records scene, collaborated on a beloved Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers cover and several years prior, Feist had shouted uninhibited adoration toward The Constantines upon acceptance of her 2004 Juno Award for ‘Let It Die’. She had likened Webb’s solo performances to the calibre of Bob Dylan, Jeff Buckley or a ‘Nebraska’-era Bruce Springsteen and encouraged Webb to complete his solo record and get himself back onto the road.

That result was “Provider,” an album that celebrated his newfound domestic wonder in parenthood that was sentimental bounds into an world that he didn’t engage with as a Constantine.

This year he continued to preserve his songwriting as documents for his son with his branded form of delicate folk on his sophomore release, “Free Will.” It uses the perspective that he learned from his son discovering his own agency in the world, asserting his own will on a day-to-day basis and evidently allowing Webb to understand his own personal exploration through orchestral melodies on his acoustic guitar.

He’s admittedly humbled to hear his own name chanted for an encore and inversely overwhelmed when he has heard the communal celebration of The Constantines in their raucous return.

Preparation began backstage at his solo shows and at their old space in Toronto’s Kensington Market, below an old music shop, learning familiar chord changes and struggling with newfound anxieties.

“We didn’t want to sound like we were just covering The Constantines, but once we started rehearsing that fear went away. There was a guardedness about just my time and all of our lives that had developed outside of the band, so it’s been great, very healthy and I feel good about where the band is at.”

Since the band collectively marked their “indefinite hiatus” in 2010, Steve Lambke has kept busy as the co-owner of You’ve Changed Records, alongside Daniel Romano and with his own solo project, Baby Eagle; Will Kidman continued his project Woolly Leaves and is part of Haida Gwaii island’s “hottest cover band” in British Columbia, according to Webb; Dallas Wehrle formed Deloro with Jennifer Castle, Tony Romano and a few members of One Hundred Dollars and Doug MacGregor has maintained the beat for City and Colour on his world-wide stadium tour.

They had separated on good terms and would occasionally run into each other, notably at last year’s SappyFest, where whispers of an impromptu Cons reunion followed the members that were mostly present at the festival and also with their perennial performance as Horsey Craze, their Neil Young tribute band, at Toronto’s Silver Dollar.

Timed to the 11th anniversary of their seminal album sophomore album ‘Shine A Light’, The Constantines reunited for a handful of festival dates that launched with a surprise show at the NDP Headquarters warehouse in Guelph with local acts Esther Grey and From A Shadowy Planet.

“It was a perfect night,” he adds.

After that first show, they retreated to an afterparty in the musty basement of 106 Huron Street, where they had rehearsed and used to perfect their craft in the early years, that currently belongs to his friend Mike Dean of the band Start Something.

When he announced their reunion in a blog post this year, Webb admitted that the name “Constant Teens” as well as song titles – like ‘The Young & The Desperate’, ‘Young Offenders’ and ‘Young Lions’ – were chosen as a form of “suspended adolescence.” It well-represented a moment of time in pre-Ford Nation Toronto that demanded communal poetic and powerful sound.

These ideologies had a profound influence, fuelling another younger generation of musicians that consistently name check Webb and the collective as their forefathers. That overflowing list includes the aforementioned Feist, Arkells frontman Max Kerman, who delivered a passionate emulation of Webb’s growling bravado on their debut; Arcade Fire, who had some of their earliest shows alongside The Cons and are playing together in Toronto on Aug 29, performed their own rendition of ‘Young Lions’ at one of their Air Canada Centre performances last spring and Jeff van Helvoort, of the rock’n’roll revivalist group Teenage Kicks, has four words inked on his wrist: “Time Can Be Overcome.”

Webb has himself found new meaning and perspective in that celebrated song title, which he credits to a quote from Mircea Eliade, a 20th century Romanian philosopher “whose work I cannot say that I completely understand.”

“It is very heavy philosophical work, but he has spoken a lot about or written a lot about time or ritual as a way of kind of undoing time or overcoming time. And to go back to a stage each night and kind of go through this ritual of songs or go back after four years and play these songs that you haven’t played in that long, you’re kind of just going back in a circle to a starting point or to the past and running through that cycle again every time. It’s an interesting way. I think its kept me young for a long time and coming back to The Cons, I feel young again, which is remarkable.”

Originally posted on HuffPost Canada Music.