David Newberry has had quite a year. He wrapped up recording his new album Replacement Things, re-rooted his life from Vancouver back to Toronto after 10 years away, and formed a new band for his Eastern Canadaian shows. Having two bands is just one of the juggling acts of a singer/songwriter moving to a new-again town. His BC shows will feature the regular crew, with whom Newberry recorded his album, and the Eastern shows will be done with the new band. “There's such a depth of players in Toronto that you just have to make some phonecalls,” says Newberry of his re-integration into the Toronto scene. “I wasn't in the scene 10 years ago but the music scene is so transient and everybody passes through Toronto and Vancouver at some point, so I feel like I already had some community here. I did find integrating back pretty easy, people are nice.”
Now that he's back performing, David's musical career is a serious endeavour that he's throwing himself into head-first. If he could have started differently, he says “I would have been more intentional about the things that I was doing. I think I lost some years to [thinking] 'I'm just gonna drive back and forth across the country and play a bunch of shows.' I wish I'd engaged in goal setting exercises early on to give myself some goal posts to aim for, otherwise you're just spinning around and around. If you're in the independent scene, then it's a little harder to measure progress... I was playing and playing and not sure if I was getting better.”
The goals of late? “I want to be more honest with myself and everything I do.” After some musical burnout, Newberry has a new approach. “I take time off the road to re-jig. I don't really do 6-week long driving across the country anymore, I do more like 2 weeks. BC and Alberta in September, and in October I'll do more around Ontario.” David's new goals have set him on track for what he thinks is his best record yet. “I hope that every record I make will be the best record I've ever made.” Recording in a studio for the first time ever was a way of distilling the musical creativity, with tight deadlines and a more intense setting. Newberry is happy with the results even though he didn't go his regular route of recording on a farm or other improvised studio.
The summer months in Toronto this year may not have been the glamourous rockstar months for Newberry, but the promoting, booking, administrative work and planning work has to be done. “It's been a while since I've had a creative spurt,” admits Newberry. The paperwork side may isn't the most creative environment, but no one can be in that space forever. Songwriting & poetry inspiration has no easy on switch, Newberry knows this first-hand. “I need to make an enormous amount of space for it and work really hard. I think sort of playing music and writing it comes naturally but in another way I have to push myself to do it. I love writing but it's excruciating.”
The topics of Replacement Things are distinctly more personal & honest than previous records, which can give way to a variety of responses and opinions. “I'm terrified absolutely,” says Newberry about his feelings about putting out the record. “Not necessarily because of the reaction, people are going to react however they react. I was terrified to put more of myself in the record. I've always actively avoided that and written songs that were exclusively outward looking. I like those better, and I'm a pretty private person. I don't think it's really a 'feelingsy' classic singer/songwriter record, but there's definitely some stuff in there that I probably wouldn't discuss in a public forum - so I was nervous putting it out there for sure.”
It's not a journal or a rant though, it's a collection of stories and observations. “[The songs] all have stories behind them. “Replacement Things” is actually a story - I was on tour in Southern Alberta in a town High River outside of Calgary not to long after the big flood. and High River was devastated. It was a mud pit, it was being rebuilt but it was rundown. It has all of the head offices of all of the oilsands and it was a flood very much made worse by the climate... When I was there I met a young couple, a man and a woman and the woman was an environmentalist and he was an oilfield worker and they were both married, but not to each other, and they had come to the suburbs to have an affair. And the story is about that little town being ruined by a climate change flood and their reckless world was about the consequences of consequence-less living.” So is this a moral-of-the-story moment? “It's not trying to be cautionary. It's not trying to say 'don't do crazy things', it's just saying 'don't do crazy things and expect there not to be a flood,'” explains Newberry. “They aren't finger-pointing songs, there's no 'hey - screw you, Exxon' I think that the politics of the album just come in that I kind of think of myself and try to operate as a journalist, to see the world as it's happening and hold a mirror up and reflect back to the world what I see taking place. If we lived in a world that was free of politics and if I held up that mirror, there wouldn't be any politics in it, but we don’t. We're living in a politically challenging time and an economically challenging time and a climate change challenging time and all of those things are reflected in the songs, but there's no specific politics like 'vote for so and so'... but I think people should probably just vote NDP this time.”
With confidence to make that call to action, Newberry once again comes back to his creative goals for Replacement Things. “My sort of “mission” as a songwriter is to presume the intelligence of the audience and so hopefully I make people reflect on their own lives and their roll in the grand scheme of things. I'd like to make people think about something and feel something... really, as an artist, my goal is to make people feel something. Anything.”