Time is on Lennie Gallant’s side

Lennie Gallant. Photo: Dave Brosha

The red soil of Prince Edward Island has produced a bevy of great artists from Lucy Maud Montgomery to the pride of Rustico, Lennie Gallant. The singer-songwriter is at the National Arts Centre on April 16, but before the show he answered some questions from ARTSFILE.

Q. Nice to talk to you by email Lennie. You are touring Time Travel. Can you tell me the significance of the title for this album?

A. Time seems to be a hot topic these days, or at least it seems so to me. I see a great many articles and online newsfeeds that deal with our ever changing understanding of time and space. I think the recent photograph of a black hole has put into perspective how little we truly understand time. On a personal level, I think about how I spend my time and what changes I might want to make in that regard. The older one gets, the faster time seems to pass, so where you spend it seems to matter a lot more. The title wasn’t originally planned, but the songs I was writing for the album seemed to deal a lot with time in some way or other, so it ended up being the perfect title I think.

All the songs are original save for one co-write with Dave Gunning. The theme of the album seemed to take shape during the selection of songs and the new ones I was writing. We had about 40 songs to choose from.

Q. When did you start work on the album and where did you record it.

A. I started working with Daniel Ledwell at his studio near Dartmouth, Nova Scotia around April 2018. We worked off and on at it dancing around both our touring schedules. He works in his studio but also travels and plays with his partner Jenn Grant.

Q. You are bringing together some interesting voices to sing with you. People like the Gaelic singer-songwriter Mary Jane Lamond, Rose Cousins, the aforementioned Jenn Grant, the very eclectic string quartet The Fretless and The Atlantic String Machine. How did that happen? Why these people?

A. Most of the guests are good friends of mine, and basically they appear on the album because they seemed like the right voice or accompaniment for the song. I have to say that time itself played a role in this in that all the guests seemed to be passing through Halifax at the very time we needed them in the studio. There were a lot of serendipitous moments in the making of this album and both Daniel and I marvelled at how coincidence seemed to play a big role in its production.

Q. Where is your career at these days?

A. I think I am a much better performer and singer than I was 10 years ago. I hear that from people a lot as well … that my shows are more dynamic. I think I’m becoming a better songwriter as well. I think I have a number of albums to go yet before I hang it up. I’m hoping to possibly do more work in the theatre world after the success we had with my multimedia show Searching For Abegweit.

Q. You have moved back to your home town Rustico. That seems like you want to reconnect. Why is that happening now?

A. I’m spending more and more time on the island these days. My heart has always been there and most of my family is there. It will always be my home. Gallant is the oldest name on the island with any European ancestry, and the first person who bore the name was supposedly half indigenous so my roots go back pretty far on that bit of land. I find a lot of inspiration there.

Gallant was originally a kind of nickname given to a man named Michel Hache. He was the adopted son of the governor of Acadia and moved his family to P.E.I. (then Île St Jean) in 1720. There are several legends as to why he was given the name Gallant, but all Gallants are descended from him and his wife who was a Cormier. I talk about this a little bit in Searching for Abegweit.

Q. Have you always been a musician? When did it start? Why did it start?

A. I got my first guitar for Christmas when I was 13. I began writing songs immediately, before I even knew three chords! I’m not sure why but I wanted to write original stuff right out of the gate.

Q. You have moved home at an interesting time. The Green party seems about to win government in the provincial election. Do you care? Why?

A. The Green party has made great strides on the island and Bevan Baker seems to really know how to connect with people. In general, I think it would be a cool thing to see P.E.I. become a very environmentally conscious island and possibly have that as its brand for the things we produce. It’s going to be interesting to see how the election goes.

Q. I note one of your songs on Time Travel is called Sequoia which is speaking to an environmental concern. Is that an issue you care about? Why? .

A. I wrote that song after spending some time in the Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island while on tour out there. It’s a very mystical and magical place. I felt we were in the presence of some deep connection with the planet and maybe if we listened hard enough we might learn something about time and why we are here. It reminded me of the Sequoia trees I had seen on a visit to California years before. They are the oldest trees on the planet and survivors of forest fires and lighting strikes. I feel a tremendous energy when in the presence of these seemingly wise elders. The song tries to put into words and music what I felt being around them.

Q. Ottawa is part of a tour. When do you get home?

A. Right after the tour we plan to go into the studio outside of Montreal and start working on a new French language album. I hope to be back east just after Easter.

Lennie Gallant
Where: Azrieli Studio, NAC
When: April 16 at 8 p.m.
Tickets and information: nac-cna.ca

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.