Ken Stead has spent the last two years playing over 200 shows, including such festivals as Edmonton Folk Music Festival, Canmore Folk Festival, North Country Fair, and Come By The Hills.
After releasing a couple of EP’s over the past few years – projects he himself describes as more developmental than commercial in purpose - Stead has truly hit his creative stride with his first full-length album, Fear Has No Place Here.
Recorded at Little Island Studios on Bowen Island in B.C. by producer Winston Hauschild (Hannah Georgas), the album sees Stead going through a process of self-examination and revelation as he explores the ups and downs of life that, but ultimately with fortitude and optimism.
“It’s about looking at my own human condition and what I have experienced in life over the last few years. About 2 years ago I was living in Michigan and went through a divorce. I moved back to Edmonton and started playing music again with a real sense of purpose. A couple of songs were written just after I got back. But then I met someone and there’s a whole other part of the story now. So I am writing about love and about the transition I went through,” said Stead.
“For this album I had to really look at myself in the mirror and face the choices I have made over the last five years. So I came back here and wrote introspectively about what happened, and in a way that isn’t all dark and sad. I like to put a positive spin on things and I try to stay optimistic. That’s my personality and I want that to come through in my writing.”
Born and raised in Edmonton, Stead excelled at Track and Field and started to show an interest in music when it was cool to listen and appreciate rap and metal in the locker room. But he has his mother to thank for his now burgeoning career as a folk musician.
“My mom made me go to the Edmonton Folk Festival one year as a punishment. It was a brilliant piece of parenting. I don’t even remember what I was being punished for. She was also sick of all the rap music I was listening to so she said, ‘I’ve got these tickets and you’re going to come with me and my middle-aged friends’ and we ended up having a grand old time. It was fantastic.”
Riveted by a performance by American-born blues/folk musician Eric Bibb (who now lives in Finland) the experience changed Stead’s life. “He totally transformed the way I looked at music. I also discovered a singer/songwriter from Ireland named Foy Vance. Those are my two biggest influences and the ones who crossed me over into folk music,” Stead said.
Stead’s repertoire of influences continues to be quite esoteric and includes a number of his fellow Edmonton singer/ songwriters. “Edmonton has a really great music scene and I find that I am now more influenced by the artists around me. Scott Cook, Braden Gates and Lucas Chaisson – they are all great musicians and songwriters. The music community here is really strong,” he said.
As a songwriter, Stead says he has a very organic and spontaneous process which sometimes means his artistic output is firing off in many different directions. “Sometimes I am too spontaneous because my songs come out in different genres. I have some blues songs and some reggae songs that came out at the same time as the songs for Fear Has No Place Here. When I write it’s always guitar first and then melody and those two things evoke the emotional tone and then that’s when ideas from my life start to come out as lyrics.”
The title track is touching and hopeful, and personalizes a more universal message to anyone plagued with truly debilitating fears and anxieties. “My stepdaughter had terrible social anxiety – and I do too sometimes – and she was paralyzed by it. We used to sit in her room and repeat this mantra that fear has no place here until she was able to take on her day. I sent her the track and she loves it. So it’s a sweet thing, but I wanted it to be about more than social anxiety because I think ‘fear has no place here’ has a lot of different applications in people’s lives,” he said.
I’m Going To Love You Anyways takes a hard, gritty look at families and how it isn’t always easy to love them. “My parents think it’s about them but it’s not. But at the same time it is influenced by the concept of family. Family is a tricky thing and every family, including mine, has some imperfect stories. So this song is about a hypothetical family created to make the point that there is so much that can go on in families, but you’ve got to love them anyways. Sometimes love is a choice and not something that comes easy. You have to choose to love these people despite what’s going on,” he said.
Oh Carolina is the most existential and self-conscious song on the album. It hearkens back on that fateful decision to pursue a marriage with someone who was bent on changing almost everything about their partner. “I wrote this on my 18-hour drive back to Edmonton from Michigan and was asking why I always ended up with girls like this. It was a pretty humbling experience. In the song, Carolina is the girl I thought I ultimately should have ended up with, but ‘Pretty Tina’ was the girl I was actually with. And on the way home I realized I was always trying to pass the blame for the bad situations I’ve found myself in, but these decisions were all mine,” he said.
Conversely, the enchanting tunes Your Love and Big Blue Eyes are at the other end of the relationship spectrum, as Stead expresses appreciation and gratitude for his current partner.
“I think they’re both thanking her for loving me for who I am and not expecting me to change, or not trying to change me. And that’s a foreign concept to me because I have always seemed to be attracted to women who wanted to change me. So to go from that to someone who is not trying to change you but simply loving each other for who we are is amazing,” he said.
Having already played numerous folk festivals in Western Canada, including that same Edmonton Folk Festival which changed his life, as well as a popular Canmore Folk Festival – where he has shared the stage with the likes of Bahamas, Craig Cardiff, and his idol Foy Vance – Stead hopes that Fear Has No Place Here will be a launching point for broader musical horizons and more life experiences which will ultimately turn into song.