Liam Titcomb’s Big Year: An Exclusive Interview on Life, Music, and Hitting the Quarter-Century Mark

Liam Titcomb has been a fixture on the Canadian music scene since he signed with Sony Canada ten years ago at the age of fifteen and released his first self-titled record thereafter. Known for his indie folk sound, solid musical pedigree (his father is Three’s Company’s Brent Titcomb, and he toured with acts like Great Big Sea in his teens) as well as his philanthropic nature, his foray into independent artist territory yielded 2007’s Can’t Let Go. A heavy touring musician, Titcomb spent much of the following years travelling across Canada and the states cementing an already solid reputation as a celebrated singer-songwriter.

This year, as he turns 25, he has a few other things to celebrate: his recent signing with Nettwerk Records, the success of his EP Love Don’t Let Me Down, and the impending release of his third studio album, Cicada. The record, which was inspired in part by the end of an intense relationship in 2010, also reveals a different, more pop-infused side to Liam Titcomb. In an exclusive interview for Cadence magazine, I spoke to him about where he finds himself today, his take on the music industry currently, and what getting older means to him.

First of all, congratulations on signing to Nettwerk Records.

Thank you.

And how does it feel? I know your very first label was Sony; is there any kind of difference between the two of them, personally, that you see?

Well, there’s a bunch of big differences. For me, my experience with Sony, with my first record was, first of all, in a time when the whole music business was so different and everything was kind of an expected way, and a way that worked to approach everything. It didn’t matter what your genre of music was, the business was kind of more . . . like a business, you know? If you had a record, you had certain ways of promoting it, and timelines, avenues of media, and how to get it to people. Then everything changed.

So I experienced that change first-hand. Sony merged with BMG, and then eventually I left because it wasn’t the right place for me anymore. Then I made an independent record, Can’t Let Go. And then here it is somewhere between, because Nettwerk is an independent record label, but they are large, I guess for an independent, and so they have elements of the old way of doing things. But they don’t approach things in that way. It’s kind of interesting.

As an independent, you get used to having your hands on everything, part of every part of the process. Even if you hire out the work, there’s still a lot of work to do, you still are involved 110 per cent. And with Nettwerk, you don’t [lose] that feeling; I’m involved in all the decisions that are being made and very much a part of the creative side of it all. And that’s nice. I like that, you know,and I get a little extra hand now and then when I need it. So really it’s supposed to be the best of both worlds and so far, so good. So I’m really looking forward to it; I think it could be a really good partnership.

Your first album with Nettwerk is coming out next month—just about a week before your birthday—but before that, you actually released your EP, Love Don’t Let Me Go. Was that kind of like a preview for your album coming out?

For sure. The way we approached the EP—you know, I even hesitated to call it an EP, but that’s the way; that’s kind of your only other option if it’s not an album—but we really did it like an extended single. Like in the old days, an EP really was like an extended single. They would have the single from the forthcoming record, and maybe a couple other songs from the record, or they’d be songs you wouldn’t be able to get on the record, and we really did the same thing. So “Love Don’t Let Me Down” is on the record, but the rest of the songs aren’t. So, “Map of Me,” for instance, is from the same batch of recordings that I did with Jay Joyce, who produced the record; but it’s not on the record, it’s on the EP. And then we added in the acoustic version of the single, and then that little acoustic version of “Chasing You.” So really, it is like a teaser. At least between “Love Don’t Let Me Down” and “Map of Me” you get a bit of an idea of what the record is going to sound like. So there you go.

Cool. In an interview you said you were kind of looking more towards the pop aspect of music for this record; so tell me what inspired you to go in that direction?

It wasn’t a conscious decision; it was more like a realization when I started to look at the material that was piling up, and what was ending up in the favourites pile all had a little more of a pop sensibility. And I have no problem with that. My kind of musical soul, my roots and foundation, are kind of stretched across a few very different things and a lot of what I grew up with. What is my heart and soul is folk music, is roots music, Americana, and that kind of storytelling, so I feel very at home there. At the same time I have a pop element to kind of satisfy as well, because I loved the Beatles growing up and I loved old U2 records, and I’m still a sucker for a good pop song. Unfortunately a lot of the radio I’m not really into these days, but in the older sense of the word, like good melodies and fun songs and great production, and it just kind of ended up being that I went with poppier songs, like the poppier side of Liam. We made the record, Jay [Joyce] and I —’cause we played everything; the two of us played all the instruments on the record—and it just naturally went to a grander sound, I guess. And this is nowhere near your typical pop, but when I say pop, I have a different idea in my mind of what that is. But yeah, it feels a little bigger and grander. Even if it’s only two guys making noise, I think it came out feeling that way.

 Speaking of pop, I guess your idea of pop is a little more old school, as opposed to the factory that churns out music that is kind of supposed to be pop right now. So who would you say, musically, you are inspired by? I know you mentioned U2 and the Beatles, but is there anyone else you’re inspired by or listen to that formed that in you?

There are so many, so many things. Like, I think of pop—I guess pop stands for popular music, whatever’s hip at the time. Probably in 50 years they’re still going to call it pop music, but I come from kind of a classic idea of the songwriting, I guess. And for me a great example would be—you wouldn’t think it—but Ron Sexsmith, to me, is a very poppy songwriter in his melodies, and how he crafts songs, and I think he’s a fantastic writer. And when you hear someone like Feist singing whatever songs, you’re like, “Oh my God, this is amazing,” right? So I find Feist has a lot of pop elements in her music. But I guess I like catchy melodies, and great hooks and lyrical ideas and stuff. But I like them when they have some substance. I could list you a bunch of other things, but I think we’ll keep it to a few things like that!

You’re one of those artists, I think, who . . . you almost feel like a friend to all of your fans because you are so connected on all the social networks. I know on Twitter you kind of update where you are, where you’re going, what you’re doing, and the first time I met you, I remember you walked into the coffee shop and everyone was saying hi to you! So you kind of have that very personable . . . well, personality, to repeat myself! So do you think it is easier today—talking about the way the music industry has changed and social networking—do you think it is easier to have that connection with your fans?

I think it is. I think just the nature of what Twitter is, it’s kind of supposed to represent the less filtered, more fun side of someone. I think fans at least hope and expect that that’s what they’re going to see from someone they are following on Twitter, that they’ll see the real them. When I post things to Facebook, for instance, I try to keep it down to a dull roar because everyone hates to see things repeated in their newsfeed. But I also plan those a little more. I’m more thoughtful with what I’m going to say, and I always try to offer some tidbit of some kind—a picture, a video, a link. With Twitter you get to just kind of shoot from the hip and just be like, “Hey, this sandwich is awesome.” And as dumb as that sounds to some people and even to me—at the beginning I hated Twitter, could not stand it—but you can use it in a way to be who you are, and share that with anybody who wants to know, and be genuine. So I think it’s great. I don’t try to be a personable person; it’s just the way I was raised. And so I just express myself the way I do, and I love that people feel that way. I would never want to draw a boundary between me and my fans (people who like my music), and try to separate myself as “the artist” and them as the people who digest the music, you know? It’s a relationship, it’s a rapport, and you can’t have one without that, so I’m happy to talk to anybody and share my life.

That is awesome. I know you’re going to be on the road a little bit this month, and then in August and a little bit in September. But you’ve tended to tour quite a lot; you’re like the ultimate road musician. So are you toning things down a little bit more, or still keeping the same momentum going?

Well, it’s kind of down to a bit of a dull roar till later in the fall. Again, the music business is different than it used to be. It used to be you ramped up and made everything kind of happen at the same time as the release date. But really what we’re doing right now—what I’m doing is playing some gigs, you know, smatterings of gigs in August and I’m going to do a little tour out in western Canada and go from Ontario to Vancouver, and we’re doing things like that but kind of saving really intense touring for later. And also, we try to make them more focused. So, I guess, plans I have for the fall and the winter are to actually spend some more time in the States. It will be like a week or two weeks at a time and really kind of concentrate and go to the places where you need to be, and I think that’s a huge sign of the times. You kind of have got to really focus your energy now and go to specific markets who are interested and serve up to people who are actually interested in your music, and then get out and go somewhere else and be productive. It’s too bad because I do really enjoy disappearing for two and a half months on the road and living that alternate reality and just playing shows every other day. There’s something beautiful about that and it’s fun. But this is the way it is now, and I think it’s still cool, and it gives me opportunities to do different things with my time as well. But right now I’m jammed, because just prepping for an album to come out is a lot of work.

Aside from the new album coming out, this year’s kind of a milestone birthday for you—you’re turning 25. What do you have planned for that?

Oh man . . . for years I felt like I was kind of grateful that finally the number of my age was catching up with how old I felt. I think from starting this business really young, I grew up really quickly. And it was always like a birthday came and went, and I was like, Oh well, at least it’s closer to how I feel. This year is the first year I’ve been like, “Whoa, 25? Whoa! Can we just slow down for a second; we don’t need to go so fast!” And I’m really for the first time feeling that way. And I am looking forward to it as well, but it’s a little scary. I think for anybody that age is like you’re saying to yourself, “I’ve been an adult now for a few years, but I’ve been a young adult, and now I actually have to be an adult!” Now I’ve got to think about my life in a different way. And there might be a knee-jerk reaction at that age to think about your future and actually plan a little more. So we’ll see. I live a life that’s up and down, and really creative, and changing all the time, so I don’t know how it’ll really change. But I know somewhere in the back of my mind I’m thinking differently, which is interesting. I didn’t expect it. But I don’t know . . . have some nice little party with friends and celebrate, and keep moving on.

Awesome, sounds good.

 

Liam Titcomb’s latest album CICADA comes out August 7, and is currently available as a pre-order on iTunes here.

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