Singer/songwriter John Wort Hannam has an amazingly honest, authentic approach to crafting tunes – a welcome and rare things in today’s musical landscape.
He performs Oct. 14th at Fratters in Red Deer where folks will be able to get a listen to the fabulous new collection of songs from his latest CD Love Lives On. He’s excited to chat about the disc, which continues to find the gifted artist breaking new ground while maintaining his distinct singer/songwriter approach which has landed him a growing list of accolades including a Juno nod, a Canadian Folk Music Award, a Galaxie Rising Star Award and a Kerrville New Folk title.
Whatever it is, Wort Hannam is making music with a new-found confidence these days as is clearly reflected on the cuts from Love Lives On, which was produced by Leeroy Stagger. He’s drawing more than ever from personal experience in his writing, resulting in an album that is part love songs, part road songs, and occasionally, both at the same time. He’s also a new dad, so that enormous life event has impacted him in terms of his vision as well.
He seamlessly incorporates everything from bluegrass and old-time to country rock and Americana – all with an contemporary folk feel. Stagger keeps things fresh with flourishes of originality such as the horns on Molly and Me and the Celtic fiddle on Goodnight Nova Scotia.
“I feel like I’ve grown as a person and as a songwriter over the past few years,” said Wort Hannam. “My life has changed and the process of writing has changed.
“I’m way more comfortable as a songwriter and I’m more comfortable writing from the heart. When you first start doing anything, no matter what it is, for the first time, I think you sort of look to people who are way more experienced than you are and sort of watch what they do.
“But these days I’m feeling more comfortable in my own skin and writing pretty much whatever I want,” he noted, adding that he noticed there were a number of love songs on this album. “When I first realized that, I thought do I want to be that guy?” he laughed. “But then I thought these songs have come from where I’m at at a particular time.
“So I just think, grab it and run with it.”
Born in Jersey, Channel Islands and raised in southern Alberta, Wort Hannam earned degrees in Native American Studies and Native Education and taught Grade 9 on reserves for five years. He decided he wanted to pursue a career in music after hearing Loudon Wainwright III in 1997. Since quitting his teaching job in 2002, he’s released five CDs and written official songs for the 2011 Alberta Winter Games and for the 2012 100th anniversary of the Empress Theatre in Fort McLeod.
He won the prestigious Kerrville New Folk Award in 2007. He’s been nominated for three Western Canadian Music Awards, a North American Folk Alliance Award, and three Canadian Folk Music Awards – winning in 2010 for Contemporary Album of the Year. He also earned a 2010 Juno nod for Roots and Traditional Album of the Year – Solo, and he has three times won the Grand Prize in the Calgary Folk Festival Song Competition.
Interestingly, he didn’t grow up in a distinctly musical home. “My dad had a record player but no one played an instrument or sang in my house. My dad had maybe 20 records – sort of a bizarre mix of old country, Charley Pride, Willy Nelson, Elvis and others like The Carpenters and The Platters,” he recalled. But as a kid, he heard the Calgary Boys Choir sing at his school and decided he wanted to sign up. “I went up to the conductor and said I want to join. So I auditioned and sang for three years with them.” It was a wonderful training opportunity, not to mention a means of getting used to being in front of audiences. “I really discovered the joy of singing.”
Unfortunately, when he approached his teens, he figured it wasn’t really the cool thing to do, so he quit. But it wasn’t long before he found the guitar. A musical identity was increasingly taking shape, but it wasn’t till about 16 years ago that he started thinking about getting into the biz.
“I started singing covers here and there – but I guess the aha! moment came about in around 2000 when I went to an open stage in Lethbridge and I sang three songs. When it was done, the club director said we are having a finale night next Saturday, so if you come back and sing those three songs I’ll give you $50!
“That honestly really helped get things going.”
Really, there hasn’t been much in the way of looking back. “I had dreams of being a working musician, of paying my bills and my mortgage by playing music. And I remember thinking, if you are going to give this a go, you better hurry. Chop chop kind of thing.”
He didn’t have doubts on leaving his teaching careers, “Because I’ve never been afraid to fall on my face,” he chuckles. “I’ve never been afraid of not being good at something, because I just think I’ll move onto something else.”
In fact, his teaching helped him adjust to performing. “There is no difference to being onstage and being in front of a classroom. I can’t tell you how close it is – you have to hold people’s attention, things have to be planned out. Honestly, I feel like my teaching and the choir experience – but more so it was me having to stand in front of a room and having to be in control of 30 kids – made the difference.”