In Conversation with Darryl Klassen of J.D. Miner

British Columbia-based J.D. Miner is one of my long-time favourite folk acts. I first encountered their music in 2008 on their album Ain’t No Ordinary Hillbilly, and went on to interview them (see here). I featured them again in 2011 regarding their album Coal Train.

Well, the time has rolled around again for another great folky CD, Waltz with the Wind, a theme album based on sailing, from what is now mostly a duo?multi-instrumentalists Darryl Klassen and Chad Joiner?whose original songs and covers are based on old-time banjo, fiddle tunes, and a vision of life informed by a spiritual simplicity and acknowledgement of the good. they’re often joined by other maestros from the same artistic pages (for a complete list look here).

Darryl Klassen, has thankfully taken the time to answer my questions about his “water songs,” his creative journey, and his insightful views on life and spirituality.

What was the best experience in the making of Waltz With the Wind?
Playing with musicians who are very good, way better than me. They always put their stamp on music in ways that take it in different and creative directions. It was also an opportunity to record some songs I’d had in my back pocket for a long time, and to focus on “water songs” (the second choice for an album title).

I really am a water person. It was an opportunity to experiment with both larger and minimalist arrangements. Both are fun, but I keep being drawn towards minimalism.

Tell us about your favourite instruments and why they’re so fun to play.
Guitar was my first instrument, and still my go-to one most of the time. Then banjo, which I really have come to love. It’s an incredibly expressive instrument. I spend more time on the banjo than on other instruments. And, truth be told, the banjo has gotten me far more gigs than the guitar ever would have. Why? Guitar players, very, very good ones, are a dime a dozen. Not so with banjo players. we’re still a rare and quaint commodity.

Did anything funny or weird happen in the making of this album?
Just the fun incorporating the tuba. Probably the most cool of all basses. I also learned to play a U-bass (ukulele bass) for this CD. I picked it up at a clearance sale and am having a ball with it. It’s on “Sailor Song” and “Frosty Morning Zen.”

Ron and I laughed our heads off when he did the drumming for “A Lot More.” He went nuts, as you can hear. He was having so much fun he was just beaming during this session.

Why did you decide to do theme albums (e.g. coal-mining and boating)?
don’t know. It just sort of happened. Most of my songs are experience based, and sailing has been a big part of my life.

What’s the story behind “Steam Ship Clallum?”
On a number of occasions, I’ve sailed close to the spot where the Clallum eventually sank. There is so much more to this story that I could not fit in without making the song, like, 15 minutes long. The real tragedy of this story is that it was “women and children into the lifeboats first,” with the men remaining on board to do as best they could. But the lifeboats all capsized and the women and children died while the men were eventually rescued. Such horrible irony. Wiki has the entire story.

The first verse has the line, “There were rumours about an Indian girl and the ensign shroud and the bell sheep missing.” The Indian girl, from a nearby reservation, was to christen the ship, but when she swung the bottle of Champaign, she missed and the ship went in without being christened. Bad omen.

When the ship hit the water coming off the waves the ensign was hoisted upside down. Distress signal. Bad omen.

The bell sheep was the ship’s sheep that was used to lead other sheep onto the ship, into the lower hold. In Seattle she refused to get on, so on that tragic morning she was left behind. Bad omen.

What kind of local following do you have there in B.C.?
We have many very good fans who support us faithfully. But we’ve also been limited in our geographic and time frames. Chad, the other main Miner, teaches music at a large private school, travels with his bands all over the place, and has a young family of four children. So hitting the road is pretty much impossible.

I love playing, but am also not sure I’d want the lifestyle of a road musician, always away from home, sleeping in friendly, but sometimes burdensome, billets or cheap motel rooms (I hate hotel rooms, even good ones), never a home cooked meal, huge amounts of downtime between towns or gigs, etc.

I rely on my shop now for variety. I build little wooden sailboats and rowboats, some rustic furniture, etc. None of this on the road. And frankly, the folk music world is a pretty small pond. Even a big fish in this little pond won’t be living the life of the rich and famous. And who would want it, anyway?

Why, on your website, do you ask if anyone has the number for an intergalactic tow truck?
I have this image in my mind of the Voyager 1, launched in 1977, now into interstellar space, truckin? along out there. Imagine a 1977 Chevy, a big old heavy clunker, 8-track player still spuming Bob Seeger, shuffling off into the universe. Hey, universe, this is us! How do you like us so far?

If you had an artistic mission statement, what would it be?
Make people feel like the woman at 2:08 and 5:02 on this YouTube clip. Just wish I was ΒΌ this good . . . Oops, there I go violating my rule.

What’s next for you?
can’t really say. Songwriting isn’t coming these days. we’ll see. Have thought of a book of reflections. Something like meditations from the margin.

Wanda also writes the blog The Mindful Bard:The Care and Feeding of the Creative Self.

Last week’s interview with Fable Cry contained an error: Joshua Dent’s name was included among those of the band members while in fact he’s no longer in the group. Our sincere apologies to Fable Cry.

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