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Fort Macleod singer-songwriter discovers Love Lives On with newest album

john worthannam

John Wort Hannam calls his new album Love Lives On his most personal record to this point in his career. Wort Hannam performs Oct. 2 at the Empress Theatre.

John Wort Hannam made a startling realization when he listened to his new CD Love Lives On for the first time.
The Fort Macleod singer-songwriter realized there was more of himself on the record than had shown up on his five previous albums.
“I realized this record is my most personal record,” Wort Hannam said in an interview conducted last week by e-mail. “More so than ever, this recording gives insight into me as a person and not just me as a songwriter.”
Wort Hannam launches a tour in support of Love Lives On with a concert at the Empress Theatre in Fort Macleod on Friday, Oct. 2.
The concert will feature the 11 songs from Love Lives On, along with tunes from the previous albums, and long-time fans might notice a change.
With the songs for Love Lives On, Wort Hannam has found a new voice from within himself.
“When you’re new at something you look to other more experienced people to see how it’s done,” Wort Hannam said of the career he embarked on a decade and a half ago. “Like many beginning songwriters I began crafting my own songs by mimicking other writers I looked up to. Whatever themes they sang about, I sang about. How they played their guitar is how I attempted to play my guitar.”
“Unknowingly I became confined in an imaginary box I constructed for myself. If a song didn’t sound like a song a writer I respected would write, I ditched it. I guess I’ve reached a point where if I want to write about something, I no longer gauge its potential or worth by wondering if my song-writing heroes would write such a song.”
Wort Hannam said being a father also shaped his approach to this album — in more ways than just squeezing in time to write and record the songs.
Wort Hannam had the idea for Man of God, a song about Indian residential schools, in his head for five or six years but it wasn’t until his son Charlie was born that he was able to finish it.
“I taught on the Blood reserve for six years and was well aware of this dark chapter of Canadian history,” the Juno Award nominee said. “I didn’t know how to find my own truth in the song being non-native. Residential school is not part of my narrative. But when my son Charlie was born I found my way in the song.”
“While I’ll never know what it’s like to be First Nations or attend one of these schools, I do understand the deep love of a child. The thought of a big black sedan with church officials and Mounties showing up to remove my child from my home is beyond crushing. I also know how hysterically lonely Charlie would be if taken from my wife Jenny and I. I tapped into these emotions to complete the song.”
Young Charlie also figured in the name of the new album. Wort Hannam and his son were out for a walk when they came upon the fresh cement of a sidewalk, and used a stick to write, “Charlie and Dad.”
That got Wort Hannam thinking about the need people feel to put their handprints in cement, or to carve their names into trees, picnic tables or other pieces of wood.
“Are these just small acts of vandalism or do we have a deeper desire to leave our mark?” Wort Hannam wondered. “Every time I renovate my house I drop a note behind the wall. I know one day that house will be demolished and I want whoever finds my notes to know that we were there. I want them to know this was our house for a short while; the place where we raised our child, celebrated out little victories, and cried over our defeats. I want them to know we warmed ourselves by this fireplace, we prepared food in this kitchen, nourished ourselves in this dining room, and dreamt in these bedrooms. I want them to know we loved our home.”
“I’m mostly an atheist. I say ‘mostly’ because while I don’t believe in God, heaven and hell, or life after death, I do believe something lingers for a little while after we are gone — love. Love lives on.”
In addition to changing his approach to song-writing, Wort Hannam also took a new, unintentional approach to recording Love Lives On.
Wort Hannam intended to record a four-song EP at Leeroy Stagger’s studio in Lethbridge.
They tracked the four songs in a few days but had to stop work as both Wort Hannam and Stagger hit the road on their respective touring schedules.
“The songs sat for months waiting to be finished,” Wort Hannam said. “By the time we got back to them, I had written a bunch of new songs. We decided to keep rolling and make a full recording.”
Taking about a year to complete the album also benefitted Wort Hannam in terms of the musicians — a veritable who’s who in Canadian roots music — who showed up in the studio to help out.
“It just happened that I was in the studio some days and touring musicians like Corb Lund’s band would drop in to see Leeroy or myself and we would take advantage of that and throw them in front of a microphone and push record.”
Musicians such as Kurt Ciesla and Brady Valgardson of Corb Lund’s band, John MacArthur Ellis of Doc Walker, Adrian Dolan of The Bills and Ruth Moody, Bob Hamilton of the Undertakin’ Daddies, Tyson Maiko of Gob, Geoff Hillhorst of Deep Dark Woods and fiddler and horn player Daniel Lapp contributed to Love Lives On.
Wort Hannam has put together what he calls an all-star band for his performance at the Empress on Oct. 2. Jason Valleau of The PolyJesters is on upright bass, Bob Hamilton from the Undertakin’ Daddies is on lap-pedal steel and mandolin, Scott Duncan from Barrage will be on fiddle and singer Karla Adolphe will lend her voice to some songs.
The performance at the Empress kicks off an 18-date tour with stops across Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.
Tickets for the Fort Macleod show are at www.empresstheatre.ab.ca. Love Lives On can be pre-ordered at www.johnworthannam.com.

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