How David Newland combines creative life with the ‘real life’ need to earn a living
Photo by Mike Beedell.
“I’m fluent in normal but it’s not my mother tongue!” David Newland said.
Throughout David’s career as a singer-songwriter, there have been occasions when he’s had to rely on his other skills to keep a roof over his head and the wolf from the door.
“My older daughter came along 24 years ago, so I had to figure out early in my artistic pursuits how I was going to be creative and still keep the lights on,” he said. “I’ve always lived in alternative ways or found unusual ways into the opportunities I’ve had. What I always did was take the job I needed to take to pay for things, but I would always take the job that had the most creative outlets possible.”
Over the years, this has meant that David has written for the Discovery Channel’s website and CBC.ca and served as editor-in-chief for Canoe.ca, which David expanded from a writing and blogging job to one that included interviews and video shows.
And oh yes, he also co-founded Roots Music Canada with Andy Frank!
The origins of Roots Music Canada
“Andy and I, along with a team that included Trevor Mills, Meghan, my wife, and many others, gave it a really good kick at the can,” he explained. “But it was awkward timing for both of us. Andy went through a big cancer scare. I got married and moved out of Toronto, (so) we just weren’t able to keep it going. But we were grateful that Heather Kitching saw the vision and had the energy, the connections and the verve to take it forward. It’s a pleasure to see that Roots Music Canada continues.”
Since David has been able to get through fallow periods of his musical career in the past, the prospect of lost touring opportunities due to COVID-19 weren’t as daunting this time as they might have been for someone else.
“It’s also helped me that having lived as an artist for so long and gone through those periods, I haven’t panicked,” he said. “I’m not going to say I don’t have some sleepless nights, but I’ve been through the desert before. I would feel very badly for anyone who entered a standard career at age 21 and [knew] nothing else, and then got turfed at the beginning of the (COVID-19) lockdown.”
David found a perfect balance between job and creativity when he started working with Adventure Canada, which offers trips to Canada’s high Arctic and east coast. He was a brand ambassador and expedition host who travelled away from home for 100 overnight trips a year along with countless day trips.
Working for Adventure Canada
“It allowed me, almost impossibly, to incorporate my work as a folksinger, songwriter and stage presence. My job with Adventure Canada was to manage events and go out and get people interested and excited in the trips we were doing. It was a salaried position but one that accommodated my evening job as a musician. Frequently the events I would do wound up being kind of a hybrid [of the two jobs]. When the pandemic came along, I was laid off almost immediately because the combination of event management, public speaking, travel, cruise ships, you name it – those were all ‘no-gos.”
Adding to what is already a stressful time for anyone who’s lost a job was the arrival of a new child in August of 2020, David’s son River.
“Technically, I still have a job and I’m on parental leave right now,” he said. “That’s what’s keeping the lights on around here, and that will last until May. Then we’ll see where the expedition cruise business is at, where the travel business in general is at and what my new options are, if any. We’ll see.”
Since David had some free time on his hands without his usual outlet for creativity, he looked to an old vocation to fill the void: his community radio station in Cobourg Ontario.
“To tell you the truth, I have always felt that radio was in my future,” he explained. “Among close friends it was always a conversation, ‘When are you going to wind up on the CBC or something like that?’ I always felt it would happen. I had a radio show in Halifax back in the early ’90s, really loved it and always figured I would wind up doing it again. I had done podcasting, vidcasting, webcasting, TV, music, stage hosting, you name it and never quite ended up back on the radio. I’ve always taken an interest in my local radio station here in Cobourg, and as the lockdown lengthened, it became clear I was going to have some creative energy that I wasn’t able to pour into doing my stage show. I thought maybe it’s getting closer to that time.
They actually needed someone to co-ordinate the summer music series. I thought, ‘OK, I’ll take that on.’ But once I was involved at that level, it seemed to make sense to go to the next level. I pitched the station on a show, which I was working with a team to build. Then the regular morning guy, who’d been doing it for six and a half years, decided to take a long overdue rest. Initially they got five people to take over his time slot, and I was one of them. One of the people covering for him was the station manager, [who] let me know he [felt] a bit busy with the extra commitment in addition to his own show. So I said I could do a second day. Then one of the other people who was filling in didn’t feel they could make the trip in for the extra day because they also had their [own] two shows to work on. So, I said I could do a third day. The long and short of it is within a brief period of time, eight weeks, from pitching my show initially to the present moment, I’ve become the morning guy three days a week, 7 to 10 a.m. on Northumberland 89.7!”
Balancing work and family
Before you think the station will soon become “David 89.7”, rest easy.
“We’re figuring out where our capacity is as a family, and we’ve had to work that out all fresh, because developments have really changed the way we used to do things,” he said. “At first, we thought there was more of my time than we were used to, but then we had a new baby, so that changed the calculus a little bit. It turns out that three mornings a week plus the interviews and preparations and sorting through the music are good for us. We feel it, but my family can handle it.”
You might be surprised to learn that all of this time and commitment on David’s part is for a volunteer position! But his main focus of course is on his family.
“Everybody’s looking for bright sides, and the bright side for our family has been that the baby came along at a time when we were all here. We’re all together. There’s no place else to be. The majority of my wife’s pregnancy and all of River’s life outside the womb has been led during lockdown. We’re together as a family in a small unit, and he gets a lot of love and brings a lot of love with him. So on that front, it’s been great.”
David’s school-age children are homeschooled by his wife, Meghan, so much of their studies have remained the same, to a point.
“Meghan is a tremendous home-educator, Montessori-influenced and really dynamic on that front. What has changed is, to do that really effectively, we’ve always depended on a community of like-minded, like-interested folks around here. We’ve often teamed up and sent the kids to nature programming together or dance lessons or education-based activities. That has fallen back on us and primarily on Meaghan. What’s been challenging for the kids has been missing those social circles. Jasper, my son, is eight, and my daughter, Sage, is almost six. They’re great playmates to one another, and they’re great with River. They miss the socializing, the running around and learning things together with the community. We count our blessings. We have not been as hard hit as many people have.”
The one regret David feels throughout this whole experience has been his inability to present his stage show, which highlighted the culture of Canada’s North.
“In 2018, I made a terrific record, Northbound, recorded live here in Cobourg with 21 different musicians, including several Inuit musicians in whom I placed a lot of trust and was rewarded with incredible work,” he said. “We made a record cross-culturally that was really special, and I especially tip my hat to Siqiniup Qilauta (Sunsdrum), the throat-singing duo I worked with for years. We got a lot of traction when that record came out in early 2019. It did really well. We got lots of shows, good reviews and mentions in good places. [We] toured it a bunch as we had been already [as] The Northwest Passage in Story and Song. In the fall, I tagged up with Scott Forsyth, who’s Canadian Geographic’s photographer-in-residence, and we did a really successful tour of B.C and Alberta (Wild Coasts of Canada). The record did well enough that I was able to do a second pressing. I doubt I’ll be able to launch the stage show again. I’ve had a few opportunities to do online stuff, and that’s OK, but it’s nothing like what we were doing on stage with the ensemble cast. So we turn our hand to other pursuits, and right now it’s radio.”