The Chat Room: Marc Meriläinen
Earlier this year, the ever-prolific, Toronto-based singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer NADJIWAN (a.k.a. Marc Meriläinen) released The Great Sea, arguably his most personal collection of original material to date, inspired by and made in his hometown, Thunder Bay, ON. Marc’s roots are deeply entrenched in northern Ontario, as he is a member of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation Cape Croker and has family living on Atikameksheng Anishnawbek, an Ojibway First Nation located on the shores of Whitefish Lake.
The Great Sea is, in many ways, a love letter to northern Ontario’s awe-inspiring landscape and its unique culture. Marc offered a taste of it with his 2022 single “Land Of Skoden” (also included on The Great Sea), which set the stage for a full-on recording trip last summer. Utilizing his usual band — guitarist Jean-Paul De Roover, bassist Adam Gomori and drummer Alex Mine — along with a mobile recording studio, they set up at the Chippewa Park Pavilion near Fort William First Nation, with a local company, Apple Wagon Films, also on hand to document the entire recording process. Other parts were later overdubbed in Toronto, with notable contributions from members of Sultans Of String.
The themes expressed on The Great Sea came to Marc in part duing long drives from Toronto to Thunder Bay. The song “North Of Superior” is dedicated to Marc’s late uncle, who worked his entire life as a miner, while “Break To The West” turns back the clock to early voyageurs faced with surviving the unforgiving weather around what was known in Ojibwe as gichi-gami, or “the great sea.” Marc has noted that “Break To The West” also serves as a metaphor for how we all must navigate our own treacherous waters in modern society. On the new single, “The Crests Of June, ” the video for which we’re proud to premiere here , he also uses northern Ontario’s environment as a metaphor for life’s seasons.
The Great Sea comes on the heels of two acclaimed NADJIWAN releases, 2021’s Star Nation, a prog-rock concept album based on Indigenous oral history and mythology, and 2022’s Resurgence, a covers EP consisting of some of Marc’s favourite songs by the likes of Daniel Lanois, Prince, U2 and others. The Great Sea adds another important piece to NADJIWAN’s body of work, which over time has played a vital role in bringing Indigenous voices into the mainstream.
To hear more of NADJIWAN, go to headingnorthmusic.com.
First off, you just received a Dora Award for your work on the Red Sky Performance production of Miigis: Underwater Panther. Could you explain your contribution and the significance of that stage show?
I first started working with Red Sky Performance back in 2011 on a project called The Great Mountain where I composed the music for that theatrical production. Over the years I’ve worked with them on various projects. Then, approximately six years ago, Red Sky contacted me to see if I would be interested in being part of an ensemble that would create the musical soundscapes for a dance performance called ‘Miigis.’ We worked as a group collaboratively over a period of a couple of weeks. The end result was the music for Miigis: Underwater Panther. The ensemble was a great mix of Indigenous & non-Indigenous musicians from various backgrounds and genres.
The new NADJIWAN album, The Great Sea, has been well received so far. How are you feeling about the record now that it’s been out a few months?
I am very happy that the album has been well received, and it all still feels like yesterday when we recorded the album in Thunder Bay. We performed in Thunder Bay back in July for the first time since recording there last August 2022. We had a great audience that were really enthusiastic about the music. It was a wonderful homecoming event for not only myself but for the music that was created and inspired by the region.
How have northern Ontario communities been responding to the songs?
Other communities outside of northern Ontario have responded quite favourably to the songs. We’ve had a lot of reaction from folks out on the west coast as well as in the States. I think in any small town or community there are a lot of similar stories and that’s why the record resonates with so many people. I also try to write songs with a universal theme or message so that almost anyone can relate to them.
I think a lot of people who live in southern Ontario don’t have a full grasp of how vast and diverse northern Ontario is. Do you think we should be paying more attention to what’s going on in the north?
There are a lot of great and talented people living in northern Ontario. Over the years, “Holywood North” has really moved north of Toronto with many productions being shot in Sudbury and North Bay. There are numerous talented musicians, composers and producers living in the north, among them many talented musicians that tour internationally that call Thunder Bay their home. There’s a whole community of artists and entertainers in the north that are continuing to do their own thing even though they may not catch the eyes and ears of the southern Ontario audience. The north has their own microcosm in a way of culture and in some regards is Canada’s best kept secret.
You always seem to be busy. What are some projects you’re currently working on that you want to tell people about?
I am always busy because I can’t stand being idle. Currently, I am getting ready to hit the road for several weeks with The Sultans of String for the Walking Through The Fire tour, which is a wonderful collaborative project featuring various Indigenous artists — Leela Gilday, Don Ross, Crystal Shawanda, Raven from Digging Roots, The North Sound, and more. In addition to that, my wife Laura and I are busy on a daily basis running our record label, Meriläinen Music Inc., which specializes in releasing and promoting Indigenous artists. I am planning to release a record I recorded with my kids, Fox and Cole, during the pandemic lockdowns. This record will be more of a party sound and is reminiscent of ’70s disco and dance music, but with a modern twist. It will be somewhat similar to what Random Access Memories did for Daft Punk. This will not be a NADJIWAN release but a “Meriläinen family release” looking to come out in January 2024.