When you’ve been working in folk music for 45 years and have released 18 albums in that time, you learn a thing or two about how to sustain your career through the ups and downs life throws at you.
You also learn how to structure a song to best showcase the story you’re telling. Sometimes you don’t need an involved or wordy chorus to reinforce the point you’re making. Sometimes, all you need is one line.
“It’s the woman who pays” is all Connie Kaldor needed in “Woman Who Pays”, a song sparked by the murder of eight women in eight weeks, including a friend of Connie’s daughter-in-law, in Montreal in 2021.
“I was thinking, ‘why does this still go on?’” she said at this year’s Folk Music Ontario conference. “I’ve tried to become better and better as a songwriter over the years so I can deal with some of these subjects.”
Throughout her career Connie has written serious songs about relationships, life in small towns and the state of the world we live in. But she’s also written humorous songs and her concerts are filled with lots of fun banter between songs. What she’s discovered lately is that her humor may be keeping her from being taken as seriously as other songwriters. This had a big influence on what songs she included on her new album, Keep Going. She describes them as “songwriter songs.”
Connie once heard an interview on CBC’s Writers and Company where an author was asked why they wrote a book about grief. The answer: “Nobody’s writing about it.”
Connie said that with some of her songs she feels the same way. One of those songs, “Sad Is Your Passing” is a eulogy to those friends and colleagues who have passed away over the years.
“So many people in this scene have gone,” she said. “I wrote it thinking about what they meant and why we would miss them.”
The songs on Keep Going, as well as a future album, came as a result of a couple of writing grants Connie received which brought forth about 40 songs.
“Writing 40 songs doesn’t mean they’re all finished and that they were all good. It’s quantity, not necessarily quality. It’s kind of the Costco version of songwriting.”
Three songs came out of an exercise from her guitar teacher when Connie felt she was in a rut. The teacher suggested she try an open tuning. Connie obliged.
“Darn him, now I have to re-tune the guitar in every set,” she laughed. “But sometimes I think a different rhythm or picking pattern opens up a door in your head.”
Connie Kaldor came onto the Canadian folk scene at the same time as Stan Rogers, Valdy, David Wiffen and many others. When asked to compare today’s new artists to those from her era she only has to look at her sons, Aleksi and Gabriel, who are performers in their own right.
At 70 years old, Connie said she is excited for the next generations of musicians who are “better educated musically” and have listened to “so much more.”
“I look at what’s happening in the First Nations music scene and it’s so exciting,” she said. “They’re singing about stuff we haven’t heard of before. Kind of like when we were first singing about a woman’s point of view because people hadn’t heard about that.”
As Connie sees it, the challenge young performers face is having to put together a quality sounding recording with no prospect of the listening public ever wanting to pay for it.
“You’ve got to get a grant, work really hard to get the money another way or find someone to help them. The difference is they can access the whole of the internet but it’s really a full time job. It’s another whole skill set other than writing, connecting and performing.”
What has set Connie apart from her contemporaries on the folk music scene has been her diversity as a songwriter and performer. Growing up working in theater, Connie learned to entertain her audiences. As a result, she’ll write songs both for and about anything and anyone.
“Just the other day my sister-in-law said, ‘let’s write a vampire love song.’ So I wrote one and Gabriel wrote one and it was great fun. Sometimes to be challenged like that is great. It’s about what’s the best way to say what you’re going to say. For me in folk music I was allowed to do that.”
Despite the obstacles faced by today’s artists, Connie is encouraged by the quality of work she is encountering in the folk scene.
“I heard Julian Taylor’s song ‘Seeds’ the other day and it just floored me. Just a good all-round song. That for me is the thrill.”
A life in folk music has been good to Connie Kaldor. It brought her Paul Campagne, her husband and producer of her music (and as she jokes “the co-producer of her children”). It also gave her a loyal community of friends and fans.
“I’m always smarter in my songs than I am in real life. I have a line in one of my songs that says, ‘Music is the one place that I feel like I belong.’”
For more on Connie Kaldor and Keep Going, go to conniekaldor.com.