Home Feature The Chat Room: Berk Jodoin

The Chat Room: Berk Jodoin

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On Berk Jodoin’s new album, Fly Away, the Saskatchewan-based, Métis singer-songwriter gives us a glimpse into the challenges he has overcome over the course of his life, and further unflinching observations of how others in similar circumstances are struggling to survive in urban centres across North America.

Inspired by the sounds of classic country and blues, Berk brilliantly combines them on the already acclaimed singles “Aces & 8s,” “One Child” and “Weather the Storm,” as well as the seven other songs on Fly Away. Working with co-producer/multi-instrumentalist Aspen Beveridge at Skull Creek Studios in Saskatchewan, Berk turned Fly Away into a family affair with his children making significant musical contributions, along with members of his local Indigenous community.

Indeed, Berk has come to be regarded as one of the most important voices within the North American Indigenous music movement, with CBC Saskatchewan recognizing him as a musician “changing the sound of the province.” In late 2023, Berk also received three nominations at the inaugural Saskatchewan Indigenous Music Awards in the categories Country/Roots Artist of the Year, Male Artist of the Year, and Fan’s Choice.

A commitment to telling his story, as well as being a voice for those whose stories are rarely told, remains the hallmark of Berk’s songwriting. That skill is on full display throughout Fly Away, from the tragic portrait of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in “Hastings & Main,” to the scathing, self-explanatory indictment, “White Man’s World” (ft. Joey Stylez) It’s no surprise that Berk has experienced much of what he sings about. After a promising hockey career was derailed by life-threatening alcoholism, Berk turned his life around in his early 30s with the help of a British Columbia treatment centre. He then took up boxing, but after realizing that injuries were tempting him to return to his bad habits, Berk turned to music as his therapy, following in the footsteps of many of his heroes such as Steve Earle and Waylon Jennings.

Through his friends’ encouragement, Berk began recording his songs, and with the support of an SK Arts grant, released his self-titled debut album in 2020. Berk followed that up in 2022 with Half-Breed, which earned him a Saskatchewan Music Award as Indigenous Artist of the Year, along with a 2023 Canadian Folk Music Award nomination for Indigenous Songwriter of the Year.

Now partnered with Toronto-based Meriläinen Müsic (Nadjiwan, JC Campbell, Kelly Fraser) Berk is sure to expand his audience with Fly Away, a collection that presents cold facts alongside a pathway toward change. The album is available now at berkjodoinmusic.net and on all digital platforms.

 

The songs on Fly Away all contain powerful messages. How did the writing process begin for you?

The songs all start with a story. These stories are true stories, they’ve either occurred in my life or I’ve observed them happen in the world. I tell these stories because they need to be told. There’s powerful messages in the songs whether it be about addiction, mental health or social injustices, these are the songs I write. The story comes first. It has to make sense and has to connect with me all the while delivering the message. If it does, then I’m sure it’ll resonate with listeners. The production and music part of the song comes after. When I first write a song I have a topic, then I tell the story while strumming chords on my guitar creating a melody. Once that is all down on paper and in my voice memos on my phone I will revisit the song several times until I’m somewhat happy with its structure and flow. Then it’s ready for the studio. That’s where the magic happens. The production brings the story alive!

Were there lessons you learned from your previous albums that helped you to make Fly Away?

Yes, absolutely. In my previous efforts I didn’t get involved with the production, I was hands off. I was inexperienced but I learned a lot. My writing has matured significantly as well as understanding the process of taking a song in my head to getting it “release” ready. With Fly Away I co-produced with Aspen Beveridge. I was way more involved with the entire process. I learned to speak up and that I don’t have to necessarily trust the process, that I could steer the process towards a vision I have. My goal from the start was to create an album that I’d love listening to and to be honest I’ve accomplished my goal with this album.

You have several family members contributing to the album. How important is it for you to have your kids involved in your music?

Family is everything. They are the most important, period. Being a musician is hard, musicians are out on the road or gone recording all of the time. But having my family involved, they quite often come with me. My oldest daughter Milly played bass on most of the tracks, my daughter Emma sang on several and even co-wrote one! But the song that I love the most is “Better by the Morning.” That track is just my children and I. My six-year-old son is singing along with his sisters, it truly melts my heart when I listen to it. That track is particularly important because I wrote it as an apology to my daughters. When they were little, I was an active alcoholic. This song is me saying sorry to them and acknowledging my wrongs. I’m happy to say it’s been nearly a decade now since I had my last drink.

Music has played a big role in your life in helping you get through some serious struggles with addiction. What advice would you give to anyone trying to turn their life around?

Start today, don’t wait for tomorrow or next week or next month. Unfortunately, when they say tomorrow never comes it’s usually true. For me my worst enemy is being idle. The old saying of idle hands is the devil’s playground rings especially true for me. I keep myself busy with constructive and healthy activities. I write and record constantly. The day Fly Away was released I was in the studio working on the next album. I always have a goal in front of me. The writing process is such a beautiful form of therapy, it allows me to get all those thoughts and feelings out and it always makes me feel better.

Are you planning to get out on the road in support of Fly Away, and what can people expect from your live show?

Yes, we are going to perform the album live as much as we can. At my live shows people can expect honesty. I don’t sugar coat anything. These songs are important and can be heavy. I tell the stories of the songs before I perform them to engage the audience and, in most cases, give the songs more context. I sing about controversial topics quite often, but I don’t preach to the audience. I give them the song, let them sit in it and allow them to share an emotional journey with me during the performance.

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