Cam Penner and his sweetheart wanted to build a deer fence, writing a new record was more of a side note.
To Build A Fire is what happens when you take a man from Calgary back to the land for a mini homestead experiment, he buys a cabin and sets forth to shake the floor boards and the cobwebs of detached metropolitan existence from a body and soul rooted in the simple things.
“We were looking for a place with a lot of touring bands and a lot of heart,” said Penner, who originates from Manitoba and Saskatchewan but feels he’s found solace in backwoods B.C.
Sharp turns and a pinch of adventure have worked out well for this guitar player, so the big move to the Kootenays seemed less a daring dive into a mighty chasm, more a logical leap to good friends, good community and a land where the politics make sense.
Penner uprooted his life in a similar manner five years ago, retiring from working in homeless shelters to become a homeless minstrel himself. He toured Europe and North America, playing music on a circuitous path that eventually found him back where he started in Calgary; although, now with a young family.
Since the birth of his now two-year-old daughter, he says he’s felt a need to build deer fences, stick his hands in the dirt and create the kind of music that comes from putting in an honest day’s work then spontaneously pounding through a new tune.
He sends his family away when it comes time to write.
“I kind of like not having connections to anything but the music,” he said. “It’s an experience. It’s not a selfish thing, that’s just the way me and John work best.”
John Wood has been playing with Penner, providing backup musicianship, for years. It took the pair nine days to create To Build A Fire.
The resulting album is what Penner likes to term “honest, immediate and intentional” and he’s well aware it might take some time for people to really get into its groove.
Unlike the candy-pop of commercial radio, this kind of deep-rooted folk is about rhythm and repetition and letting a sound get under one’s skin and rumble through the heart en route to a little foot stomping—and it does take time to settle.
Unlike many a singer-songwriter, he doesn’t write collections of love and angst stories one could easily generate over beer or a coffee.
“I always say there’s 10,000 ghost stories inside of me and they’ll never leave,” he said.
This is the product of a lifetime of studying other lifetimes and the harrowing moments everyone has to learn to survive.
Penner said he wound up working with the homeless after hitching a ride with a couple on their way to a Christian hippie commune. He stayed at the commune, fell in love with the lifestyle and with the raw truth he found working at its women and children’s shelter. This is the foundation for a life’s work.
“Say what you want, say what you will, dead man’s words rising up from the dirt. Word from the wise, word from the mind, glad to be here just glad to be alive,” he sings on the second song of the album titled Memphis. One has the feeling he’s heard those words in the stories and sentiments left unsaid of many a man and woman in from the cold.
This is simple music with a straight forward messages that doesn’t fail to highlight life’s intricacies.
Cam Penner plays the Streaming Café on May 25, showcasing his newly released To Build a Fire.