As I stated in my review of his gorgeous debut solo offering, Broadside Ballads, in my job I cross paths with The Deep Dark Woods’ main man, Ryan Boldt, once or twice a year. He is a towering, imposing figure, yet as cool as a cucumber, unfailingly friendly and happy to chat. Concerning the facts that I work in a record store, that he is buying records from me whenever we meet, and that we are both music geeks with voracious appetites for it, you should have no trouble figuring out the usual core topic of our conversations. Indeed, during our September Sunday afternoon confab in pursuit of this piece there were several mutual ooh-let-me-make-a-note-of-that moments as we inevitably veered off course to recommend this or that new or archive release to each other.
Consequently, catching up with Boldt by telephone was a far more natural interview situation than speaking with someone for the first time, as I was generally familiar with his tastes and inspirations. And having lived comfortably with Broadside Ballads since its initial low key release in November 2014, its October 9th reissue on the new Canadian indie label Big White Cloud Records (which Boldt co-runs) was an easy subject for me to approach.
So, Ryan, how have you been and what have you been up to since we last met?
I’ve been good, and getting my stuff together! I’ve been putting a new band together, and recording some new songs for another new record coming out.
Is that a different line-up of The Deep Dark Woods, something for your solo project, or entirely different?
It’s entirely different. It’s with Shuyler Jansen (of Old Reliable); the Deep Dark Woods were Shuyler’s back-up band about eight or nine years ago, in Saskatoon, for a couple of years. Now he’s playing bass in my band. We started recording in July and should be finishing the rest of the record in October, then we’ll be putting it out next year.
Does the band have a name? And are these your songs or collaboratively written?
No, the band doesn’t have a name yet, so it’s kind of a solo album right now. It’s my songs, but there are a couple written with Shuyler and a couple with Clayton (Linthicum) from The Deep Dark Woods. (Folk duo and Big White Cloud label-mates) Kacy (Anderson) & Clayton play on the album also; Clayton plays guitar and Kacy’s playing guitar, fiddle and singing. And Mike (Silverman) from Old Reliable is in the band, too, on drums.
Turning our attention to Broadside Ballads, you are reissuing it after almost a year, so what’s the story behind that?
I wanted to put it out on vinyl, and I wanted to make the record really special. The Deep Dark Woods put out ‘Jubilee’ and ‘The Place I Left Behind’ on vinyl, but it was kind of rushed, so I really wanted to take the time to actually make this record really look nice, spending a little extra money on it. So I spent the money and thought it would probably be a good idea to re-release it properly. It didn’t get a lot of press because I just kind of put it out on Bandcamp, without any sort of publicity behind it at all. Plus, the label’s happening now, and also it’s the perfect time as I’m touring in November with Kacy & Clayton. I never really did a tour for the record, so it all just makes sense, yeah.
Ryan, in my review I refer to the beautiful sleeve artwork by your brother, Jeff, so that will look amazing on an LP sleeve, yes?
Yeah, and it’s part of the reason I wanted to release it on vinyl! I’ve always had the idea of that album cover, so I got my brother to draw it…but because I put it out on Bandcamp it didn’t really do much, and I didn’t only want people to hear the music, but also to see that image. My brother did a terrific job, and as I hoped it looks really great on the vinyl sleeve. I got the image from my grandmother’s apron. I have it in a frame hanging on my wall; it’s just an old apron she gave to my mom, and mom gave it to me, so Jeff’s drawing is very similar to that apron. Since I was a kid I’ve always had it in my head that it would be a really cool album cover, so I’m glad we got to do it.
Concerning your song choices for Broadside Ballads, I understand you grew up listening to a lot of the kind of music that is reflected on the album, but looking back at your childhood and youth, is it the roots stuff or other types of music that has really stuck with you, and helped shape your own sound?
Definitely country-gospel music. That was the first thing I really got into as a kid. I grew up going to church, and my gran and grandpa used to play in the church band. Gran played guitar and grandpa, harmonica. I grew up singing ‘Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,’ ‘When He Reached down His Hand for Me,’ and all the classic Baptist hymns like ‘Precious Memories’ and stuff like that. That’s what I grew up with until the church decided to go to ‘popular, trendy’ music and completely disregard these beautiful hymns, some of which had probably been sung for about a thousand years! I guess they just weren’t hip anymore.
The feel of Broadside Ballads is very relaxed and organic, sounding perhaps that it came to be without a plan in place. I know you had always intended to make a record like this, even pre-dating The Deep Dark Woods, but at the time it was recorded was there really an intention to do so, or did it indeed come together by happy circumstance?
It was all by chance, actually! (Laughs.) Me and my old roommate, Evan, who was the Deep Dark Woods’ tour manager, just decided to head out to our old friend Jody’s place in Rivers, Manitoba. He has a studio, an old church, in Beresford, Manitoba, and was just setting it up, so we went out there to help him do it. And, well, we just started recording. We did some stuff there, then the drums and stuff at my house, in the kitchen.
It has a field recordings quality at times, especially how you left in all the sounds like birds and thunder that were occurring as the tape rolled. When you realised that these sounds had been captured, did your thoughts ever turn to (what ultimately became) the album being presented as a snapshot of time, or a diary entry, with all that naturally came along with it?
There was never really any intention to put it out. I was thinking maybe I might put a couple of songs on my website, or something like that, so it was really just a relaxed week of hanging out and playing a bit. We recorded some of it in Rivers, on the porch; we were just having drinks, making BBQ and stuff like that, but we had the recording gear set up on the deck and so captured the birds and, yeah, on one or two of the tracks, the thunder. It just kind of happened, really.
You are obviously in thrall to the storytelling aspect of traditional folk music, and generally, which is reflected in your own material. I know that music of bygone days is very dear to your heart, but who do you feel are the great storytelling songwriters around these days?
I know they are close to me, but my absolute favourites are Kacy & Clayton. Kacy is just 18 years-old, and Clayton just turned 21, but they’re just starting out and can produce these songs that are so well written. Lyrically and melodically, it’s some of the best music around, I think, and of course they’re only going to get better. Their new album is on the way; the last one was amazing, but the new one is, wow, even better. The songwriting is outrageous.
It’s been over two years since The Deep Dark Woods released Jubilee, so now that you’re concentrating on promoting the solo album, developing Big White Cloud and putting together the new group, what’s the status of the band?
Well, we’re getting our taxes done right now! We’re just on a break. We’d been doing it for ten years, constantly touring, and there wasn’t really a long period in the last eight years when we haven’t been on the road. It’s just time for us to take a little time away from each other. For any band to last you have to have time apart, or you’ll strangle each other.
Anyone like me who has followed your career has seen your sound evolve quite dramatically, so for when you do reconvene do you yet have a vision for what you’d like the next record to sound like? Working with Jonathan Wilson really help shaped Jubilee into a gauzy, lush album, but in light of the sparseness of your solo offering might you look to pare things right back next time?
We’ll have to see what happens, but I talk to Jonathan now and again and we are talking about the possibility of making another record together. We were going to do something in September but our schedules are so busy that it couldn’t work out, but we’re good friends and will make another record. I love him and the sounds he gets, and his knowledge of old equipment so, yeah, it’ll happen. But although my first love is folk and country music and everything like the songs on the solo record, at high school I grew up listening to early Pink Floyd, the Incredible String Band, Clive Palmer’s band and all that stuff. I like to add that into my songs, to make my folk music psychedelic.
In closing, as Folk Radio UK is based in the UK might you have any news or announcements that would be of specific interest to fans of your music across the Atlantic?
Well, we don’t have anything fully planned yet, but tentatively we’re thinking of getting over there for shows in March or April. Hopefully that will be the full new band, but if not then most of it! The last tour we did there was with Shuyler, Kacy and Clayton, but we didn’t have a drummer. I hope Mike will be with us for the next one.
Interview by: David Morrison
Broadside Ballads is reissued, and released for the first time on limited edition vinyl, on Big White Cloud Records on October 9th.
THE DEEP DARK WOODS: http://thedeepdarkwoods.com/
BIG WHITE CLOUD RECORDS: http://www.bigwhitecloudrecs.com/
Photo Credit: Patrick Schmidt