When I meet Rick Fines at Black Honey, he’s happy. On the surface, he’s got a cool, laid-back vibe – but underneath is a man bursting with excitement, as he tells me about his new album, Driving Home, and where it’s taking him. “I love music, and I love travelling,” he says. “I never tire of seeing this country and others. It’s time to ramp up the game, turn up the steam!”
He’s doing just that. Between my interview with him on February 10 and his album release show at Market Hall on February 28, Fines is travelling to Kansas City (for the Folk Alliance International conference) and Saskatoon (for Blues Fest and the Blues in the Schools program). Then he lands in Peterborough the night before his album release show, then heads out two days later for more gigs in Ottawa.
Fines may be a restless soul, but the idea that keep coming up again and again in our interview is the flip-side of touring (and, not coincidentally, the title of his new album), Driving Home.
Few experiences are more familiar for Fines, or indeed for any touring musician, than the strange, sedate experience of driving home from a gig. Heading to a gig is all nervous anticipation and excitement, but the way home, Fines explains, “is a whole different thing. The work’s done, and now there’s really just so many miles between you and home.”
It’s a quiet time to reflect, to look back at the gig that was, and to look ahead at what’s to come.
It was during one of those trips home that Fines first conceptualized the title track: “I was driving home from Ottawa, and I missed my turn-off. So I took these back roads home, and it literally led me back through the winding back roads of my life – through my past as a young rock’n’roller, playing all the little bars in all the little towns up through there.”
Fines has had quite a career to reflect on. After his ‘young rock’n’roller’ days in the 1980s (in bands Loose Change and Side Effects), Fines joined Jackson Delta, an acclaimed acoustic blues trio that helped put Peterborough’s blues scene on the map.
Since then, he’s had a long solo career, with eight solo albums, plus a number of collaborations and guest spots. He’s won Maple Music Awards, and his song “Riley Wants His Life Back” took 1st place in the 2003 International Songwriting Competition’s Blues category.
Like that trip through the Ottawa Valley, the album Driving Home is a time to reflect, too. It drives Rick back home to many of his early influences and early collaborators, such as drummer John Crown and pianist Rob Phillips, both childhood friends, and producer Alec Fraser, who’s produced nearly all of Fines’ albums.
And it’s driving Rick back home to music, too. For almost ten years, Fines churned out an album every two years – but for the past eight years, nothing. Those eight years were marked by some personal losses, including the death of his father. “There was a little darkness that came in and took up residence for a little while,” says Fines.
And yet, Driving Home is a highly optimistic album – almost defiantly so. “When the sun comes out, and shines once more on me,” he sings, “Well I’ll be back again, when the rain ends.” It’s an album about pushing through darkness, about winding up on a long a difficult path but forging ahead away, until finally – you guessed it – you can drive home.
And yet, no matter how crazy life on the road (or life in general) can get, home is a constant. Driving home is a return to where you feel safe and comfortable. Through good and bad times, Fines’ literal home has been Peterborough, where he’s lived for over 20 years.
And when Fines drives home to Peterborough for his album release show at the Market Hall on February 28, he’ll be surrounded by friends, family, and musicians from his past. He normally travels solo (for reasons of economy), but the hometown gig is a chance to literally get the band back together, with all almost all the musicians who appeared on the album joining in.
In fact, he almost stumbles over himself as he excitedly tells me about his crew: “Kevin Goss always knocks em out on the saxophone. He’ll do his usual thing, bring four saxophones and play the hell out of them. And Roly Platt will be guesting on harmonica. He’s just put out his first ever CD of his own, after playing on everybody else’s over the years. A brilliant harmonic player!”
Home is many things for Rick Fines, but maybe more than anything, it’s a jumping-off point, a base of operations for his future travels and future endeavours. “Time to get back into it,” he tells me. “And I’m pretty excited for it. I’m excited about starting to get an album out every two years again, and I’m really looking forward to lots of work in the next 10 years.”
Rick Fines’ album release show is this Saturday, February 28 at Market Hall (more info).
Photos by Ernie Basciano and James Dean.