Taking the Long Way Home, the title of Richard Laviolette’s latest album, is quite literal. After a wildly productive decade recording albums in a variety of genres with a variety of bands, Laviolette’s latest is perhaps his most personal project. It’s an album of reminiscences about his childhood in small-town Ontario, set against a backdrop of the music he grew up with: classic country.
“There are times when all I sing is yesterday’s gospel,” sings Laviolette. “I have found them to be both dark and hopeful / The song that’s full of grief and praise, the story we all know / The storm that lies deep inside can get caught in the throat.”
The album is full of these lyrics—simple, poignant, and profound; and made all the more so due to the personal challenges Laviolette has faced. Along with his own ongoing health problems, the album came as Richard’s father became a full-time caregiver for Richard’s mother, after she was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease. It imbues the album’s act of remembering with an unexpected urgency, a desire to get it all down before it’s too late.
1. The album is a lot about your time growing up in Tara, Ontario, so let’s start there. Can you tell me a bit about your childhood?
The house I grew up in, we called it the Yellow Brick House. It was this big century-old house. It was kinda falling apart a bit, with more rooms than we knew what to do with. It was a small town, under 1,000 people. I was just surrounded by farms. You could kind of wander wherever you wanted, wherever your imagination led you. It had that small-town feeling, of lots of time passing slowly.
2. The musical memories from your childhood seem to have left a really strong impression. Can you tell me a bit about your musical past?
Music really does get under your skin. Melody and song can take us back to a very specific moment in time. Growing up, the house was always filled with music. At everyone’s family gatherings, we’d all sit around playing country music in large groups. I don’t think I really realized it until I was older, how unique that experience was.
It’s interesting: I enjoyed country music growing up, then kind of lost touch with it in my teenage years. I was still listening to a lot of Neil Young, but also a lot of grunge and classic rock. Somehow I just made my way back in my 20s. I think I had taken a lot of the music for granted, but I really started to listen more to its stories. And it was a good outlet to express some of the things I was going through in my life, and continues to be.
3. Speaking of that, I wanted to ask you specifically about the song “Someone To Tell My Story When I Am Gone.” It seems in a way like a mission statement for the album, this attempt to remember and to put things down. And the song also connects telling your own story with a desire to tell your parents’ story. Is that something you think about a lot?
I guess so. I think in a lot of ways I’m a morbid person. With my health, and with different experiences in my life and with my family—it’s definitely something I think about on the regular.
Initially this was an album I was going to record with my dad, and so I was thinking about songs that would be appropriate to sing with him. I started going through home and family, and thinking about relationships and loved ones. And around that time, my nephew Oliver was born—my first nephew. In the context of writing this down and my mom being sick, I was thinking very specifically about music and family, and how those stories get passed down from one generation to the next.
4. Your discography is quite varied. You’ve at various times fronted a rock band, a folk collective, a glam punk band, and now a classic country album. There are musicians who find a niche and stick with it, but you’ve gone a different path. Why is that?
I think a lot of that is probably has something to do with Neil Young. I’ve always been impressed with the way he’s followed his heart from record to record, and has never let genre decide what direction he takes and who he wants to play with.
I feel equally as inspired by folk, rock, and country music. I find it helpful to have a few different projects on the go at any time in different genres, just to have something new and different to work on. Sometimes when I’m doing something for too long it starts to feel redundant.
In terms of what I’m writing about, there is always some common ground, but depending on what I’m trying to write about or what I’m feeling, one specific style is a more appropriate vehicle.
5. You’re playing in Peterborough on March 11. Can you tell me a bit about your Peterborough history?
Mostly I’ve played at the Spill, which is a lovely place downtown. I love Peterborough. I grew up in small town. I came to Guelph because it’s the only university that accepted me, and for someone who grew up in a small town, I found Guelph is a really nice middle ground between wanting to leave my hometown and not really wanting to live in Toronto. I find Peterborough to be a really similar place. And it has these gorgeous old buildings, lots of cafes and used bookstores. I love the river.
Richard Laviolette kicks off his album release tour at the Garnet on March 11, with Steve Lambke and Nick Ferrio (more info).
Taking the Long Way Home, and the rest of Richard Laviolette’s music, is available for purchase on iTunes.
Photos courtesy the artist.