From a rural high school I did two years post secondary at the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina. Making the decision to leave was done rather easily. I lacked stimulation and as developed in formative years, I could not seem to operate efficiently within their system. It was also about money. I wasn’t going to maneuver in the world with the looming debt of a couple degrees. Making a good living is only personality and drive and if I doubled down on my newest passion of writing songs, I’d be able to see the world on top of it all.
I put a year into the Saskatchewan labour force working for the upstart agribusiness SeedMaster. Founder, Norbert Beaujot, a member of my immediate family community. Upon leaving university, my Dad, frankly said, “well, you had better call Norbert.”
I moved up to the city and began a week of four, ten hour days, building “openers”. The single iron seed placement arms were Norbert’s groundbreaking innovation within zero tillage air seeder designs. A massive implement used to sow high quantities of crop with efficiency and precision, and he was to be seen as a pioneer in the field. Unknowingly at the time, Norbert served as a first mentor always explaining, encouraging, supporting and compensating – however – I worked my job and consumed myself with writing songs.
As a catalogue slowly grew, it gave the need to put the music to work. So with a couple trips a month, I would do a three night stint alongside my old hockey/bandmates on a Medicine Hat corner stage. My final year of highschool was defined by my dedication to three other musicians and the euphoric effects of garage rock – they had all since moved to southern Alberta living a somewhat prurient lifestyle in the college scene.
Talk of larger shows, a newer van and an interested manager was all I needed to give my two weeks and become an Alberta resident. Changing line-ups led to almost a decade of bouncing between Medicine Hat and Calgary, attempting to make a living in the arts, nonetheless. Ralph Klein reigned and where there was money, there was a gig. Corporate events and dive bars somehow provided an ecosystem to grow a business – and an education.
A good living is only personality and drive – so – my music advancement has almost always had a campaigning tone to it. I liked intimate conversations with fans and as it was turning out my base was quickly becoming blue collared oil workers and ranchers. These interactions were almost all taking place in venues where it could be imagined to see Klein himself walk through the door – or at least somewhere he would berate the homeless and throw a degrading few dollars at their feet. The breadth of opinions I had coming in my direction on the regular made Alberta politics unavoidable.
By the time I had moved home to Saskatchewan, I had been away for a decade, almost all in Alberta with six months in downtown Vancouver. The Saskatchewan Party was selling prosperity and a morale boost through its Sask Advantage campaign and given my tour schedule it was indifferent where I lived – more than anything though, I wanted to be around family. I moved home.
2020 would have marked my twentieth year on the road and tenth back enamoured by Saskatchewan. A celebratory year was coming together with a slough of dates and a new record. Having spent the last three years focused almost solely on an American market, I had not renewed my P2 visa (turning down a couple bucket list shows) and began solidifying a year of venturing back into the areas of Western Canada that built my career. So many conversations that needed revisiting, my views had changed and my experience in rural Western Canada needed to be shared, from on stage. A lot needed talking about, twenty years touching all nooks of culture across the prairies gave for some valuable insight. And consequential dangers. So be it – I was excited.
We were rocked by the societal shift of COVID-19 and its cleaning of the slate. We are being rocked by the unknown, however, getting your ass kicked on the road for twenty years comes with having developed a grit towards the unexpected. So once again, we adapt. With touring as a foundation to our business and growth model (ugh, so boring when seeing that way), the literal heart of our movement has stalled. The more difficult reality is there was a new message that needed sharing.
I actively engage in the COVID narrative. Attempting smart, well-informed decisions and making my own sense of how to exist in this world. The pandemic has stripped the veil to reveal the actual competence and importance of our institutions, and to spotlight crucial decision makers with agendas and power dynamics at play. Hardly, a region relieved of it. The idiocy of the American President, the geo-political posturing of our Prime Minister, the inconsistency of The World Health Organization, and an election year in Saskatchewan makes for a vortex of misinformation and lack of trust in the ruling class. What’s one to do with it?
Whatever they are called to do.
I had been leaning on an old friend in the Calgary music community, via Edmonton, for a series of other reasons before lockdown took place – the twisted times increased our frequency of contact and Mike Dunn and I were soon speaking on the daily. My circles that are privy to Mike’s presence hold him dear – he’s sweet, hard, and well spoken. With a similar history of twenty years slinging a guitar, Mike has the bluest of collars. Originally from Portage La Prairie, MB – he hauled ass up to Edmonton, hammered out tunes and a living in construction.
Lockdown had us going toe to toe, on the daily. For the most part I would receive a well-winded debriefing on Jason Kenney’s conservatives. I personally know a lot of Kenney supporters and their reason for doing so but I wasn’t afraid to get Mike’s angle of everything. In fact, I rather enjoyed it. Mike talks slow and low, his own haggard delivery. When we moved our chats into the Zoom-sphere we had all the tools to record. Each of us having lined in a condenser microphone it almost had a feel of being back in studio.
Mike’s Having A Severely Normal One speaks at the Severely Normal Albertan. I knew them…a decade of long lengthy chats in honky tonks and hotel bars. The more I followed Kenney’s time in office, the more I understand Mike’s need to get in the muck. It matches a similar spirit I had planning my return to deep touring Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. I told Mike there wasn’t much I could offer but was there to help his cause. I took a step back and watched a handful of scripts appear in a shared Google folder for proof-reading and feedback. Treatments would come down the pike and last minute texts to jump back on Zoom, read through a few lines.
I think what Mike is doing is important. A scrappy, yet informed outlook. He said it was going to be “punk as fuck” and that’s enough for me to see what it can become. In hit-the-ground-runnin’ fashion, he has released the first four episodes in one big ol’ drop. It’s fun rolling with an idea that’s messy because those are the times. I appreciate Mike’s sense of truth and the risks that may go with it – sometimes too much thought and precision stifles the energy required to get a ball rolling. I’ve even received some space on it. I’m mainly there to listen as some really great conversations evolve with frontline workers, victims of harassment, venue operators and fellow road musicians. With Mike at the helm, you’re in good hands – I’ll be there if there’s any grease on the Saskatchewan side of things.
If you are following podcasts during these quarantine times, add Having A Severely Normal One to your mobile library, and yes, that is an image of Ralph Klein getting pied in the face.
I said, “I dunno, Mike…”
He said, “It’s iconic.”