Patrick Finch, for NightLife Wed Feb 15 2012
Kitchener’s preeminent wandering troubadour, Shannon Lyon, is returning after four years — his longest absence yet. His casual forays into European life (specifically within Berlin and southern Holland) have become somewhat more stable in the last couple of years as his songs and his band have become popular fixtures in clubs once patronized by the likes of his own songwriting hero, Townes Van Zandt. His thirst for adventure and affection for nostalgia have pulled him from his comfort zone once again, though, and have brought him right back home.
“I think I wanted to reconnect with my roots,” a severely jet-lagged Lyon tells me over the phone. “I (have) lived in three different countries in the last four years. I just wanted to come home, play a few shows, and reconnect with friends and family. It’s been too long. Four years is the longest stretch I’ve taken away, which is enough to culture-shock me, coming back. It’s strange; I (‘d) never felt that before.”
Lyon’s roots in Kitchener-Waterloo’s rock n’ roll folklore run deep. From his scene-galvanizing label, Swallow Records, to his long-running residencies at the Walper and the Boathouse, to his fraternity in former bands Strange Days and the Pop Explosion (members of which went on to their own distinguished careers), much of Kitchener’s rock n’ roll evolution can be traced back to Lyon. But during his sojourn abroad, the face of the city has changed: folks have grown up, and bars have shut down. The noisemakers are a little quieter and the returning rock n’ roller must ask himself: “Is this still my town?”
“I do feel a connection here,” he tells me. “It’s dear to my heart. But there’s a certain sadness in responding to your past. I’m sentimental; sometimes; I like to take a trip down memory lane, so when I come back to Kitchener, I like driving down the old neighbourhoods … the old haunts. But I see the Circus Room is closed, and even the Boathouse. I’m not even sure that people know the history of that, you know? And I look at the logo, and there’s the bird that my girlfriend designed seven or eight years ago. That was a really great call when we did that. It seems like yesterday. Things seem to fly by. Music keeps me in that ever-present place, which is a beautiful thing, but then next thing you know, you wake up in Berlin and four years have gone by. And you think ‘I want to go home’.”
Time may have flown by, but his four years in and around Berlin were not ill-spent. Last year, much hard work, and even more fun, culminated in Lyon’s most lively album in years, This Love, This Love, and its accompanying documentary/concert DVD. The documentary is especially revealing, showing Lyon at ease and in love with the city of Berlin and his devoted bandmates, The Boys In The Berlin Band, and having a great time banging their record out at their leisure.
“We did have a really good time,” he says. “It wasn’t stressful at all. But it was over a long period of time. Even when we weren’t performing, it was kinda old school, you know? You rehearse twice a week, set-in-stone. Celebrating music every week together, we brought a lot of joy back into it. I have other bands that I perform with where mainly the joy is found playing on stage, but they don’t like to rehearse too much. I think the truth is in the details. I started playing rock n’ roll because it felt good. You know that was a big thing in this area (Kitchener-Waterloo), too. It was the thing to do. Strange Days, Pop Explosion, it was always like two or three nights a week, chill out, case of beer, here we go. It was really simple. The joy of playing together.”
Despite the fact that he has immersed himself in Europe, where he is being backed by an elastic, adventurous rock band and an enviable career foothold, Lyon’s wanderlust is not easily quelled and, sure enough, a new adventure is on the horizon.
“I’ve shipped everything back here (to Kitchener), and I’ve rented a house in White Rock, B.C., so that’s where I’m heading. Feels good. Living just a stone’s throw off the ocean. I think part of coming back to Canada is about longing to put down some roots on the west coast, near my family. Spend a lot more time in my studio and a lot less in airplanes and trains. It’s the loneliness of the long-distance runner. There’s been a lot of compromise, for sure, and it’s been a huge commitment. I don’t know where twenty years went.”
WHO: Shannon Lyon w/ Mike Alviano
WHEN: Thursday, February 16, 2012
TICKETS: $10 adv./$15 at the door
DOORS: 8 p.m.