The late Ron Hynes taught Steven Bowers many things about songwriting, but it was a life lesson from The Man of a Thousand Songs that has inspired the Hampden native’s recent return to the art form.
Earlier this month, Bowers released “Elk Island Park,” his first album since 2012.
He had taken a break from music as he and his wife Kristan moved from place to place, following with her career path, and started a family.
Now settled in Victoria, B.C. with 17-month-old daughter Sparrow, Bowers is ready to pick up where he left off musically.
Prior to his hiatus, Bowers had shared the same manager as Hynes and they toured together. He said Hynes taught him how to not just be inspired by his own life experiences, but to find songs in the stories of other people’s lives, too.
The province’s best-known songwriter also taught Bowers the importance of leaving something behind for the family, friends and fans who loved him.
Bowers didn’t want his musical legacy to be limited to what he produced before 2012.
“That’s really resonating with me now,” he said of that sage advice from Hynes. “I’ve got a little girl and I started to think about what I want to leave … I really want to get active in the next decade or two. It’s easier to take it for granted and put it on the backburner when you’re 20. But, when you’re pushing 40, it really lights a fire under you to see how much you can do.”
The new album comes not just after several moves around Canada, but also the addition of five new children within Bowers’ immediate family. The song “Annie Rose” is about his niece who was born prematurely, while the song “Ben and Jessie Running” is about his nephew Ben, who has autism, and Ben’s relationship with his sister Jessie.
Other tracks were inspired by his family’s time in Edmonton, where Bowers got to work with some First Nations youth.
“I feel like the break was really good for the songwriting,” said Bowers. “You live a lot of life in seven years. When I was finally ready to pick the guitar up and start writing again, I had a lot to pull from.”
The album was released Feb. 12 and is available on Spotify and iTunes. Bowers is now preparing to take his new show on the road later this month, including a kickoff show at The Ship in St. John’s and one at the fire hall in Hampden.
Thanks to arrangements made by his father, Robert Bowers of Hampden, it will be the first time he’s ever played a show in his old hometown where he grew up in a musical family.
“To be able to play for a lot of people I haven’t seen in a very long time means a lot to me,” he said. “I knew I wanted to start my tour there because I want to stay connected to Newfoundland. A lot of my songwriting comes from there.”
Bowers was hoping to have more tour dates in Newfoundland and Labrador but said it can be a bit of a struggle to get going again after such a long break from performing.
“I know I’ve got a bit of work to do to get my name out there again,” he said. “That’s the downside of taking a break. There’s so much music out there, you’ve really got to work to promote yourself.”
He will be back to Newfoundland next winter and hopes to have more shows booked for then.
He has no regrets about the hiatus and feels like he has a better idea of what’s important to him.
“I’m starting to learn more who I am as a person,” he said. “I feel more confident and comfortable with the life experiences I’m accumulating. Being a dad has changed my perspective.”
Some notes on “Elk Island Park,” the new album from Steven Bowers:
- “Elk Island Park” was written and recorded over a four-year span in various bedrooms and studios across Canada, with many parts recorded and emailed back and forth over long distance.
- It features backing vocals from Juno award-winning songwriter Meaghan Smith on several songs (most notably on the post-apocalyptic “Just You”), along with appearances by Bowers’ long-time collaborators Dave Gunning, Jason Silverberg (Lennings) and Kev Corbett.
- During the time of production, Bowers worked at a youth society on Treaty 6 territory in Edmonton. Several of the songs were inspired by this time and recorded at the youth music studio.
- The title track, “Elk Island Park,” was written after a less-than-confident winter walk through the park with his newborn daughter.
- The final two tracks (“Bad Friend” and the lead single “Future Ghosts”) were recorded and produced by Colin Stewart, and feature Vancouver Island musicians Jaya Bremer (vocals/synth), Nick Mintenko (bass), and Andrew Pederson (drums).
Feb. 28: The Ship Pub (St. John’s)
March 2: The fire hall (Hampden)