One Mann band – John Mann of Spirit of the West fame goes solo in Rossland

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
March 25th, 2010

Spirit of the West are as close to Canadian music legends as it gets after a quarter century rocking the country. You`re coming through Rossland as a solo act this time though. Is this your first solo album and tour?


Yes, this is my first time recording solo. I have two new solo albums out right now, actually. One is acoustic and one is more produced.

The second album which is called December Moons is more of what I do when I perform live. I just wanted to do something that was very stripped down. It’s just me and a guitar on the album and pretty straight forward. It’s a group of songs that I’ve been working on for a while and songs that I’ve played when I do my live shows.


Having been with the same band for so many years, what would you say is the biggest difference going solo?


I guess firstly when I’m on my own, I do it my way, as Frank Sinatra would say. It’s a very different thing. I love the band. Spirit of the West has been going for 26 years now and I really enjoy it and we still have a great time together. I love it. I don’t like solo or the band any more or less than the other. I do enjoy the solo shows though because I do it at my own pace and my own rhythm and the songs are completely mine. I just like the intimacy of being one person on stage and saying what I want to say. I tend to tell a lot of stories and interact with the people in the crowd. It’s nice to be able to do that.

Generally with Spirit of the West we’re trying to keep the party up and going. With my solo up I’m allowed a bit more latitude with it all.


Going it alone, I imagine, brings a different set of influences and motivations into your sound. What would you say were the major motivators and influences that came through on your solo project?


When I write I feel like I need to be directly influenced. I don’t tend to make up stories or characters. I’m not sure. I’ve always tried to write about what I know about, and to me those are the songs that tend to work that are about things I’ve experienced, places I’ve been to and the like. I also like touring solo because I think I’m more accessible to people in many ways for conversations. You go into a coffee shop, meet someone and talk, listen to their ideas and I just come up with different ideas.

It’s hard to say really why something in particular grabs me and forces me to write a song. It’s just something that I become interested in.


It sounds like your live shows are a real conversation with the audience and that they really get to know you on a certain level?


Well yes, they do because I`m pretty open and pretty up front about things. I tell stories and sing songs about my life and the people in it. It really is different than the band. There is a lot of humour in my show and a fair bit of talking as well introducing the songs.

I have a really good time, I really enjoy doing it and every time Spirit is on a break I really try to have my management put a solo show or two together because I just love it. I love getting in a car and being out there on my own driving about. I find myself in places I`ve never been before. We really live in a big and incredible country with so many fabulous little places to go and discover. Hopefully I`ll be able to continue to do that.


You must see some different venues going solo as you would with the band as well which, I imagine, keeps things interesting?


Yes, definitely. I don`t draw the same number of people as Spirit of the West does for those shows. I`m really happy to have the opportunity to do both of those things and see different people in different places.

Everybody in Spirit of the West does different things on the side. We made a point of that 10 or 12 years ago. We said to each other that this band can`t be our only way of making a living because we want to have opportunities to do different things. Everyone in the band everyone does different stuff. Jeffery Kelly also does solo albums and he plays with a band called The Paperboys. Sometimes he goes out and tours in Australia and New Zealand with the Irish Rovers. It’s great because they come back to the band after doing their own thing and everybody is rejuvenated and happy to see each other.

One thing about Spirit that is so great is our friendships with each other are really deep and important to us. Everybody in the band has kids and our kids all grew up together. It`s a real family. It`s always a treat to come back after solo shows to hang with the band.


How does your style change when you go solo? Do you still do hang in the celtic/folk rock genre?


I think what I`m doing is really more kind of indie folk for lack of a better term. I don`t do any celtic stuff in my solo shows. Mainly because I don`t play whistle tunes or fiddle tunes or mandolin tunes. It`s just me and my guitar. My songs are less about trying to keep the audience up and dancing and more about the words and the melodies.


How`s the solo tour going so far?


Yes it`s been great. The response has been excellent. I can`t say I`ve ever had a show that made me think geese they didn`t like me.


Where are you off to on this tour?


I`m going to Kaslo, Roseberry, Revelstoke, Fernie, Creston and Rossland.


You`re doing a real ski hill tour eh?

Yeah, no kidding. That`s fine with me. I used to be a skier, but when our kids wanted to learn to snowboard I learned with them. I like snowboarding a lot better now.


Have you been to Rossland before?


I`ve been out to Red Mountain before yes: with the band, maybe 15 years ago. We did a festival I can`t remember the name of up at the base of the ski hill. It was a ton of fun. We had a blast out there. It`s a beautiful part of the world. I`m looking forward to getting back.


Are you going to sneak a few snowboard runs in while you’re out here this time?

I don`t think so. I`ll be just in and out this time around.


Of the new songs on both albums, have you had a real favourite shine through yet, or one in particular that you love to perform?


That’s tough to say. There is one song I wrote called, “When I played around with knives.” It`s more of a song about how things have changed in the world. You know when you were a kid or at least when I was a kid, we were really free range children. We’d take off and go do what we wanted to do, come back when we were hungry then go out again. We`d ride through the woods on bikes and our parents weren’t paranoid about where we were or what we were doing. It was just a different time. Even if kids disappeared it wasn’t sensationalized the same way that it is now. It was a world that had a lot less fear in it.

I like the song because it has a lot of humour too. What I`m saying sounds serious and dour, but the song really has a lot of humour in it as well.

It`s hard to choose a favourite really because if I write a song I don`t like, I just don`t play it. All of the songs I play are my favourites.


What else should we know about your show before you get out this way?


This tour has been in the works for a while and I`m really up for it. I want to do it. I love that part of BC, and I`m just excited to get in a truck and explore it while playing some tunes for and having some fun with the folks out there. I`m really looking forward to it.


John Mann will be bringing his one man show to Rossland on April 2nd at The Miners Hall.

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