The thing about creating an album yourself — from the performance, recording, engineering and producing — is that if it tanks, there’s no one to blame but you.
In the same way, if that album happens to get nominated for an East Coast Music Award alongside the likes of Bruce Guthro and Tim Chaisson, there’s only one person to take credit for it: you.
“It’s a bit scary, really. It’s like you’re in a workshop with a chunk of wood and you just start chipping. You look around and it’s like, whoa — there’s no one else here but me,” said singer/songwriter Larry Foley, whose latest solo record, the first he produced and engineered himself, is vying for the 2013 ECMA for Roots/Traditional Solo Recording of the Year.
Called “Free and Easy: Songs From Newfoundland, Ireland and the Sea,” it’s the second solo album for Foley, who has been making music for about 20 years and fronts bands such as The Punters and the 8 Track Favourites. His last record, self-titled, saw six original Foley tunes; “Free and Easy” was meant to be a collection of local folk songs, right from the beginning.
What ended up being included in his definition of local and folk grew a little abstract, with a version of country musician Steve Earle’s “Gulf of Mexico.” Earle wrote the song in light of the BP oil spill in the Gulf in 2010, said to be the largest accidental marine oil spill in history.
“Well my granddad worked the shrimp boats/From the time that he was grown/And he scrimped and saved and bought himself/A trawler of his own/He was rough and he was ready/And he drank when he was home/And he made his family’s living on the Gulf of Mexico,” go the song’s lyrics.
Foley heard the tune and felt it was the ultimate folk song, and thought it would resonate with Newfoundlanders.
“It’s about the grandfather, the father and working on the sea, and the oil industry,” he said. “I thought it was a song we could all relate to, but I hope it’s a song we never have to write about here.
Foley’s own grandfather, William Foley, served as a major influence on the record, though he died in 1987. Foley has just one self-written song on the album: “Spyglass,” about an old brass possession of his grandfather’s Foley remembers from his childhood.
“I was fascinated by it as a kid. It was hung up on the wall, and I was never really allowed to have it,” he explained. “When I was working on this CD, my father and I had a conversation and I said, ‘Where did that old spyglass ever go? Where did it come from, anyway?’ I sort of brought that spyglass to life in a song that wrote itself in about five minutes. They always say you should write about what you know, and as I started talking about this spyglass and my childhood memories, it came out. The song tells the tale of where it is now.”
Foley’s grandfather is featured on the album, his voice taken from a tape of “Sweet Forget Me Not” that Foley remembers being recorded in the kitchen. He remembers, as a child, desperately wanting to take part in the recording. On the album, Foley used the tape to create a duet of the song with his grandfather.
“The tape ran out at the end and it always bugged me that it wasn’t finished,” Foley said. “I contemplated singing the last verse by myself so it would be complete, and as I got into it, I made a duet out of it and added instruments to it. I intended it to be a Christmas gift for the family — I felt it was a little too personal and not something I really wanted to put out there for mass consumption, but people really identified with it. I ended up putting it on the CD.
“When ‘Sweet Forget Me Not’ came out, he and I went to the record store and bought it and listened to it all afternoon. I swear, I never, ever had to learn the song because it was just up here,” Foley added, tapping his head. “For him to be on a CD that’s nominated for an award is pretty cool.”
Other tracks on “Free and Easy” include “McClory,” “Island Lady” and a self-arranged version of the iconic Ron Hynes’ tune “Sonny’s Dream,” which Foley admits was a daring song to include, but one he loves and has been asked many times by audience members to record.
When he’s not performing with his bands, Foley is dad to a two-year-old, and hosts three radio programs: “Potluck” on KIXX Country and “Homebrew” and “Cabin Party” on Big Land FM radio station in Labrador. Because the shows are request-based, it’s almost like doing market research into the type of music audiences like, Foley said.
He’ll head to the ECMAs in Halifax in March, and is looking forward to it.
“I’m most happy about that nomination for my wife, really,” he said, laughing. “Living and putting up with a musician is not an easy task. I think being nominated is as good as winning, because at least it acknowledges the work, and shows that I’m doing something sensible with my life.”
“Free and Easy” is available at Fred’s Records, O’Brien’s Music and other local stores.
To see a video of Foley performing “Gulf of Mexico” in The Telegram’s studio, visit www.thetelegram.com.