The Personal Touch
Ottawa musician and culture curator Rolf Klausener spent most of the past two years doing everything but writing songs for the Acorn, the acclaimed indie-folk band he founded a decade ago. After three full-length albums and international tours with the likes of Calexico and Elbow, Klausener landed back in Centretown feeling unmotivated about songwriting.
“I just realized I had nothing to write about,” says Klausener. “It just wasn’t at the forefront of my mind, mostly due to the fact that I had a lot of personal things I wasn’t really prepared to face or deal with. The Acorn has always been the primary vehicle for my most personal thoughts and expressions. If you can’t face any of that stuff then you really don’t have anything to write about it.”
As the Acorn members drifted away, Klausener kept himself busy. The new indie-arts festival, Arboretum, held last September, and electro-dance band Silkken Laumann are two of his projects that enriched the greater Ottawa music scene. The musician says he also started going to therapy for the first time.
One realization was that his songs tend to be observational. The last album, Glory Hope Mountain, contained songs that were inspired by his mother’s life in Central America. “It was a record about someone else,” Klausener notes, adding that No Ghost was fundamentally about the band relationships, while both 2004’s Pink Ghosts, and the 2005 EP, Blankets, were intended as tributes to Ottawa.
“I’ve never really written about myself in a very constructive, deep or fearless kind of way,” he says, not to dismiss the songs that established the band’s reputation for well-crafted, multi-layered folky pop, but acknowledging that he felt the need to go deeper. It was a challenging period, he says, brought on by “some missteps in love.
“My perspective on love and friendship, I kinda felt like this was finally the time to start approaching these things and writing about them and facing some pretty ugly truths,” he says. “It was about not holding on to my youth, and not holding on to immature ideas and trying to be more honest with myself, which I didn’t want to do in the past.”
So far, the creative breakthrough has inspired a half dozen or so new songs. “They really have to do with self-disclosure and honesty, and being true to your needs and desires. It’s probably going to be a little bit more universal as a record. I think there’s more for people to relate to on a personal level,” Klausener says.
As for band members, Klausener realized he already had a band in Silkken Laumann, the electro-pop trio that also includes the Acorn’s usual percussionist, Pat Johnson, and keyboard wiz Adam Saikaley. Close friends of Klausener’s, they will join the singer-songwriter for the first Acorn gig in ages at the Black Sheep Inn on Friday, Jan. 25. (The show is sold out.)
Expect to hear a more electronic version of the Acorn’s modern folk-rock, an evolution brought on by Klausener’s renewed interest in electronic music, as well as the presence of Saikaley, who’s known as an electronic music innovator.
“There was a rebellion against anything too artificial sounding or electronic for a while,” Klausener says.
“But really in the last few years, I’ve come back to it and embraced it, so the new record is (going to be) a marriage of those two esthetics. It does have elements of acoustic or organic while at the same time, it’s rooted in modern electronic music.”
Meanwhile, one occasionally hears songs from the last incarnation of the Acorn in movies or television shows, most recently in an episode of the popular TV series Nashville. Thanks to a connection with a Los Angeles-based music publisher, about seven Acorn songs have popped up in Hollywood productions.
Finally, plans are in the works for the second Arboretum Festival, a followup to the inaugural 2012 edition, which artistic director Klausener describes as an “incredible” success.
“We really wanted to create a boutique festival that captured a snapshot of Ottawa’s cultural scene,” he says of the blend of art, music and food that was featured at the September event.
“I feel like we really captured what the city was doing in 2012.”