Ontario's bookish songwriter Nathan Lawr has added scholar to his lengthy list of talents, but will squeeze in a brief tour before returning to a rigorous academic timetable of history courses at Laurentian University. He rolls into town for an acoustic solo stint with FemBots and Rich Aucoin on April 28 at The Seahorse.
"I've been touring around Peterborough, Toronto and Guelph with FemBots," says Lawr, after nearly a five-hour bus ride from his home in Sudbury. "We've been having a great time. I've had my band the Minotaurs with me for most of the shows, except for this eastern leg."
The Guelph native has been around the musical block. Over the course of his career, the well-seasoned drummer has performed in such eminent acts Royal City, Sea Snakes and The Constantines, and released two-full length solo albums, The Heart Beats A Waltz (2003) and Secret Carpentry (2005), with a third on its way.
"The budget is higher on this one that my other records," he says of A Sea of Tiny Lights.
"It's fairly literary, in the sense that I am trying to write more of a story in these songs. It might be an item from the news that resonated with me, or a film, perhaps a piece of literature."
Lawr's bookish interests are littered throughout his catalogue—Secret Carpentry is an allegorical reference to Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Nobel Prize-winning masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude. A Sea of Tiny Lights is a reference to Uruguay-based author Edward Galeano's Genesis (Memory of Fire Trilogy #1).
"I love stories, I like figuring out how the stories fit together," Lawr says. "The title of the album stems from an excerpt from one of Edward Galeano's books where he's describing how every person on earth was a light."
A Sea of Tiny Lights is strengthened, shaped and spit-polished with aid of his multi-instrumental bandmates which include Simon Osborne, Shaw-Han Liem, Kate Maki, Kristian Galberg, Evan Clarke, Dave MacKinnon and Andy Magoffin. His ever-expanding cast of musicians is dubbed The Minotaurs, coined after the Greek mythological creature who was part man and part bull. Guest appearances on the album are also plentiful—highlights include Jim Guthrie and Paul Aucoin. Lawr seems uncertain about an exact release date, as he's in the midst of trying to find a label.
In the meantime, he finds solace in the campus radio station. "Tinariwen is blowing my mind lately, they are an African electric, desert blues band," he says. "I started doing this radio show recently on CKLU. Basically I try and treat it like a chance to sit around listening to music. I play a lot of Grizzly Bear, Ruth Minnikin, FemBots, the new Wooden Stars album is great, a lot of Turkish, vocal music, Bj<0x00F6>rk, everything really.
"It's definitely been a bit of a juggle, playing music and university. It probably affects my schooling more than my music. I've been playing shows on the weekends and recorded most of the album over reading week."
Lawr's lyrical repertoire lingers along the lines of aching romance, anxiety, mystery, fiction and tends to veer into spectacular sensationalism. Whether he's "Shaking Like a Rake," "Covering Up," "Barking at Your Door" or musing about his "Righteous Heart," Lawr's cadence hugs the border of artful, eclectic, indie-rock aesthetic and poetic significance.
"I don't write strictly in first person," he says. "After watching Gus Van Sant's film Elephant"—a fictionalized account of the Columbine shootings—"I tried writing a song from the perspective of one of the kids who were shooting. I don't know if it worked or not. It's kind of dark."
Last time Lawr found himself in our neck of the woods he appeared at Stage 9 on A Midautumn's Night Dream, a 30-date coast to coast tour with Kate Maki, Dale Murray, Ruth Minnikin and Ryan Bishops. He looks forward to his return visit.
"Oh, it will just be a great weekend of playing music, seeing some good friends," he says. "I also have some family in Halifax, who most likely will come out to the show."
Nathan Lawr w/FemBots and Rich Aucoin, April 28 at the Seahorse, 1659 Argyle, 10pm, $7.