On the road again

Winnipeg singer-songwriter Greg MacPherson (of no fixed address) hits Halifax for the first time in over a year. Johnston Farrow tracks him down.

Per diem Road-tested musician Greg MacPherson plays in town August 24. photo Jon Schledewitz

It’s inevitable that a singer-songwriter from Winnipeg will have to get used to being on the road in order to further his or her career. Of course, travelling to new places is bound to turn up some strange situations, especially when a journalist is trying to track you down for a last minute interview.

“I’m on the Pacific Coast Highway in East LA,” the 33-year-old voice on the phone says through crackling pay phone reception.

“There are a million people around me. I’m standing in a gas station with three homeless guys sleeping nearby. It’s a pretty heavy part of the world, man. It’s pretty fucked up.”

A solo act for 10 years after the demise of his band The Apartments, Greg MacPherson has made a career schilling his blend of rock and folk music played with punk rock intensity.

He’s been to Europe, twice, and has crossed the US and Canada in the last year. Not bad for a guy with humble beginnings in Sydney, NS. He returns to Halifax for the first time in over a year on August 24 at The Attic.

“I started playing solo shows and my band broke up, so I kept playing,” MacPherson says. “I figured, well, I’ve always written songs, I love performing and it’s certainly the love of my life. It seemed pretty natural, so I’ve been concentrating on it ever since.”

@:Being a socially conscious member of the Winnipeg scene ultimately gave MacPherson’s career a kick-start when he ran into the same people that started G7 Welcoming Committee, a label then home to seminal activist punk band Propaghandi and indie-rock darlings The Weakerthans. The label signed MacPherson soon after, most likely after seeing his blend of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen-influenced storytelling set to a captivating live performance.

G7 released his last three records, including the acclaimed 2005 album Night Flares. MacPherson is currently touring behind the upcoming digital re-release of his first record, Balanced On a Pin.

“I don’t think we have very many musical similarities,” he says of G7 mates Propaghandi. “Obviously, I think we’re like-minded individuals in terms of our lifestyles and choices that we make. I guess I’m on that label because we’re all part of the same community and we do a lot of work and have done a lot of work in the past with justice issues in our neighbourhood and city.

“For me, I’ve never sat down to put a message in my song. I usually write stories, I write about characters, I write about ideas. I think I’m more arty and they are more direct and have an agenda of some sort.”

While MacPherson is able to draw on four albums of material for pretty much any type of audience, one similarity he shares with his punk rock friends is his live show. Emotive and powerful, MacPherson rips into his material that belies the man-and-his-guitar set-up. When MacPherson toured Europe, he did so with a German hardcore band.

“I have an intensity level—I try not to hold much back,” he says. “I seem to capture the attention of the younger, more militant generation. I don’t think about it much—sometimes I don’t know if I fit well with that scene, but I’m no means pinned in by it either.”

Throughout the interview the songwriter alludes to his love affair with performing and touring that even MacPherson’s Toronto-based girlfriend questions. He claims to have no apartment and plans to head to western Canada, Europe and then back to the States after his east coast dates. Although most bands wither under the pressure and toils of constant touring, MacPherson takes the pros with the cons.

“I’m pretty mature in that I love this work so much that it doesn’t seem like a negative thing all the time,” he says. “In a way, it’s negative at times because it can be difficult to travel and like I said, sometimes I don’t even have an address to go back to and that can be stressful, but it’s worth it.

“I don’t think I’d do it anymore if I got to the point where I didn’t think I’d get better and my next record would be better than the last one.”

Greg MacPherson, August 24 at The Attic, 1741 Grafton, 11pm, $5, 423-0909

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