Returning to the East Coast after a multi-year absence, Saskatchewan-born, now West Coast-based singer-songwriter Joël Fafard will take to The Carleton stage in Halifax on April 26.
And while the Juno-nominated and award-winning guitarist and vocalist can’t recall when he made his last stop in our neck of the woods, he remembers it was as an instrumental guitar player.
“And now I’m doing more of a combination of old Southern gospels mixed with blues and composing and arranging in that style,” he says.
Fafard’s evolution from instrumentalist to an interpreter of Southern roots and blues comes via rock and roll, a genre he first dabbled with in high school in Saskatchewan.
“Somewhere around 14, I just wanted to play rock and roll, and by grade ten, I had myself a rock and roll band playing at high school dances,” says Fafard. “It was a lot of fun, and I knew I wanted to do it for a living.”
Going to music college out of high school, Fafard found himself exposed to various musical genres, which opened up all kinds of possibilities and led him down his new musical path.
“After school ended, I sat in the basement and started putting together my fingerstyle and built that over the next couple of years,” he says. “That lent itself well to folk music and for blues but once I picked up the [guitar] slide and added that to the combination, I knew what I wanted to do, and there was no putting it down after that.”
Starting his post-high school/music college career as a folk singer, Fafard shifted to instrumentalist as doubts crept in. “In the nineties, I was singing, but I was never all that comfortable with my voice, but I started to realize I was a pretty good guitar player,” he says. ”
Becoming somewhat disillusioned with the music industry, Fafard was ready to retire as a musician but wanted to create one last record. His wife encouraged him to record the album he wanted to make.
“And at that moment, I realized I wanted to make an instrumental guitar record,” he says. “So I went down in the basement for four months, practiced four hours a day, and brought my playing to a new level.”
Three albums later and a 2007 Juno nomination for Instrumental Album of the Year for his album …and another thing…, Fafard was content with his focus on playing the guitar.
“But then I started singing songs during my shows,” he says. “People began reacting to them and telling me I had a good voice. That helped change my opinion about my voice and I realized the more songs I had in the show, the more fun I was having too.”
As a result of this shift, the bulk of Fafard’s shows today are slim on instrumentals. “I’m at the point where you might hear me do one instrumental in a show and sometimes none,” he says. “I learned to do what I want, and that is what works best.”
For his upcoming tour, including his stop in Halifax, in addition to his covers of Southern classics, Fafard will lean heavily into what will become his new album, his first since Fowl Mood in 2016.
With the working title Whiskey and Other Spirituals, he first began trying out the songs destined for the album during his recent whirlwind tour of New Zealand.
“I’ll be trying the rest of them out on this tour,” he says. “It’s amazing how quickly they can change when you get in front of an audience. I’m quite excited about where they’ve gone after playing them live, and I’m looking forward to having one more chance to do that before recording.”
Joël Fafard performs at The Carleton (1685 Argyle St, Halifax) on April 26 as part of his upcoming international tour. Visit thecarleton.ca for tickets and information.