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INTERVIEW - Roughing It with Alan Doyle

Atlantic Canada’s Favourite Son on New EP and Touring at 50

Interview by Jason Clevett (From GayCalgary® Magazine, February 2020, page 0)
Alan Doyle
Alan Doyle
Image by: 2019 Dave Howells

For 27 years, Alan Doyle has been bringing the kitchen party to venues throughout Canada and around the world. First in the iconic Great Big Sea, now as a solo artist. Doyle released his 4th solo release, a 6 song EP titled Rough Side Out on Valentine’s Day. The album went to number one on the Canadian country charts. Doyle chatted with GayCalgary prior to hitting the road on a tour that brings him to Calgary February 28th and Edmonton February 29th.

"The songs seem to suit that world (of country music). My favorite songwriters are working right now in that world. So that's where I went. The whole thing really kind of started with Dean Brody (featured on We Don’t Wanna Go Home) inviting me and the Great Big Sea fellows to play on a song of his like in 2011 or 12 or something with a song called, it's Friday. Over chatting the Dean, I became aware of how sort of significant Atlantic Canadian music was for in the development of a lot of Canadian country bands. Chatting about how the history of people wandering back and forth between Atlantic Canadian music and Canadian country music goes back kind of a ways. I didn't really think about it. Like you think about the Rankin family, they were the biggest traditional Celtic band, you know in Canada when we started Great Big Sea, they wandered back and forth between being having country singles all the time. Before them Rita MacNeil, and even before then, Ann Murray and you know, some of my favorite writers who were from Atlantic, Canada who write story songs and stuff very naturally and organically morph into becoming country singers. Maybe it's just because the instrumentation is so similar with whistles and accordions and banjos and mandolin and stuff. I think the distance between writing folk, folky-based songs and writing country songs is a little shorter distance than say, writing folky and writing pop songs or rock n roll songs or whatever. They're close cousins at times."

Doyle has adjusted to writing and recording as a solo artist and the differences between writing with a group.

"It's just a bit broader. When you're in a band, you really try to write music that features the strengths of the band. For Great Big Sea it'd be shame for us to write songs that didn't have big choruses for everyone to sing or didn't have a bow part for Sean to play or a fiddle part or something. With solo records you just kind of write songs that are instinctual to you and then you can try to imagine how you might be able to record this with an unlimited amount of musicians who might want to record with you. It’s kind of a bit broader a pallet really when you're doing solo records versus in a band."

That said, Doyle still writes songs that will have the audience clapping and singing along. Expect I Gotta Go to wrap up shows on the tour.

"My wife, my girlfriend at the time. She said, you know, when are you coming back? It was like, Oh, twenty songs if they love me, 18 if they don't. They don't, I'll be quick. What I love about that too is that there's a humility in it, right? Its sort of a confession that every musician who's any good always assumes that it could be shitty, so you've got to make it good.  There's no given when the lights go down that people are going to love you. You gotta hope for it and you gotta work for it every night and you’ve got to give people everything you got."

It’s been 7 years since Great Big Sea split. Many artists when doing solo projects either on the side or after a split don’t have the same success they had in the band. Doyle is playing venues that he played with the band. He’s worked hard to continue the post GBS momentum.

"Even before Great Big Sea started, I was born into a performing family. My dad and my mom and my uncles all had bands that played at dance halls and fishermen's clubs up down in Southern shore. When I started, I was lucky enough to get in Great Big Sea with Sean and Bob and Darryl, we just took that same attitude, you know, whether it was playing a theater or a festival, was really to engage people. On my own that's still my primary focus is to give people a great night out., I love singing songs and I love writing songs. I think that people have over the years have come to enjoy nights out that we've had. I'm grateful that they still do."

Like with any band there’s always the question of if there will ever be a reunion.

"I'm always happy to get those questions to be honest. I would love to do that. It’s something that as soon as everybody wants to do it again, I'll be the happiest guy there. I spent just about all of my adult life in one band and I've almost spent almost a decade out of it now. It's bizarre. It's bizarre to think of how the passage of time comes and goes. I'm just glad I'm still getting out and get a chance to sing for people. There's nothing I want to do more than that."

Doyle is embarking on an ambitious 50 show tour which at 50 years old, he admits is a more daunting task than 25 years ago. While the road may take more of a toll, it also gives him the opportunity to appreciate it in a way that young Alan didn’t.

"It’s tiring, and stuff hurts more. It's harder to get up and it's physically a bit more demanding. Every time you do it there’s drives you could have done when you were 25 that you certainly can't do now. Practical things like that are getting more challenging but your hardest partying days are long behind you when you're 50, hopefully. So, it becomes a little easier that way. It’s way more satisfying in a way, you because when you're young, I was doing things for the first time. You're so eager to have it and you're rowing the boat so hard that you don't take a second to enjoy the boat ride. When you're a bit older, it's very satisfying for me to look at a calendar right now and see that there's almost two years worth of places that will come have a night with me. That's, that's incredibly satisfying.

With 13 albums in the catalogue, Doyle has a lot to balance in what he performs each night.

"I find that every cycle when you start a new project there's songs from the record that are clearly written for the show. My songwriter friends always accused me of that, I'm writing songs for the concert and not for the record. And they're right. There’re a few songs from the new record that I really want to make sure are in the set every night. And then there's a few songs from the history of the catalog, you know, that I know people really want to hear like some of the bigger Great Big Sea songs. I'm delighted to get a chance to play them for people. And then about a third or half of the set kind of changes every night."

At nearly 30 years in the industry, Doyle has earned iconic status in Canada. He embodies the stereotype of the humble Atlantic Canadian and speaking to him, it’s evident how much it means to him to be writing, releasing and performing music.

"It's the most satisfying thing in my life to be still in the game at all. I started saying it in 1995 when we started getting interviewed in Great Big Sea and asked what's your goal? And I said, my goal is to be in the Canadian music business. My goal is to get to do this tomorrow night. That's my goal and it has not changed. I never got in the music business to record a massive single and then go retire to a Villa in Spain or something, even though there's snow outside the window today which makes me kind of dream of a Villa in Spain. I remember Jim Cuddy said to me when we were very young, I just thought it would be cool if I kind of whinged about the fact that we had a hundred more concerts this year that we've got to do yet. Kind of a look at me hardworking guy type thing. And you looked at me and said, yeah, but you get to play a hundred concerts this year. And I was like, there you go. That's the voice of experience, that's not a bad thing, man. That's a good thing. It’s still the most satisfying thing I do,"

We Don't Wanna Go Home

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Contributor Jason Clevett |

Locale Calgary | Edmonton |

Person Alan Doyle | Great Big Sea |

Topic Celebrity Interview |


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