By Troy Hasselman, February 14 2020 —
Alan Doyle, the Canadian musician, occasional actor and former frontman of Newfoundland folk-rockers Great Big Sea, has a lot on his plate between the release of his new solo EP Rough Side Out and his impending cross-Canada tour, which will include a stop at Calgary’s Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium on Feb. 28. But on the day I spoke to him in January, he was just as concerned with getting back home to Newfoundland to help out in the aftermath of the brutal snowstorms that rocked the province that month.
“I’m desperate to get home but I don’t think I’m going,” Doyle says. “I only had a small window to get home and then the airport’s closed. I might be able to get on an airplane tonight but it’s very doubtful. I think of a joke said by my good buddy Mark Critch which was, ‘leave it to Newfoundlanders to fly into, not out of a state-of-emergency.’ ”
This connection to his home and roots has coloured Doyle’s entire career since he began making music with his Great Big Sea bandmates in the 1990’s. The traditions, history and stories of his home province have played a central role in his music. The history of Newfoundland is even referenced in the name of his new EP, Rough Side Out.
“It’s a reference to the wooden siding that Newfoundlanders use primarily on their house, like you can see on those famous postcards of jelly bean houses,” Doyle explains. “That’s the wooden siding of clapboards. Manufacturers built a smooth side that was plain and then one side was left level and it was meant to show the smooth side out. They discovered that the paint stuck to it better and lasted longer in our salty, windy, wintery weather and so that’s why those jelly bean houses looks so shiny and bright like the way they do because they have rough side out clapboard. It’s one of those things where Newfoundlanders prefer function and practicality over fashion sometimes. That’s one of those things that helps us through hard times.”
Rough Side Out includes collaborations with country stars Dean Brody and Jess Moskaluke. Working with other songwriters is one of Doyle’s favourite things to do as a musician, finding a lot of joy in the collaborative process.
“It’s always the thing that I like to do the most,” Doyle says. “I didn’t get into music to sit in a room and write songs by myself. Lots of people do that and they’re good at it, I’m one of the only guys I know who would rather co-write a song than write a song. Music has always been about making circles intertwine and connect and trying to get people together. That’s where most of the fun lies.”
Doyle will be taking off on a 34 date tour of Canada this month with dates in every Canadian province. After playing across Canada over the last few decades, Doyle has noticed differences in how audiences interact with his music from province-to-province.
“There’s certain parts of Canada that are much more familiar with traditional mixed-land music,” Doyle says. “For example, other parts of Canada always find it completely bizarre and exotic to walk on stage with an accordion, there are parts of British Columbia that would find that novel. There are differences from place to place but there are surprises too. You might roll into parts of Alberta where traditional country music has been so popular and fiddles and accordions are quite common in that kind of music. It’s always a surprise and it’s always the part of the journey of it that’s fun.”
The EP includes a cover of John Mellencamp’s “Paper in Fire” from his 1987 album The Lonesome Jubilee, one of Doyle’s favourite songs. The song was hugely influential to him in his younger years, growing up in Newfoundland where he took inspiration from Mellencamp’s mix of folk, country and rock sensibilities.
“It’s my favourite song from my favorite record,” Doyle says. “That record came out when I was a teenager and I was well-schooled in traditional instruments and music growing up in a little fishing town in Newfoundland and I was familiar with fiddles, banjos and accordions and all that stuff. Of course, I was a teenager in the 80s and the two things I loved the most were hair metal bands like Van Halen and American singer-songwriter guys like Billy Joel or Bruce Springsteen or Kris Kristoferssen, John “Cougar” Mellencamp or Johnny Cash. So I was a fan of all that, when the record The Lonesome Jubilee came out, the first single off of it was “Paper in Fire.” I remember hearing that for the first time and seeing the video for the first time and realizing that a modern singer-songwriter and artist could be an international star and still include fiddles and accordions and whistles and stuff like that in their music and it kind of opened up my eyes wider than they’ve ever been opened up and remains one of the most influential records in my life. It led me down the road to be a fusion between rock and pop and country and folk music.”
The record includes a duet with singer Jess Moskaluke on the track “What the Whiskey Won’t Do,” Doyle grew up around men and women duet albums and is thrilled to be working in the form.
“I love that from,” Doyle says. “I’m a sucker for that form and I was trying to figure out why. When I was a kid my Mom and Dad didn’t have a lot of records but the records they had were like Kenny & Dolly records or Kris Kirstofferson and & Rita Cooldige or Johnny and June Carter Cash. MAn and women duets lived in my young life for a long time and a part of me loves the drama of a couple singing to each other.”
Alan Doyle’s EP Rough Side Out is out on all streaming platforms. More information about the tour behind the album and concert dates can be found on his website.