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Jeremy Dutcher brings new album, new journey to Vancouver Island this week

Classically trained Two-Spirit artist Jeremy Dutcher will perform at the McPherson Playhouse on Friday, Oct. 20.

JEREMY DUTCHER

Where: McPherson Playhouse
When: Friday, Oct. 20, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $73.50 from the Royal McPherson box office (250-386-6121) or rmts.bc.ca
Note: Dutcher also performs Thursday, Oct. 19, at the Tidemark Theatre in Campbell River

The world of music moves at a rapid rate these days — so quickly, in fact, that a five-year break between albums resulted in a wave of “what-the-hell-took-you-so-long?” queries for Jeremy Dutcher.

The classically trained Two-Spirit performer has been asked the question often as he promotes his sophomore recording, Motewolonuwok, the follow-up to his 2018 debut, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa. “As creators, it’s our job to resist the homogeny of that,” Dutcher said of the album, which arrived Oct. 6.

“It’s an industry that wants to be consumptive. You can very well play into that, but you might get consumed by it.”

Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa also took five years to complete. However, the composer, activist and member of the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick was relatively unknown at the time, so the length of time it took Dutcher to complete the album was not a storyline in the press. It wouldn’t have mattered to him even if it were. Dutcher’s groundbreaking amalgam of opera, classical music and First Nations history is research-based, and he will not rush its completion to meet anyone’s schedule, including his own.

“That just takes time,” he said.

Not that the Montreal-based performer didn’t question the course he had charted for himself during the writing and recording process of Motewolonuwok. The pandemic was difficult on all fronts, and the reason for several delays, he said. “There was definitely a moment where I thought, ‘OK, I’m done. I think I’m not making music anymore.’ When your whole thing is about doing shows, and performances are how you connect with people, and for two-and-a-half years that is not on the table, you kind of have to pivot.”

He also struggled with the shape of some songs, which lyrically explore contemporary Indigeneity and his place within it, and represent his first attempts at writing and singing in English. Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, which eventually won a Juno Award and the Polaris Music Prize, featured Dutcher singing exclusively in his native Wolastoqey tongue. Dutcher said he is one of less than 100 people who can speak the language fluently.

Given the cultural impact of his debut album, on which he explored archival recordings of traditional songs sung by some of his ancestors — wax cylinder phonograph recordings that were housed in Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of History — he knew the stakes were high for its follow-up.

“It was not a light choice to make the flip into English, but it’s one that I hope will be able to propel our [Wolastoqiyik] perspective and our [Wolastoqiyik] story, even though it’s not in our language, to another audience. In anybody’s line of work they have to deal with second-guessing. I thought about this album as a personal excavation. With the first record, it was very much a community-oriented project. I was doing that work very much for my Wolastoqiyik people. This one is for me. English is part of my journey, too.”

Dutcher is eager to see how his new music evolves on stage. Songs on the recording, which feature a choir and orchestra, will be stripped-down and played by Dutcher’s jazz combo on his current tour, which opens tonight in Campbell River and stops Friday in Victoria. He’s not sure if everyone will welcome the new direction, but assumes longtime fans know to expect the unexpected where his concerts are concerned.

“For me, it’s about letting the music of that moment spring forth. There’s stuff that happens in that live space that could not have happened on a record. You’re trying to get close to perfect when you’re in the studio, but that’s not what it is live. You offer it, and let the moment be the moment.”

Be it the upcoming concerts or music videos released thus far, the music is meant to be enjoyed in a variety of mediums. He only made one music video for his first record, so he’s relishing the opportunity. “For me, I create music with a cinematic nature in mind.”

He worked on a video for the song Pomawsuwinuwok Wonakiyawolotuwok with Toronto production duo tranquilo, and believes the project achieved a degree of permanence as it was shot on 16mm film. There’s often talk of how film will soon be extinct, given the costs of film and process involved in developing negatives, which added to Dutcher’s interest.

“It’s a quote-unquote dying artform, but things of pure beauty, they won’t die. We always have this scarcity mindset that we’re going to lose everything we have. Listen, I come from a community where less than 100 people speak our language. If I thought about the imminent danger of that statistic, I might not get out of bed. I have to keep going.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com