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William Prince finding joy in collaboration

The acclaimed Cree singer-songwriter hits Victoria with a sold-out show on Friday.
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William Prince will perform at the MacPherson Playhouse in Victoria on Friday. SIX SHOOTER RECORDS

WILLIAM PRINCE

Where: McPherson Playhouse, 3 Centennial Sq.

When: Friday, 8 p.m.

Tickets: Sold out

A recent two-week break between tour dates provided William Prince with some down time at his home in Winnipeg, a much-needed reset following one of the busiest stretches of his career.

Here’s hoping he made the most of his respite. The acclaimed Cree singer-songwriter returns to performing Friday for a sold-out show in Victoria at the McPherson Playhouse, the first of six consecutive performances on the second leg of his tour, which runs until March 21 with only a smattering of days off.

Prince, 38, is enjoying the ride, despite the schedule-juggling energy required to keep himself engaged on the road. The daily grind is much more enjoyable than it once was, and the soft-seat venues he’s playing on his current tour are a sure sign his career is ascending.

“I live in a whole different neighbourhood of privilege these days,” Prince said. “Things are going really well for me. When I started this, I was doing my best to survive as a human being. It’s not so much of a ringing alarm or a panic anymore.”

Prince was born in Selkirk, Manitoba, and grew up on the province’s Peguis First Nation. His father was a touring musician, which is where Prince developed his affinity for songwriting and performing. He took to it immediately, but his talent did not fully come into view until he was 29, when he released Earthly Days, his 2015 debut.

It took him nearly 10 years to complete the album — plenty of time for Prince to craft what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it. “When I put out my first record, it was like, ‘Is there a place in the world for me? Is this something that people could enjoy or want, or needs to be heard?’ Now, I explore that even further. I want to sing songs for the rest of my life, so they have to be interesting.”

His music — an amalgam of Americana, country, and folk, delivered with one of the best baritones in the business — made an immediate impact on critics and audiences, with Earthly Days earning the relative unknown a Juno Award in 2017 for contemporary roots album of the year. His butter-smooth voice sounded like classic Kenny Rogers in spots, but his rhythm, pacing, and lyrics pulled straight from a trio of his favourites: Johnny Cash, John Prine, and Kris Kristofferson.

Though he remains huge fans of all three, Prince said he’s aiming for a more evolved sound nowadays. “As an artist, I hope there’s a natural evolution and progression. We imitate what we love at the beginning. I was very much like that — I was gathering and showing all my influences. But now I’m creating my own sound and story.”

The songwriting on his fourth and latest album, Stand in the Joy, earned him substantial acclaim on both sides of the border. In addition to yet more Juno Award nominations — he’ll compete for contemporary roots album of the year and songwriter of the year at the March 24 ceremony — he recently performed at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee and appeared on the popular Tiny Desk Concert series for NPR Music in the United States.

Making his accomplishments all the sweeter, he’s finding his way with the kind of heartfelt roots music that is anything but the pop-country of commercial radio. He’s surprised with how he’s been embraced, but he’s not surprised at the same time. “I always set my bar really high.”

He has always been protective of his art, and what he accomplished as an independent artist. Eventually, he gave up his need for complete control, which led to collaborations with the surviving members of the Tragically Hip and Serena Ryder, among others. “When somebody as iconic as the Tragically Hip wants to share something with you, it’s not a reduction of who I am or my work, it’s expanding it,” he said.

“Collaboration is a great compliment. It only increases the joy in my life to collaborate with people I admire and respect. I’m opening my heart to it. I was protective of every word, and because I was fighting so hard for it, I thought I needed to do it without any help. I had to prove it to myself and others that I was doing it on my own.”

Prince has cited everyone from Meat Loaf to Backstreet Boys as an influence, and his new dance-pop collaboration with Roosevelt, the German producer and performer, who has remixed songs by everyone from Charlotte Gainsbourg to Taylor Swift, extends his range even further. “I’m trying to challenge myself, musically. I’m trying to grow. I”m trying to create something that makes me feel joy. That’s the whole reason I started out doing this. I was working through different emotions and feelings. But as I grow and change as a person, so will the music.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com