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POETIC JUSTICE - A Q&A with Adam Baldwin

If you love going out for a night on the town in Halifax, you have likely heard talented Canadian musician Adam Baldwin playing somewhere. Baldwin has played guitar in Matt Mays’ band for years, but it’s his recent foray into singer-songwriter territory that showcases Baldwin’s ability to truly write from his own heart. This, and more, is reflected in his new solo album, No Telling When. Local Connections chats with Baldwin about performing with Blue Rodeo, writing music and maritime love.

No Telling When is your brand new album. What was the inspiration behind the title?

"No Telling When," the first song on the record, was written a number of years ago. I rewrote it as more of a songwriting exercise. I just wanted to see if I could write a song on sort of an arbitrary subject, so I chose NYC in 1985. I kept this one line at the end of the song — “No telling when” — but in fact it is exactly about 1985, so there is telling when. I felt like it would be a nice artistic flare, but it turns out I wasted a lot of breath trying to explain it.

You have been playing guitar with singer-songwriter Matt Mays for years. What was the impetus behind you wanting to delve into writing your own music?

I have long been writing songs even before playing with Matt, but it never occurred to me it was something I could do. When I was around 18 or 19, I spent time trying to get into Matt’s band, and then that happened. He always pushed me to write and record songs. My son was born when I was around 25; I couldn't afford to sit around idly anymore. At that pointI committed to playing music. I got kicked out of university and I didn't really have many options. I thought this is the best chance I have to provide for my family. I will always continue to play in Matt’s band as long as he will have me. I help him with writing and recording when I can — we have spent a lot of time chasing the same muse. I found my job to be in his operation, and I enjoy it! There are worse ways to spend your time.

You are touring Canada with Sam Roberts this November. How did that come to be?

I say the Halifax music scene is small, but really the Canadian music scene is pretty small. Years ago, when Matt was starting out in his band, he opened for Sam's tour when "Brother Down" was a big song. So those guys got real close, then when I joined the band, it was like any friend of Matt's is a friend of theirs. I sort of got taken in and they are dear, dear friends of mine. It is always nice to catch up with them. I was in high school when Sam was really a hit. I was learning the guitar and that was music I really cared about at that age. I wouldn't call myself a contemporary quite yet, but really to borrow their stage for a few nights really is an honour. At the risk of sounding cliché, I do have to pinch myself once in a while.

What is it about Halifax that keeps you rooted here? Where do you like to hang out in the city?

I have never really heard a compelling argument to leave here. Moving to Toronto is the centre of the universe musically, but I never felt the need to go. I felt I could make a go of it here.
I prefer the pace. I love visiting bigger cities, but I always find myself happy to get back to Dartmouth, where the pace is much slower, more my speed. I have a very active imagination, and this place keeps me a bit more sane. I am a big proponent of The Carleton. The music there, by and large, is some of the best in the country. Typically you can sit there and listen to the words in the music. I am a guy who cares about the words. I also love playing the piano at The Barrington for no other reason than to play a big grand piano for a couple hours. It also is a nice spot with great grub!

Your lyrics can be quite political. The song "Daylight," for example, has some political inferences. You also wrote a song for the late Rehtaeh Parsons that you called, “The most important song I'll ever write.”

I have two young kids. I have always been someone that has been politically engaged from a young age. I think we are capable of so much better. I think ultimately artists have a responsibility to tell these stories. Often they get lost in the shuffle. The more voices that are screaming about these types of things, the better we will all be for it. I do still think there is a place for those types of songs. The record industry is a lot different than maybe it was in the 60s, when everyone was singing those songs about change. I think anyone who has a microphone in front of their face should be trying to change the way things are.