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Kathleen Edwards seeks success with "Failer"

By Rick Teverbaugh, January 2003

Kathleen Edwards is from rural Canada, and while not a lot of the seminal traditional country artists have come from north of the United States border, she is quick to dispel any notions that her countrymen don't have deep roots in the genre.

Edwards, releasing her U.S. debut, "Failer," Jan. 14 on Rounder, grew up listening to country music. "My dad had records of Hank Snow, Buck Owens and Hank Williams," says Edwards, calling from a payphone in Canada. "Canadians enjoy country music because this country has so much rural area. They identify with the music."Edwards, 24, lives in a rural area near Quebec.

But there is a more subconscious than conscious decision for her music to be country. "It's just how I hear the songs in my head," she says. "I don't consciously think about what type of music it is. But I'm a huge fans of roots and Americana music." Edwards, who sounds vocally a lot like Lucinda Williams, lists Whiskeytown's "Stranger Almanac" as one of her favorite albums.

She is also a big fan of her record label, but is very honest about why she came to be with Rounder. "To be honest, nobody else was interested in this album," says Edwards of the Massachusetts-based label that is home from everything to klezmer music to Turkish music of the 1930's to reggae. "All of the labels that I approached all said they needed to hear some more singles possibilities. But now that I'm here, they're the right place for me to be."

Even though she is a new artist and this is her debut effort, already there has been quite a buzz about her work.

"I've been getting huge support in the media, and I'm very grateful for that," says Edwards. "I've already been added to the AAA (album adult alternative) stations in the U.S. I'm getting played on commercial radio where I never expected to break through."

But she already has plans in motion to get her music out there in many different ways. "I'm not putting all my eggs in one basket," she says. "Radio is a huge help. But there's also the internet and live shows."

Edwards has been warming up for Richard Buckner the past couple of months, and the experience has been rewarding. "Richard is a great artist," she says. "I have a little bit more of a rock feel to my music than he does. But I've been making new friends and making some fans out of people who are his fans. It's been really exciting but so far we've been keeping a real low profile."

Her approach to writing is much closer to independent singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco than many other artists in her genre. "I really don't write the way she does," says Edwards. "But I've got a desire to say things frankly and honestly and maybe in a slightly different way than people have heard before."

Just one trip through the disc is enough to be convinced of the truth in that statement. Early in the disc, there's "One More Song the Radio Won't Like." "That song is more about labels put on music and people than it is about radio," said Edwards. There's also a bit of brutal honesty in "Six O'Clock News" and a slightly off-center perspective on "Hockey Skates."

"I guess that song proves I'm from Canada," says Edwards, who had hockey skates on her Christmas list, but didn't have a pair when the song was written.She does have the ability to skate though. "On my property I have a swamp that freezes over and turns into an ice pond," says Edwards.

Not all of her live experiences has been smooth skating. "I did a tour opening for Don Williams," says Edwards. "I didn't really know his music, but I knew his name. Everyone in the audience was older than 55 across the board. It was a side of rural Canada that I hadn't seen. They didn't get me. They didn't understand what I was about or what I was doing."

Her parents were in the foreign service (her father currently is a deputy foreign minister), and she spent parts of her formative years in Korea and Switzerland. At the age of 5, she began the study of classical violin, which lasted until she was 17.

When she began to move away from that regimen and follow her love for Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, she began to write and perform live.

At first, she wasn't convinced she was very good but she knew she loved it.

"I didn't know if what I was doing was good enough for other people to enjoy it," she says. "But fortunately I'm naturally a very confident person. But I got a lot of a confidence boost from the people who came out to hear me and from people that I was playing with."

One of those people is Jim Bryson, a talented guitarist/singer/songwriter in his own right. "He helped me a great deal in coming out and trying this," says Edwards. He can be heard on the debut disc as well.

In 1999, she recorded a six-song EP, "Building 55." She pressed about 500 copies. By the fall of 2000, she was touring Canada, a journey where she was agent, driver and performer. She made enough money for food and gas to get to the next gig. She slept in the rear of the old Suburban in which she travelled.

"Failer," released in her native Canada last September by Universal, really turned out to be a surprise in more than one way. "It was really designed to be a demo that I took to record labels," says Edwards. "It just ended up being a finished product." That happened with the help of pianist Dave Draves, who co-produced the album with Edwards.

For now, the main objective is to be quite active and visible behind this release. She is hoping that her honesty is more of a help than a hinderance. "I'm a bit stubborn," says Edwards in a way that hinted that the sentence was a classic understatement. "In the past, I've held my head way too proud in subject involving the industry."