Interview with Ryan Boldt

The Deep Dark Wood’s first performance in Ireland at The Kilkenny Roots Festival in 2013 appears to have made as much an impression on the band as it did on those lucky enough to witness their shows. Arriving at the venue with the assistance of a tow truck might not be considered the ideal starting point but everything worked out admirably in the end.

The Canadian band make a return visit to Kilkenny for The Roots Festival in May and frontman Ryan Boldt took the time to chat with Lonesome Highway about the history of the band, his love of Celtic Folk music, their excellent current album Yarrow and much more.

How has The Deep Dark Woods evolved since its formation in 2005 and how difficult was the break up with the original line up?

Members have come and gone since about 2009, Geoff joined just after Winter Hours, Burke left and Clayton Linthicum joined, Lucas left. Chris and the band mutually agreed to part ways. There’s been a lot of changes, most bands that last over 10 years change members. It was quite painful, but we’ve come through it and are a better band because of it. 

What prompted the release of your solo album Broadside Ballads in 2015?

I’d recorded a lot of the songs a couple years before it was released but never got the chance to put it out. The band went on hiatus and it seemed like the perfect time to release it. I wanted to continue playing music and touring even if some of the other members of The Deep Dark Woods didn’t want that. This is all I’ve known for my entire adult life, this and working garbage labour jobs. I didn’t want to go back to mixing concrete or hanging drywall.

The Celtic / English Folk influences which appeared on Broadside Ballads also weave their way through much of the material on your recent album Yarrow. Is this a reflection of the territory you want The Deep Dark Woods to permanently inhabit or will you head in a different direction next time around?

I’ve always been into English, Irish and Scottish folk music. I guess it’s kind of seeped into my own writing over the years. It certainly helps to have people in your band that listen to the same records as you. I’m not really sure what direction the band will head in, I just write songs and the band plays them, we never really think about making it sound a certain way.

The material on Yarrow works remarkably well as a whole, dominated by tales of dark, unearthly and spooky places, occasionally visited in your previous work with the band. Over what period was the album written and how important was it to achieve that symmetry?

I wrote most of the songs over the 3 years the band was hiatus. It was a dark time, which probably contributed to the darker songs I suppose. I wanted the album to be shorter and to the point. I find the previous albums to be too long and not as consistent, I wanted the album to fit onto two sides. I wrote about 14 songs for the record with the help of Shuyler Jansen who I produced the record with and we trimmed it down to 9. In the past we would have recorded all 14 and put them all on there, it was nice to have someone in the studio with me doing some editing, something I’d never had before.

You’re on the record name checking Shirley Collins as an inspiration for your song writing / story telling a number of years before she recorded Lodestar in 2016 after an absence in the studio of nearly 40 years. How did you connect with her music?

I found her records through Fairport Convention, someone gave me a copy of Liege and Lief when I was about 18 or 19. I started going back and looking into albums related to them, that’s when I came across Shirley Collins’ No Roses and from there I found a well of beautiful records. Because of Shirley Collins I’ve discovered a lot of traditional music I had never heard before. Songs like Brigg Fair, Dabbling in the Dew and Richie Story. I love her and hope someday I can sit down and thank her for the influence she’s had on me over the years.

You recently opened for Richard Thompson at The Pitchfork Social on salt Spring Island. I suspect he is another artist that has had an impact on you during your career?

Yes, very much so… Fairport Convention is my favourite band. Opening for Richard Thompson was one of the greatest thrills of my life, the best part was taking the ferry back to Victoria with him, talking about folk music and watching birds. He had binoculars with him.

Understandably much of your musical roadmap direction appears to be from artists and recordings of decades ago. Do you tap into any current artists output or continue to be influenced by the past? 

I’m mainly influenced by stuff from the past, I don’t listen to a lot of modern music. I do like Kurt Vile and Cass McCombs and of course The Sadies are the finest band in Canada.

The inclusion of backing vocals by Kacy Anderson, beautifully threaded through the album, creates a spectacular atmosphere. How did the connection with both Kacy and Clayton (Linthicum) come about? 

I’ve known the both of them for years now. They lived out on the farm in southern Saskatchewan, about a 2 or 3-hour drive from where I was living in Mortlach, which is just a Sunday drive for us prairie folk. Clayton played in the Deep Dark Woods for a couple years after Burke left the group and I’ve been singing songs in my Mortlach living room with Kacy for about 6 years now. The two of them are like my younger siblings, I love them with everything in me, unconditional love. 

 The quality of acts coming out of Canada under the Americana umbrella in recent years is staggering.  The Canadian Council of The Arts and The Canadian Music Fund (CME) appears to offer support to artists quite unlike other countries. Has this been helpful in your continuing career and how does the model work?

Yes, it’s been very helpful. We are very lucky here in Canada. Canada cares about artists, they realize that without music and art we would all be extremely depressed and a lot of us would have no reason to live.

You are due to return to Kilkenny in May 2017 for the Roots Festival. Tell me about your memories of your appearances at the Festival in 2013?

Kilkenny Roots is still one of the greatest festivals we’ve played, the people are so welcoming, real music fans. The night before Kilkenny we were in London, drove after the show and broke down somewhere in the middle of nowhere. We called a tow truck and they basically told us we weren’t going to make it in time. Kiko, our tour manager somehow got the driver to tow us to the ferry terminal in Holyhead, we were able to start the van and barely make it on the ferry, we called another tow in Dublin who came and towed us from the ferry terminal right to the venue. We made it just in time for soundcheck, hadn’t slept a wink, the venue was packed and it was one of the most memorable shows of the past 12 years. We ended up staying up all night listening to people sing Pogues songs in the bar. It was our first time in Ireland and it is now one of my favourite countries I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.  

Who can we expect to see on stage with you at The Festival?

Geoff Hilhorst will be there playing the organ along with the Yarrow band, Shuyler Jansen, Mike Silverman, Kacy and Clayton and our latest addition Evan Cheadle. My mom and dad and aunt will be there too. They’re flying from Victoria for the festival and to do some family history research. I had family in Kilkenny before they came to Canada. Could be why I feel at home whenever I’m there. 

Interview by Declan Culliton (January 2018)