Spencer Burton Hopes His Music Can Heal

Is Spencer Burton a country artist because he dons a cowboy hat on the cover of his new album (which was recorded in Nashville)?

“I’m getting all this ‘When did you decide to go country?’ and ‘What turned your eyes to the world of country music?’ and all these questions in interviews,” said Burton, over the phone from his Ontario farm.

“I don’t think I’m writing country music. I’ve just got the hat and everybody thinks I’m playing country music all of a sudden.”

Burton is, quite simply, a singer-songwriter – a storyteller whose music evokes Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson.

“I totally agree,” he said. “I’m just writing songs to tell some stories and sometimes it sounds a bit country and other times it’s folk, sometimes it’s completely the opposite end of either of those things.

“I’m just writing songs and, I guess, I just let people decide what they want about the genre.”

Colin Medley

So what’s up with the album cover? “I’ve got the denim on and I’ve got the hat, but in all truth I was just outside working in the yard and that hat is kind of like my dirty hat — it’s white but it’s what I wear when I’m working in the yard,” he explained.

Burton said photographer Colin Medley showed up early and told him not to change. “I was like, alright, cool.”

The album title, Songs Of, fits because Burton’s songs are songs of whatever feelings they bring out in the listener.

“It’s a placeholder for whatever you want to put there. Songs of love, hate, fear, death, birth, hope,” he told iHeartRadio.ca. “I want my songs to be to people what they want them to be. I like people to think of my songs as theirs.”

For Burton, they are songs of “hurting and hope and hopefully healing.

“At least for me they’re all healing,” he said. “I’m a very emotional person and instead of just lying there convulsing in the middle of the backyard not knowing what to do with these emotions, I write songs.”

The album opens with “Old Grey Stone,” a short ethereal track that wouldn’t be out of place in a commercial for Newfoundland tourism.

“To me there’s nothing more healing than the human voice. That song was a great healer,” Burton explained. “I wrote it in the shower one day and it was something that helped me.

“I wanted to start the record with something helpful and healing.”

The first Spencer Burton album, Don’t Let The World See Your Love, came out in 2014 – but he’s no newbie. After years of playing guitar in indie rock band Attack in Black and backing up City and Colour, Burton launched his own project, The Grey Kingdom.

He’s the father of two young children with Baillie Maxwell, whom he married around the same time Songs Of was released. The ceremony, in their backyard, was officiated by a friend of Burton’s aunt.

“Initially we were just going to get some dude off Kijiji for a couple hundred bucks to come over, which I think may have been a fun story in itself,” he said. “I’m glad we ended up going with a friend of the family as opposed to a guy from Kijiji.”

There’s been no honeymoon because Maxwell runs a daycare and Burton’s busy with his music as well as “goats and chickens and pigs that need feeding and love and tenderness.

“Not to mention our children,” he added. “I guess there’s that, too.”

Burton insisted becoming a family man hasn’t changed his musical life too much.

“I’ll always tour. I’ll go anywhere, I’ll do anything,” he said. “It does make it a little more difficult because you’re missing your family. If I am going away for a couple of weeks I’ve got to hire someone to come over and take care of the animals.

“There are things that I have to do now that make my life a little more difficult but also it makes it way more rewarding. The farm is a labour of love, like my music is. It’s not something I intended to do and I can’t live without it.”

Burton said he could never have imagined being where he is today.

“If I went back and asked 21-year-old Spencer where he’d be right now he’d probably say, I don't know, going to ComicCon and trying to get [Italian horror film director] Dario Argento’s autograph or something like that,” he said.

“If I could find my 21-year-old MySpace page I’d love to compare those songs to the songs I’m writing now and I think I’d probably hate them – but it would also probably make a lot of sense. I’m doing this now, and I was doing that then because of who I was.”

Burton has a string of shows scheduled in June across Ontario and will play on July 8 at the Cavendish Beach Music Festival in PEI. Check out his website for more info.