After an incredible half-century-long career as a singer/songwriter/guitarist, Bruce Cockburn (Coe-burn) is still going strong with numerous awards and 33 albums under his belt, as well as a 526-page memoir and nine-disc boxed set (both titled “Rumours of Glory,” 2014), and he’s coming back to Maine to perform at the Waterville Opera House on Saturday, May 11. To that end, I requested a telephone interview to reconnect with this talented gentle man once again. He kindly agreed and called me from a recording studio in Nashville, Tennessee, on the 16th of April. I began by asking him how things were going?
Cockburn: Oh, things are going actually really well right now. We’re just putting the finishing touches on a new instrumental album. We’re mixing it now, and we’ll probably get done by the end of today. And, I’m quite excited about that, actually. Otherwise, life goes on and I don’t know if I had my second daughter yet when last we spoke.

Q: I had even had my first and only daughter at that time!
Cockburn: (Laughter) So, some of us have been sort of saving it up, right? Anyway, my younger daughter’s 7 and in second grade and can write and speak fluently in English and French.

Q: Oh, Lord!
Cockburn: Yeah, it’s pretty impressive, actually, and my life is a lot of getting her to and from school. In between those missions (chuckle), then I get to do what I do, which — at the age I am now — half the time is going to doctors and the other half is sort of trying to get work done.

Q: Speaking of work, and the fact that you’re getting ready to complete a new instrumental album, let me ask this: have you done many such albums over your career?
Cockburn: Just one previous one and that one is called “Speechless.” It came out at the end of the ’90s or the beginning of the 2000s, I forget what year. And, it was a compilation of previously released instrumental tracks from throughout the passage of time, with several new pieces, as well. The intention with this album was to do kind of a Volume 2 of that — we wouldn’t have called it that, necessarily.

Q: Was it going to be set up the same as its predecessor, format-wise?
Cockburn: Well, we ended up with so much new stuff that it’s just an album of new pieces, so it’s not “Speechless 2” at all. It will be called “Crowing Ignites,” which is the translation from the Latin of the Cockburn family motto.

Q: Now, just out of curiosity, are instrumentals easier to write than lyrical songs?
Cockburn: It’s a whole different thing. In some ways, yes. There’s one less step involved really, because the songs that I write, most of them have a pretty important instrumental component to them. It’s not like just writing words and a melody for me; there’s always some sort of relationship between the sung part of the song and the guitar. So, in that sense, it’s simpler, because there’s only part of it that you have to worry about, but at the same time it involves the same kind of waiting around for a good idea. In the case of instrumental pieces, the good ideas will come out of practicing. I mean, they don’t come out of the air so much as they do from having your hands on a guitar. You stumble on something that sounds like it could go somewhere, and then you wrestle that into a piece. These pieces are, for the most part, kind of structured like a jazz piece with a head and an improvised section, and then you’ve got the head again. Most of them are like that, but not all. Some are more folk-y and some are — I don’t know what to call them — they’re certainly not jazz. It’s not a jazz record, but there’s a fair amount of improvisation on the record.

Q: What are you playing on this album?
Cockburn: It’s mostly acoustic guitar, and, in terms of the kinds of structural choices you make, it’s really whatever you think of. For me, I’m not constrained by any particular genre. I’m only constrained by my own technique. I guess (chuckle), it’s certainly a constraint, but basically I can do whatever I think of.

Q: Now, when you come to the Waterville Opera House, oh, I’d better ask this first: Have you ever performed there before?
Cockburn: I don’t think so.

Q: Well, then you’re in for a treat, that’s for sure. Now, when I saw you in the past, you had backing musicians. Will that be the case this time ‘round or will you be solo?
Cockburn: This will be solo, yeah. And, I mean I’m not going to be stacking the show with pieces from the new instrumental album. There will be time for that when the album’s actually out.

Q: Will you do any of that new material?
Cockburn: I don’t know what I’m going to do. But, there’s a chance I end up pulling out a couple of those pieces, but it’ll be a cross section of newer and older, typical of my shows.

Q: Now, when you go into a solo show like this one in Waterville, do you make up a set list or just wing it?
Cockburn: I have a set list — I don’t trust my memory.

Q: And with 33 albums out, how on Earth do you create a play list out of all that material?
Cockburn: Well, it’s a balance. It’s like, here’s a bunch of songs that I want to do and then there’s a bunch that people in the audience are attached to, and if you don’t play them, they will feel like they didn’t get their money’s worth. So, those go in a show. So, I try to do a mix of old and new, so that some of it is still fresh for people. The last album, which is now a couple of years old, was “Bone On Bone,” and there will be stuff from that, for sure.

Q: I have one last question before we bring this chat to an end. Is there anything, Bruce, that you would like me to pass on to the folks reading this?
Cockburn: Well, just “hello” and “come to the show,” I guess.

Lucky Clark has spent 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.


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