Hillbilly Highway – Zachary Lucky stops by for Big Fun!

photo by Christina Bourne
photo by Christina Bourne

by Sheldon Birnie

Zachary Lucky is a Saskatoon based singer-songwriter whose drive to create beautiful folk and country gems is rivalled only by his relentless commitment to the Highway. With 2012’s Saskatchewan followed quickly with 2013’s The Ballad of Losing You, Lucky released as solid a one-two punch as we’ve seen in recent years out here on the Highway. The former, a brooding folk portrait of the province Lucky calls home; the latter, a touching country ballad in the tradition of Hank Snow, Guy Clark, and Townes Van Zandt. Lucky took a few minutes to chat with Stylus before hitting the road on his latest adventure, which will see him stop in Winnipeg on Friday for an afternoon at Big Fun, before heading back West, down into the USA, and overseas later this spring.

Stylus: You’re a pretty relentless touring musician. What’s it been like to be home for a while, leading up to this tour here?

Zachary Lucky: It’s been good. I mean, it was such a whirlwind fall. We were on the road from September through till November 24th or something like that, the end of November. I got home from that, and right away I drove out to Calgary and actually had surgery on one of my ears. So I spent all of December kind of recovering from that, doped up on painkillers and stuff like that, getting better. So, it feels like I’ve hardly been home at all and now I’m leaving again. It always feels good to come home to Saskatoon and kind of refuel and recoup, see some familiar faces, you know. It’ll be good to get back out, though I’m not looking forward to driving on these roads. But it’ll be good to get back out.

Stylus: You’ve been in and out of Winnipeg and Manitoba a lot the past few years. How does the city, and Manitoba, treat you?

ZL: I’ve always had an affection for Manitoba. Maybe it’s because it’s what I would consider to be the only other prairie province. I feel we have a bit of that connection, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. My family farm is kind of close to the Manitoba border, right up by Riding Mountain, so it has a very similar vibe to a lot of Manitoba. And Winnipeg, well Winnipeg is a hell of a city. I get really intimidated when I come to Winnipeg, because it’s such a hotbed for really good folk and country and bluegrass music. There’s always a lot of people who are making really amazing music there. So that’s kind of intimidating. It’s also good to know that there’s a group of people who enjoy that sort of thing, so in a way it also feels very natural.

Stylus: Thinking about your recent record [The Ballad of Losing You] and the one before that, Saskatchewan, it kind of feels like there’s a bit of a shift from folk to country. Was that something deliberate, or was that just kind of how the songs came out?

ZL: I don’t know if it was deliberate. Things change, people change. One day we’ll see things a certain way and the next we’ll see things totally opposite. I’m just making things I feel, you know, are honest and trying to play them a way that best suits them and a way that feels right to me. Saskatchewan, yeah, it was a little more folky. That’s kind of where I was at in my life, and that was the way I wanted to portray Saskatchewan too. With certain tones of melancholy, I was trying to paint a picture. This record, I obviously had some different lyrical landscapes, you know? It sort of lent itself to a more country sound. I’ve always really loved old country songs, old country records. What country really is, you know?

Stylus: Is there anyone in particular that you were listening to when you were writing that, compared to before? Or do you have some songwriters that you’re constantly going back to, either in the way they write or the way you write?

ZL: I’ve always kind of, and maybe I’ve said this to you before, but I’ve always been drawn to Townes Van Zandt. And maybe that’s a bit of a cliched thing to say, these days. But if a lot of people are saying it, it must be true. He’s one hell of a songwriter. I even put one of his songs on my new record. It’s that style of music, the way he approaches the songs, letting the songs write themselves. How raw his albums were, how raw his live performances were, I’ve always been drawn to that. I think I was listening to a lot of the Stanley Brothers when I wrote the last record. Ralph Stanley is one of the fathers of bluegrass music, and I was listening to a lot of that, along with Shirley Collins, a lot of Townes. So there’s a bit of a mix between the English and the American folk and country music. It’s an interesting world, to me, when you meet those two in the middle. I feel pretty comfortable nestled somewhere between the two.

Stylus: Personally, I’m really interested in a lot of the acts coming out of Saskatoon these days. Yourself, Shooting Guns, Powder Blue, Deep Dark Woods. What’s going on over there that keeps pumping out these great bands and artists?

ZL: I don’t know if there’s much to do here but make music [chuckles]! To be honest, I feel pretty removed from the scene here. I spend a lot of time on the road and living out of other various places, though Saskatoon is still very much my home. It’s a very busy scene, kind of a really close knit pocket of people who all seem to feed off of one another’s creative energies. The folk and country music scene here is pretty tiny, it’s not like Winnipeg. It’s interesting, because you can’t just take influence from the music you play. It’s interesting to see some of these bands, like Shooting Guns or Slow Down, Molasses, because there’s a lot of that happening. It’s equally as inspiring seeing bands like that doing well. The Woods, too, those guys are amazing.

Don’t miss Zachary Lucky’s Big Fun performance, Friday, January 24 at Thom Bargen, along with touring partner Alanna Gurr. Show starts at 3:30pm.

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