At 30, Adam Baldwin could be considered rather a late bloomer as a solo artist. Right now, however, everything’s coming up roses for the Dartmouth-based singer-songwriter. Released in June, his debut full-length album, No Telling When (Precisely Nineteen Eighty-Five), has been earning unanimously positive notices for its combination of free-spirited, guitar-fueled rock ‘n’ roll and perceptive lyrics that often tackle social and political themes.
Produced by Liam O’Neil (The Stills, Metric), the album features Josh Trager (of Sam Roberts Band), Brian Murphy (of Alvvays) and Leah Fay (of July Talk).
Baldwin is bringing the material to vivid life onstage, touring the album as a support act for the likes of The Temperance Movement, Sam Roberts Band and Blue Rodeo, and national dates with July Talk begin in November 2016.
Fine company to keep, and Baldwin is suitably appreciative. Interviewed after a show in Montréal, he says, “I’m lucky to have friends in the right places. These guys don’t have to have me on their bills, as they sold the shows already. I’m sure I’m the envy of a lot of Canadian acts right now.”
The response to No Telling When is similarly gratifying. “It surprises me anytime there’s any praise,” says Baldwin. “I tend to be self-deprecating and maybe I lacked the confidence I should have had over the years, if you’re in a business where you’re judged for your art.”
“I’m not a guy who writes 100 songs and gets three from that. I’d rather just write a song and chip away at it until I feel it’s where I need it to be.”
Baldwin has gained real peer respect over the years, primarily as a guitarist in Matt Mays’ band. But, he says, “I’ve been writing songs a long time. They just weren’t good, and I was focused on playing in other people’s bands. When I was 25 I had a child, and that rather made me realize this is the thing I’m best at, so I really did want to try my hand at [my own] music as a career.
“The only way to do that is to stay busy. It’s great playing with a guy like Matt, who’s frequently busy, but when he’s not busy I’d just be at home, maybe playing in cover bands. I decided it was the right time to put some songs out and test the waters, and it has worked out.”
Baldwin’s first solo foray was a self-titled 2013 EP, one that earned him the Male Artist Recording of the Year Award at Nova Scotia Music Week in 2014 (he was also named Musician of the Year). While pleased with the accolade, Baldwin says, “I can’t depend on radio play or awards to validate what I’m doing. I tend to look at the crowd response, and what people who buy my music are saying about it.”
The bulk of the material on No Telling When was written after the EP was released. “I wrote it when I moved into a house that had a piano,” says Baldwin. “I played as a kid and I wrote just about everything on piano, oddly enough.
“I’m not a guy who writes 100 songs and gets three from that. I’d rather just write a song and chip away at it until I feel it’s where I need it to be, and says what I wanted.”
Baldwin cites fellow Nova Scotians Joel Plaskett and Matt Mays as real inspirations, career-wise. “’I’m so lucky to have grown up listening to those guys from high school as I was learning to play guitar,” he says. “They were guys from where I was who were making a go of it.
“They are certainly heroes of mine, and I’m lucky to count them as friends. I can ask them for advice about anything, though I tend not to ask them much about songwriting, as I have my own process. They’re important people to have around in my life.”
Baldwin is candid about his most crucial musical influence. “It’ll be no surprise to anyone that Bruce Springsteen is my high water mark,” he says. “I studied him the way a chemistry student would study at university. I feel I have a degree in Springsteen!’
That’s apparent not just in the rousing and anthemic feel of some Baldwin songs, but in his willingness to address social issues.
“I was always the kid who read the newspaper, from age eight,” he recalls. “I try to make myself aware of things, and the only things I know how to write about are those I know. It so happens that some of the things I know and understand I don’t agree with. I think there’s a place for that in music.”
A striking example on No Telling When is “Rehtaeh,” based on the tragic real-life story of rape victim Rehtaeh Parsons, who committed suicide. “I got in touch with her parents, to tell them my intentions for the song,” Baldwin explains. “They were receptive, as they want her story to be heard, to further things along
“Every cent from that song goes to the Rehtaeh Parsons Society, so they can go out and speak to schools and try to change the antiquated legislation around sexual harassment and rape laws that are currently on the books.”
Looking ahead, Baldwin plans to balance his solo career with continued work in Matt Mays’ band. “I love the guy and I love playing the songs,” he says. “As long as he’ll have me, I’ll be there!”