Acceptance into one’s local music community is an important component in the career of any singer-songwriter. To be equally embraced by two communities is a major bonus, one for which Rose Cousins is deeply grateful.
The P.E.I-raised, Halifax-based Cousins is a key member of the folk/roots scenes in both Halifax and Boston. Her American connection is vividly showcased on her compelling new album, We Have Made A Spark. Her third full-length CD, it was recorded at Boston studio Q Division, produced by Bostonian Zachariah Hickman, and features a large cast of area musicians and backing singers.
Cousins has set down roots within the Boston scene over the past decade. “The people there have really lit a spark with what they’ve taught me,” she says. She traces her interest in that scene back to the late ‘90s. “I was learning how to play guitar and I was really attracted to the singer-songwriter style. I was listening to people like Deb Talan, Kris Delmhorst and John Gorka, and it seemed like everyone was filtering through the Boston area. I was hungry to connect with the places and people I was listening to, and every summer I’d look for a folk festival there to go to as my vacation.”
“I don‘t think the details are important. I think the emotion in the song is important.”
A turning point came in 2002, when Cousins played an open mic night at legendary Boston folk haunt Club Passim. That led to an invitation to perform at the Cutting Edge of Campfire benefit festival, termed by Cousins “the beginning of my becoming part of that community.”
Fittingly, her Boston CD launch for We Have Made A Spark came via a performance at Club Passim in February. “Almost everybody who plays on the album was there, and it was just amazing,” recalls Cousins. The fact that she’s recently been playing U.S. dates opening for Gorka further indicates the peer respect she’s earned there.
The eloquence of her songwriting and purity of her voice have long made Cousins a favourite on the Maritime circuit. She’s won PEI Music and Music Nova Scotia Awards, a 2008 East Coast Music Award (ECMA) for Female Solo Recording of the Year (for her album If You Were For Me), and, in 2011, ECMAs for Female Solo Recording (The Send Off) and SOCAN-sponsored Songwriter of the Year.
Cousins has been delighted to witness the success of East Coast comrades like Jill Barber, Catherine MacLellan, David Myles, Meaghan Smith, and Old Man Luedecke. “All the Atlantic regions have such an amazing variety and high level of talent. I feel I’m part of this very cool graduating class,” she says. “We all started at similar times, plugging away and meeting each other. Now everyone is doing it full-time and finding success with it.”
A signature of Cousins’ style is the unflinching honesty of her lyrics. Emotion is the real spark behind her writing, she explains. “I’m spurred by an emotion I’m feeling, ” she says. “It may be a notion I haven’t quite figured out and the writing of the song may help me do that, or it may be a pure emotion that’s harder to talk about than write about. In order to write I need to feel the thing I’m writing.”
We Have Made A Spark has been termed a “breakup” album, but Cousins disputes that characterization. “It’s not a breakup record, in the standard sense of the fact that I may have been with one person and broken up with them, ” she says. “That’s just not the case. I’m into my ‘30s now and there are chunks of time when you’re wrestling with certain things. There comes a point where you assess patterns you have, and people in your life, and things you are telling yourself, and you have to check in on those things. See what serves you and what no longer serves you. I think the record has a lot of that. It’s not about one particular person. It’s about the part of me that has to let go. I don‘t think the details are important. I think the emotion in the song is important.”
She acknowledges that she’s drawn to darker themes in her writing. “I guess I look at sadness and introspection as a little more interesting, ” she says. “There are more unexplored caves, nooks and crannies, with things hiding in them. It feels more complicated when you feel sad than when you feel joyful, and that attracts me to it. That doesn’t mean I’m a miserable person.”
Carving out time for writing is an increasing challenge, given her hectic touring schedule. “There’s not a lot of uninterrupted down time when I’m on the road,” she says, and mentions an annual retreat she’ll be taking in June. “I’ve done it for the past two years, and I’m so excited for that. No phones, no computers, just a lake and woods. That is the best time to figure out what I’m actually thinking and feeling.”