For years now, before every show, Terra Lightfoot huddles with her bandmates and they shout the following mantra: “To the healing power of rock ‘n’ roll!”
It’s no coincidence that the award-winning songwriter’s new record is called Healing Power. But that’s only a part of the story. The album took five years to germinate; it’s filled with joy, sorrow, and all the emotions in between. Produced once again by Gus Van Go (The Beaches, Arkells), Healing Power is a pop-rock gem. The record is about slowing down, taking stock of – and acknowledging – one’s feelings. Finding gratitude in the little things.
The big things, career-wise, have already fallen into place. CBC Music calls Lightfoot “One of Canada’s best all-around musicians… an amazing tour de force, the complete package.” Guitar Player magazine says she “has a huge voice and a big and gutsy guitar tone to match.” The Globe and Mail says she “cuts like lightning to a tree.” She plays marathon tours (eight countries across four continents, so far), has opened for Willie Nelson and for Bruce Cockburn, and recently launched her own record label Midnight Choir. In 2019, conceived, created, curated, produced, and co-headlined The Longest Road Show, an all-female touring revue.
When Words & Music catches up with Lightfoot, she’s at the tail end of a solo mini-tour of the West Coast, on a double-bill with her fellow ace guitarist, Ariel Posen. The singer-songwriter is travelling with her new husband Jon Auer (songwriter/guitarist for now-defunct American power-pop band The Posies), whom she married in the summer of 2023 (which made one of her recent singles, “Cross Border Lovers,” even more personal than when she first wrote it). Their newfound love permeates the dozen songs on her sixth studio release; so does a re-discovery of everyday simplicity, even as a touring artist living in a quick-moving world. “You have to put in those moments of everyday joy,” says Lightfoot.
Was the musician spent after running at a rapid pace for far too long? “Yeah, I was a bit burned out,” she explains. “Also, I didn’t have a good sense of what was happening around me because everything was moving too fast. It’s up to each musician to set the pace of what they’re going to do … I’m busy again now, but it feels different because I’ve integrated ways to handle it.”
“Handling it,” to Lightfoot, means making time on the road to appreciate Mother Nature’s wonders and bounty, rather than racing from town to town, and motel to motel. Without these pauses, the journey is a blur, rather than something beautiful. Lightfoot shares that, on her most recent tour, in between gigs she and Auer have visited a Buddhist Temple in Austin, a Monarch Butterfly Grove in Southern California, and hiked by the sea in Mendocino.
The seeds for Healing Power arrived far from the California Coast. Alone, on a Swiss mountaintop a few years ago, Lightfoot had an epiphany beneath a European larch tree. As she gazed at the majesty of the vista and the mountains, standing alone in the Austrian Alps, the songwriter felt something. She started to sing and play guitar as if no one was watching. A flood of emotions, unlike any she’d felt in years, overcame her. Mother Nature was telling Lightfoot to find a better balance in her constant chase for success. This catharsis taught the musician a few other things – like it’s okay to write about topics she used to feel were taboo: friendships, addictions, and stories previously too personal to share in song.
“Friendship and community are among the most important things in our lives, so writing about that was therapeutic,” says Lightfoot. “I’ve also processed some anger on this record for the first time. I’m not an angry person, so that’s been cathartic … to write a song and say, ‘I’m actually a bit angry about that.’ I can let that out and process it. Hopefully, others can do the same. That’s what songwriting, for me, has always been about.”
The other important piece of Healing Power was finally bidding adieu to her long-time hometown of Hamilton. “That’s a big piece of the record… leaving the place that made me the musician I am,” says Lightfoot. “I now live in a house in the woods, with a pond, and it’s a place that I love coming home to after a tour; that makes everything better too.”
“Fired My Man” captures how Lightfoot felt about her previous existence. In the second verse she sings, “All my house plants were barely hanging on / It was emergency, ask you, it’s time I made it home.” “I literally I had to get friends to break into my apartment to water my plants sometimes,” she says, “because I wouldn’t know when I was coming back, and thought they were all going to die – as I ‘d been away more than a month. That song is about coming home, not even feeling like you’ve been there, and asking what it even means to have a home if you’re never there.”
New beginnings. Newfound love. A new home, and a new record. Life is good for Terra Lightfoot these days. To the healing power of rock ‘n’ roll, indeed.