Acclaimed Canadian singer songwriter Terra Lightfoot has recently just released her new album Consider The Speed. It comes at the end of an extremely tiring two-year period promoting her much-lauded third studio album New Mistakes – a journey that took her around the world including Australia. From the sonically upbeat Called Out You Name and bluesy Paper Thin Walls to the gospel stylings of the album closer Two Wild Horses, Consider The Speed is an album that looks back at her life. On a personal note, I believe the album also has some wonderful revelations about wisdom and absolute truth. Whether it’s about the bitter pill of bad relationships on It’s Over Now or love and loss on Ramblin’ Rose, Terra exquisite approach to songwriting is most welcomed. Sonically, I still enjoy very much how she draws heavily from her love of rock, soul and blues. That said, I recently caught up with Terra to talk about her latest offering. Here is some of what we talked about.
Terra, a lot has happened since we last touched base. New Mistakes was well received, longlisted for the Polaris Music Prize and even earning a JUNO Award nomination. In that time you also toured relentless to the point of I believe self exhaustion. You are definitely not one who takes a back seat to life?
I’m definitely an all-or-nothing kind of person. I’m just starting to find balance now. The New Mistakes tour was pretty wild and really long. We kept getting great opportunities, so we just kept going. The cost was at the end of that tour, I came home feeling like I didn’t belong there anymore. Of course, since the pandemic hit, I’ve really enjoyed waking up in my own bed, leaving my guitars out of their cases all over the living room. It’s sort of nice to have no particular place to go until we can tour again.
Consider The Speed is your incredible fourth studio album. If I am correct, you recorded the entire album in Memphis, Tennessee at Royal Studios. What was that like for you recording in the same studio as the likes of Al Green and Ann Peebles? The setting must have been truly inspiring?
Thank you! The setting was exactly as you said. I felt like the walls at Royal kept all that music in them, and you can feel it in every room. Everything is old, everything is full of vibe, and some things don’t work the way you expect them to. But that’s the beauty in it. There’s definitely no pretentiousness, no one trying to impress each other.
With the incredible success of New Mistakes, did the pressure of a follow up feed into the making of Consider The Speed?
Oh, for certain. I felt all the normal feelings songwriters get: We compare ourselves and honest with myself although it isn’t an easy place to others or wonder if our work is good. That keeps me healthy to write from….Now the pressure is off, and I’ve definitely learned a LOT about my own writing process that I can take with me as I move forward. We played a livestream to celebrate the album this past weekend, and I can tell you it was a huge emotional release, just to finally let these songs out into the world.
The album has many influences, including a solid rock presence. Was this the direction you were always aiming for?
I wanted to make a soul record — but of course, the rock n roll usually takes over. I find an energy in loud electric guitars that I can’t find anywhere else. It excites me and it lights me up. If I’m writing something softer, my challenge is to keep it that way and not let it run away and become a huge rock song. Ultimately, I wanted to make a record with tender lyrics, something authentic to me and my experiences, and of course, some blisteringly loud Telecaster solos. Probably my favorite example of this is “Midnight Choir” — a very sparse verse followed by a crazy loud Faces-style electric in the choruses.
I understand Jay Newland helped you produce this album. What can you tell me about some of the unsung heroes who played on it with you?
Jay is a legend. He was great in the studio along with Boo Mitchell who engineered the sessions. I had Steve Potts on drums, and he was a true joy to work with. I could walk over to the drum set and sing through ideas with him and we’d work on the parts together. Lester Snell was the same. They say if you need a horn arrangement for a song and you need it fast, you can call Lester and he’ll write it in the car on his way over to the studio! He did the horn arrangement on “One High Note” too. Lester was definitely my kindred soul, his playing is so beautiful and he’s the kindest man. Davy Smith was on bass and my touring bassist Eli Abrams played on a couple tunes too!
You sing across this new album of love, of relationships, heartache and of course a degree of soul-searching. How different do you believe your ideas and themes are on this new album from New Mistakes?
Well there’s a loss on this record. My grandmother Colleen passed away in 2018, and I wrote “Ramblin’ Rose” about hers and my grandfather’s 57-year marriage and letting her go at the end of it. That was definitely my first song written from grief. I also wrote about grace and the slow passage of time on “Two Wild Horses”. I think Consider the Speed, as an album, is all about that – considering how fast or slow things happen, whether that’s a romance or a pattern in your life, something you’ve been trying to let go, or a transition you’ve been trying to make or a risk you’ve wanted to take. All of us have those things that we want to accomplish or let go of and I wanted to write about them all.
Terra, you seem to have this knack of allowing some very relatable moments to sink in with the listener. Could you tell us something about how your latest single It’s Over Now came about?
It’s definitely a bit of a bitter song. Of course we all remember the bad relationships we’ve been in, the ones where we might learn a lot but we also get so badly hurt in the process. This is a song about looking back to that relationship and not letting the other person mess with your memory of it or take anything else away from you. It’s about standing up for yourself and taking back your power. I remember seeing Bonnie Raitt a couple years ago in concert, and she talked about how most of the songs she’s released weren’t written by her, but that when she does write, she’s usually angry about something. I had never tried that before but for this one I thought, “What the hell?”
I am very smitten by Paper Thin Walls. It drives along nicely with wonderful bluesy undertones. What can you tell me about how it came about?
Thank you! I started writing this one when we were touring New Mistakes in Japan (no surprise there’s a line about learning Japanese in there). I was on top of a mountain near Tokyo and the lyrics just started coming to me. When I was home and making demos, I had some drums set up and I just sat down and started playing the sort of strange rhythm you hear in the chorus and singing the words. I’m definitely not a drummer by trade but it was fun to write that way, and the recording translates a ton of that off-the-cuff energy.
Called Out Your Name is sonically also quite upbeat. Is that an organ I also hear in the background? Can you tell me something else surprising about it?
That’s definitely an organ, played by the genius, Lester Snell. I wrote that one after a nice conversation with my mentor and friend Daniel Lanois. I was over at his place and I was showing him the song and he said, “Yeah, but you need a riff!!”. It was also a great place to start the record. I shook hands with the band about an hour before we cut that take, and I think you can hear that sense of urgency in the recording.
Another one of my favourite songs, Two Wild Horses from the album, comes very late. It seems like a fitting conclusion to the album. Was that deliberate decision to have it end the album? And if so, can you elaborate a little about it?
Thank you! That’s my timepiece on the record, it explains everything I wanted to do with Consider the Speed. I put it last cause I felt like it tied up all the loose ends. This is the song that broke the dam of my writer’s block. I was in Nashville trying to write songs for the album and I was feeling so inefficient, having been there for days but not having any songs I liked yet, I was freaking out about the past and the future but I wasn’t at all in the present. I went out to clear my head on a Saturday night, and in the middle of a rural highway in Nashville, I nearly ran into two horses in the middle of the road. I pulled over to try and help them, but all these cars were still speeding by, it was almost like no one else could see them except me. I couldn’t figure out where they came from, and eventually they ran off into the night — but that served to pull me right back to the present moment. I realized that writing songs didn’t matter, that nothing really mattered in that moment except those two horses standing in front of me on a busy road in the middle of the night. That experience really stirred something in me and definitely laid the foundation for the whole record. Five days later, I got the song “Two Wild Horses”, then “Consider the Speed”, and then each song from the album made their way to me after that. Ultimately, that song was about reflecting on my entire history: How before my music career really started, I was living in a shitty apartment and could barely pay my rent, staying out ’til all hours and I wasn’t really progressing but I couldn’t see that at the time. But those two wild horses made me realize that I’ve come so far since then, and I should be proud of that.
Almost everyone I know, including myself, has some level of anxiety at the moment. So I guess before I let you go, I hope you’re coping in these unprecedented times? Here’s hoping we see you again sometime next year.
Thank you! Yes, I’m happy to say I’m doing okay. I just can’t wait to get on the road again — and to return to Australia whenever things settle down.
Another terrific interview Rob. You always ask great questions that reveal both a love and respect for the artists and that you’ve done your homework in preparing probing and relevant questions. And it’s always nice when artists open up and provide honest, lengthy responses. Oh, and I like Terra’s voice too, and what a guitarist!