Jeremy Dutcher is a classically trained tenor, composer and musicologist Woloastoqiyik member of the Wabanaki Confederacy hailing from Wolastokuk (Fredericton, New Brunswick) and Neqotkuk (Tobique First Nation). He lives in Tiotià:kem, which is also known as Montreal.
His debut album, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, came out of an in-depth study of archival recordings of traditional Wolastoqiyik songs archived at the Canadian Museum of History. Rather than a sample-meets-modern studio tech take on creating a contemporary spin on tradition, Dutcher chose to approach the sessions more as inter-historical duets with ancestors in their shared Wolastoqey language. Pairing the historic sessions with his own soaring tenor and applying Indigenous and Western compositional forms produced a record unlike anything that had come before.
Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa won both the 2018 Polaris Music Prize and the 2019 Juno Award for Indigenous Music Album of the Year.
Intensive touring followed, as well as collaborations with everyone from Yo-Yo Ma and Buffy Sainte-Marie to Beverly Glenn Copeland. All the time, the two-spirit artist worked on the follow-up. In May, the single Skicinuwihkuk dropped. The beautiful tune addresses issues related to land sovereignty.
It is followed by a full-length album titled MOTEWOLONUWOK ᒣᑏᐧᐁᓓᓄᐧᐁᒃ. Released by Montreal’s Secret City Records, the 11-track record features Dutcher’s first forays into writing and singing in English. Tracks such as the moving Ancestors Too Young dive into the loss endemic in the modern Indigenous experience. Clearly, it’s not saccharine pop music.
Prior to embarking on a cross-Canada tour kicking off on Oct. 19 at the Tidemark Theatre in Campbell River, which brings the artist to Calgary’s Bella Concert Hall on Oct. 23 and Edmonton’s Winspear Centre Oct. 24, Dutcher talked about the creative process behind his first new music in five years.
Here are five things to take away from that discussion.
1 – The conundrum of touring Canada
It’s exciting to be taking new music and telling new stories from coast to coast again. But, when a Canadian tour was proposed, I was given a list of all the provinces we were going and had to ask, “What about the North?” This project is all about Indigenous stories and revitalising language, so it should be getting taken to the source of such action. So one of the conditions was that we had to put together a Northern tour to really make it cross-Canada.
2 – Expanding the Indigenous conversation on MOTEWOLONUWOK ᒣᑏᐧᐁᓓᓄᐧᐁᒃ into other communities
We keep drawing the circle wider and wider every time. This time, inspiration came from everything from Cherokee writer Qwo-li Driskill’s poetic verse “from the heavy debris of loss, together we emerge,” to other meetings with First Nations telling me about their art.
3 – Bringing English into the mix
The first album was very geared toward my Wolastoqey language-speaking family with no translations, to say, “Look at how beautiful we are and our language and old songs, and what if we took this old way to imagine ourselves in a new way.” It was a very particular conversation I was having. But having all these people who wanted to listen to it that had no entry point into the language made me decide why not use English to provide that access and include newcomer and settler communities in the content. I spend most of my daily life speaking English.
4 – Not holding back on musical meetings
I didn’t hold back on any interests in crafting the album. There is the backing group which has become an essential component after touring. There are orchestral contributions from people like Owen Pallett on Skicinuwihkuk, amazing choral contributions and others. The process of bringing in all of these different contacts I’ve met over the years was incredibly liberating, with artists even going as far as to learn some of my language and more. If I could only fly a 12-member choir and strings around with me and these heavy jazz improvisors in the band, I would.
5 – Living in new sonic spaces
It’s a bit unnerving to expand the sonic range into these other realms, because the first record was a such a clear and singular story based on a research project. Moving from me and a piano at the start to the band was a big change. I started this off like the great composers of old, working with the words of others. Now, I’ve gone even further, finding my English singing voice and writing my own lyrics. It’s been a journey I can’t wait to share.