Montreal’s Cam Maclean chats Secret Verses & working with Cadence Weapon

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Watch the full interview above:

A few weeks ago, Montreal’s Cam Maclean released Secret Verses, an album of nostalgic melodies led by a glorious guitar playing, made with the help of his friend and Polaris Music Prize-winner, Rollie Pemberton AKA Cadence Weapon.

Cam is an old friend of mine and one of the most talented guitarists I’ve ever met,” Pemberton says, describing Maclean as a “meditative and emotive singer-songwriter who reminds me of Nick Drake.

Maclean is a singer-songwriter, guitarist, multi-instrumentalist and music educator. He first made his name as part of Vesuvio Solo, an indie-pop project he led with Thom Gillies (TOPS, Exit Someone, Blue Material) through the albums Favors (2014) and Don’t Leave Me in the Dark (2016), both of which were nominated for the Polaris Prize.

In 2018, he went solo with Wait For Love – a debut solo album that received praise from Noisey, Gorilla vs. Bear, Le Devoir and ET Canada, among others. In late 2019, Maclean completed a residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, where he began writing and composing the tracks that would form Secret Verses.

The full-length emphasizes Maclean’s songwriting talent: from lyrics and melodies to harmonies and arrangements. The influences range from 60’s art-pop (Beach Boys, Beatles) to 70’s folk, 80’s new wave and classic indie rock. All this with fluidity and an honesty that unifies the whole.

This week, Maclean released the video for the track, Thief. The song was written as a tribute to all of the unseen work artists involve themselves in – especially in trying to create during difficult times. The music video was filmed and directed by Ariana Molly and explores the idea of the artist as a ‘thief in the night,’ who steals small objects and trinkets (ideas, themes, observations) from the world that are eventually transformed when they appear in songs.

I wrote “Thief” during a particularly hard month in the pandemic, trying to speak to the experience of writing songs on my own – with nothing going on in my life outside of my apartment,” says Maclean. “My record’s title, Secret Verses, is taken from a line in the song – “you write the secret verses that contain a single thought, that is somehow multiplied a thousand ways.” This came out of the experience of ruminating on musical and lyrical ideas that just didn’t work until I realized that my writer’s block itself – in light of the lack of real-life inspiration – was the real-life experience that I had to write about.”

Cam tells me working as a solo artist wasn’t exactly what he expected after his previous band broke up.

“I’ve learned that being a solo artist is different than working in a band. I mean, when I released my first solo record in 2018, it was on the cusp of having done some big touring with my previous band and releasing two Polaris-nominated records. And I sorta went in like, oh well, this is going to go just as well as those things. I’m not starting fresh. I’m building directly on the fan base that I had from my other band, blah, blah, blah, just a bit too cocky. I’ve since grown up quite a bit. I wasn’t too cocky in other ways even then, but I was assuming a bit too confidently that I would just be directly using the same steam that I had garnered from my previous releases with my other band, Vesuvio Solo. And so this time, not only did I not make such assumptions, but I was much less willing to compromise in terms of my artistic vision. I wanted an album that spoke to increasing sort of modalities within which I write songs, one being sort of the more soft rock kind of thing that I’ve been doing for a long time with my previous band and with my last record and another being a more acoustic-driven singer-songwriter kind of thing. And so the album is kind of neatly divided between the more poppy first half and the more acoustic second half.”

Speaking of working with Cadence Weapon, Maclean says working with an artist from a completely different genre has only benefitted him.

“He always sends me new stuff that he’s working on and vice versa. And he sends me more stuff than I send him, just because he’s a bit more prolific than me as a songwriter, but I send him stuff as it’s unfolding and yeah, during the pandemic, it was endless email exchanges or Zooms and it was songs that I had started to write during the residency that I did at the Banff Centre in late 2019. I was sending those to him and then the pandemic started and we were doing that sort of back and forth, emailing of song ideas. And then he just said, why don’t I produce your record? And I, you know, of course, agreed and one of the benefits has been that, even though he’s very much a hip hop artist, he’s honestly much more of a music nerd than me in a really broad sense. Like he just listens to everything and he constantly keeps up with what’s going on. I don’t do that. I don’t even listen to music every day, to be honest. I play music every day, but he definitely listens to music every day and studies music, so he has knowledge of just so many genres. So for example, a song on my record, Wild Roses, which is the last song on the record. It’s the most straightforward singer-songwriter song on the record. It’s just really lyrically dense and musically simple. And he wanted to add some sort of theremin-like synth textures to it, which we ended up doing, which I wouldn’t have thought of doing. And it was actually me playing a thing called an Ebow on the guitar, which sort of sounds like a theremin and added some street recordings that he did as well, to speak to the, you know, thematic imagery of travel in the song. But that was one of the big things is like, how does this sound, what sounds can we bring to these songs, as opposed to me just thinking, what instruments can I play, or how can I sing this?”

Secret Verses is out now

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