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Spencer Burton Finds his North Wind Bliss

The singer-songwriter goes off the map to uncover the best songs he’s ever written in the isolated wilderness of rural Ontario. 

by Stephan Boissonneault 

Photo by Vanessa Heins

There is a place where country-folk singer-songwriter Spencer Burton goes to escape it all; a place of solitude where he now finds true inspiration away from life’s impending distractions, and a place where he can truly be alone with himself and his thoughts. Sometimes his country farm up in Ridgeville, ON is not quiet enough, so he travels more than eight hours north. There he finds seclusion in the cabin—a desolate log cabin built in the 1950s that can only be reached by boating, up around Sault Ste. Marie. But even if he gave you the address, which he wouldn’t, it would be impossible to find. 

“When I’m there, I don’t see anybody or hear anything other than wolves and bears. It’s awesome,” Burton tells RANGE over a pixelated Zoom screen, scratching his long auburn beard. In that same cabin, Burton wrote all of the bones of his third album, North Wind, on a little gut string nylon guitar. 

Although the cabin eventually gave him the peace he was searching for, he never intended to write a full album—quite the opposite. In late 2021, Burton was feeling like he might be a career songwriter who had run out of songs. He had just spent the last two decades playing with Niagara region indie punk favs, Attack in Black (along with the brothers Romano), and had stints touring with City and Colour. But still, he couldn’t write one damn song.

“I couldn’t focus, I thought the fucking world was ending, you know, things just weren’t happening for me artistically and mentally, as they used to,” Burton says. But after a couple of days and many bonfires outside of the cabin, a song appeared, almost out of the starry nighttime sky.

“There’s not much to do out there, so I started plucking away on the guitar and all of a sudden, songs started pouring in,” he says with a big grin. “I’d stay there another night and it was like ‘boom,’ song. I’d stay there another night and ‘boom.’ Another song. I’d go back home to the farm, come back to the cabin a month later, and ‘boom.’ Another song. It was this repetitive, almost ritualistic thing.”

At that time, Burton had no idea why all these songs were pouring out of him. Now, reflecting on the experience years later, he realizes it was because he was finding beauty and poetry in the little things: a babbling brook, the crack of dry wood on a campfire, the melodious songs of birds, the distantor sometimes very nearhowls of wolves and coyotes. 

As a folk songwriter, usually, you’re searching. Constantly searching for the thoughts to be able to write about important topics; topics and opinions that might even change the world. Burton’s done this before, but this time, he turned all that off. “I wrote a fuckin’ song about going fishing, man,” Burton chuckles. “That’s all it’s about. I think when you’re surrounded by dismay, which I think we all are constantly with emotional and financial struggles, if you can find places like that, where you forget about all the bullshit, it helps the mind wander into some pretty beautiful places.”

 

“I think when you’re surrounded by dismay, which I think we all are constantly with emotional and financial struggles, if you can find places like that, where you forget about all the bullshit, it helps the mind wander into some pretty beautiful places.”

 

Like many creative artists, Burton is sometimes plagued with a wandering mind, so it helps to have moments of quiet at the cabin when he only thinks about one or two things. In the case of the live video for his song “Goodbye,” recorded at his country farm home, that thing was physical pain. Due to a rogue wisdom tooth, Burton’s back molar tooth had cracked, causing him pure agony—as he says, the most physical pain he’d ever experienced. But with the video booked and obligations to the arriving crew, Burton banged out the songs in 45 minutes almost on autopilot, including “Goodbye.” The live-off-the-floor one-take version became what we hear on North Wind.

“I think the point of this story is that if you only focus on one thing, you don’t overthink and do like 400 takes of one song. In that case, this building pain,” Burton says. “That tooth got ripped out in the end, so maybe I just need to get the shit kicked out of me before I go in the studio again.”