Published Mar 07, 2016One glance at the title of Toronto songwriter Charlotte Cornfield's second album, Future Snowbird (out March 11 on Consonant Records), and you can't help but think of Gene MacLellan's great folk song, made a hit by Anne Murray, and, by extension, the larger Canadian folk scene. Or flying south for the winter.
Yet Cornfield wasn't thinking of the famous song, at least not consciously, when she jotted Future Snowbird down a the end of a list of ideas (though she was toying with the idea of escaping for winter).
"I think there's a little humour to the title of the record, because there's a little bit of humour in my songwriting," Cornfield tells Exclaim! over tea at Holy Oak, just up the street from the Rooster studio, where she recorded Future Snowbird with Don Kerr. "It's funny because my last record is called Two Horses and everybody was like, 'Is there a Patti Smith reference in there?' and I said, 'No, not consciously.' It had nothing to do with that. Funny that the same thing is happening."
It's been five years since Cornfield's debut came out; following that, she toured Europe before moving to New York. She calls that time the most consolidated period of growth she's experienced and "the best and worst time of my life all smashed into a couple of years." Though she recorded her new album after coming back to Canada, two years in New York deeply informed many of the songs on Future Snowbird.
"I went 'cause I'd always idolized the city and there's so much to experience there," Cornfield says. "It's kind of a long story, but within four days of getting to New York, I met the guy who was to become my long-term boyfriend."
Cornfield's experience of the Big Apple wasn't all so romantic — it's given her a newfound appreciation for the basic quality of life she's always had in Canada. "I felt that there was more stress, more urgency, in day-to-day life and that affected my anxiety level in a major way and tipped the scales for me," she says. "I lived in this house with a bunch of other artsy-fartsy people, kind of on the outskirts of the Prospect Park neighbourhood [in Brooklyn] and we were living off of scraps of food. We would buy this bucket of tahini and that would be our protein."
Abruptly, in April of 2014, Cornfield packed her bags and returned home to Toronto, where she spent the summer at a café on Toronto Island "slinging coffees" while she resettled. "It was so therapeutic to go there every day," she says. Not long after that she got her band together and made plans to record.
"Something I read a lot of artists say is 'I feel like I'm getting closer to me,'" says Cornfield, who says that applies to the approach she took with Kerr and her band on the new album, which was basically "rehearse a bunch and then play the songs." "I think there's a natural quality to the record, and how I approach my music in general, that comes across," Cornfield says. "This is how I feel about the music: I want it to be delivered with ease."
It no doubt helps that Cornfield has known two of her bandmates — drummer Sam Rosenberg and bassist Kathryn Palumbo — since she was a teenager and she played with pianist/accordionist Damon Hankoff in New York. Guitarist Sam Gleason joined last summer. Tim Darcy (Ought) sings a duet with Cornfield on "Mercury," Johnny Spence plays synth on "No Spook" and "Exoh," and Kerr contributes some backup vocals.
Future Snowbird's straight-ahead approach yields some great performances, including standout "Big Volcano, Small Town," and allows the listener to soak up Cornfield's endearingly clever and verbose lyrics. On songs like Narnia-referencing "Aslan," Cornfields' love for Bob Dylan shines through. "The thing about Dylan, and Neil Young and Joni," says Cornfield, "is that at different times in my life different records of theirs have been my favourites. Sometimes in rehearsals I'll break into a Bob Dylan accent and once I tried to cover a Beyonce song in a Bob Dylan accent — it was pretty funny."
As she prepares to launch Future Snowbird, Cornfield might be even more stoked about a recent process-oriented residency she did in Banff, which saw her recording with Brendan Canning, Charles Spearin, Kevin Drew and top-notch engineers like Shawn Everitt. "It might be the genesis of something," she says. "I recorded four or five songs.
"It was the best two weeks of my life," Cornfield adds. "When I got back I was literally walking all over the city with a stupid smile on my face." The experience also infused her with a newfound confidence in her work. "I had been asking myself, 'What do I want out of music?' Cornfield says, and Banff affirmed, "'You do this thing, and you can connect with people through that' — cause I think we all need that at some point in our lives."
Check out the video for "Big Volcano, Small Town" below: