Canadian music veteran Alan Doyle shows a new side

While Alan Doyle's projects have led him through folk, rock and pop music, his latest EP sees his love for country coming through the most. With a cast of co-writers, Rough Side Out has Doyle balancing strong creative friendships with ambitious firsts in his career. We caught up with Doyle ahead of his March 28 show at the National Arts Centre to discuss Newfoundland, his bizarre luck at assembling a crowd and how he got involved in a musical.

Ottawa Life: How did you get involved with Donovan Woods and Todd Clark to write "We Don't Wanna Go Home" and how was that writing chemistry different from your previous work together?

Alan Doyle: Very organically. When I start a project, I just call up a bunch of friends to help me write songs since I like co-writing more than solo. Donovan and Todd are often called first all the time because we tend to have a great time and great success. They both have no shortage of requests these days too, so I appreciate getting their time. I went to Toronto and Nashville to work, and we all just wrote a bunch of songs. You write a lot and pick the ones you like the best.

Speaking of collaboration, how did Tara Sloane, Allan Hawco and The Wiggles of all people get in the video for that song?

Alan Doyle: The video was a perfect storm of people all being in St. Johns on the same night, and it was a Monday if I remember correctly. Dean Brody and the Reklaws were rolling through on a tour, and Tara was in town for a shoot. Hawco was in town to and then lo and behold The Wiggles was also in town. My friend Nick from Splash'N Boots was subbing in for one of the Wiggles, so he offered to bring them over. We had a party at a bar with everyone and filmed the video in the middle of it.

Rough Side Out borders on full-album length so I was curious how the genesis of this record is being cited all the way back to "It's Friday" (2012) and when you decided it would land on a smaller release?

Alan Doyle: The length of the record was more of a response to how I feel people are consuming music these days. In the early days of Great Big Sea we were debating between releasing on CDs and tapes, which seems ridiculous now. I'm trying to find something that people want, and then the music is its own thing. The music I usually do based on what feels most interesting to me at the time. The sound is a whimsical thing I chase within the record, and this time it ended up sounding kind of country.

And do you feel like Rough Side Out is working as this metaphor for home and people, or does it hold a meaning within your approach to the record too?

Alan Doyle: The origin has to do with those house sidings in Newfoundland, since they would be practical and put the rougher side out. I like that as a reflection of Newfoundlanders preferring practicality over fashion. A friend had also joked "Newfoundland houses and Newfound men, both rough side out." Even the art we'd picked has this country look but it's also distinctly Newfoundland.

Alternatively your collaboration with Jess Moskaluke for  “What the Whiskey Won't Do was your first with them, and the first time you'd been able to perform this kind of duet rather than just write it, so how did that perfect storm come together?

Alan Doyle: The song was just one of those titles I'd had in my pocket for a while. I knew if I brought that title to Nashville that people would jump on it, and it would produce a good song. I have written a lot of duets and I wanted it to be that way. It was harder when I was in a band,  because doing a duet in those projects feels off. I needed someone to sing it with and I wanted it to be Jess. I was a fan of her after hearing her, and long before I met her. She came on during an awards show and it was like hearing music through a new set of speakers.

I've heard you're also collaborating on a musical version of "The Grand Seduction" called the Telltale Harbour, what's that been like and how did that happen?

Alan Doyle: Charlottetown Festival and their creative director contacted me a year ago about creating a stage musical of "The Grand Seduction." They had a team assembled, and they'd reached out to me. We've been working on it for a year and they're just spending a few more months to finish it. Hopefully it goes on over a couple summers. They wanted an Atlantic Canadian voice to craft the songs. And they were looking for someone who was ideally familiar with not just Newfoundland music but also Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and Acadian music. I'd made songs in those forms before, but ultimately I don't know anything about musical theatre. There's not songs that follow that usual structure of pausing for talking. So I'm learning as I go, and it's  lots of fun.

You actually got the lucky privilege of getting about a week of time with the album out before you're on the road, so do you find that kind of lead helps the shows?

Alan Doyle: It definitely helps to show up in a place where people know the tunes. But sometimes you don't get to tour for months after your records out. This is perfect for me, you get about seven days and there's seven songs, so it's like a song a day.

Photo: Courtesy Warner Music