It's called a controlled burn – an ecological intervention of sorts whereby a forest is intentionally set ablaze in order to start anew, to stave off suffocation and spur new growth. It's a fairly apt metaphor for how Ben Rogers' album, Wildfire
, came to be; maybe not completely "controlled," per se, but still a means to the same welcome end.
"I needed to regroup, to reassess my place in music and the place music has in my life," shares the B.C.-based troubadour, recalling the period of creative stagnancy that preceded his latest collection.
With a pair of acclaimed solo albums to his name – 2015's The Bloodred Yonder
and 2013's Lost Stories: Volume One
– Rogers was turning heads with compelling songs and captivating performances. But while listeners were gravitating towards his fresh take on country-tinged folk and Americana, Rogers found himself drifting away from it.
"I'd just grown tired of that style – of what had become my style," he candidly admits. "I'm not exactly sure when, but it left me at some point. I still love that type of music, but my place in it just didn't feel relevant anymore."
He didn't abandon music altogether. Collaborations with the likes of JUNO Award nominated, blues duo The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer and performances with psych rock outfit Ghostmeat continued, but his future as a sharer of original songs was uncertain. "I was struggling to find what I wanted to say next," he offers – "if anything at all." Fortunately, as is often the case, Rogers found exactly what he was seeking right around the time he'd stopped looking.
"I just completely let go of any obligation I felt to write anything," he recalls, and that's when his muse revealed herself once again. "Things were coming out totally organically; nothing was forced. It came from a place of solitude and the self-examination that comes with that, and really felt like something new."
The 11 tracks comprising Wildfire are still rooted in folk and Americana, though an earnest new attitude permeates them all – a raw, hazy, rock-inspired swagger that channels the likes of possessed masterminds from Nick Cave to Otis Redding to Marc Bolan of T.Rex. Put simply, the sound is enveloping and the authenticity palpable. Rogers penned them all on his own and brought them to life under the guidance of a new collaborator - Dallas Green (City and Colour, Alexisonfire, You+Me), sitting in the producer's chair for his first time. Ironically, their partnership was born during a period that each was overcoming a creative impasse.
Green explains what initially drew him to the project: "I recognized something really special about this collection of songs – this vulnerability from Ben was really moving to me. I think it was a brilliant experience for all of us and resulted in a really beautiful record. Not only do I believe in it and think it's fantastic, but it also did something for me; it really opened a whole new chapter of my creative life."
Rogers echoes the sentiment. "I can tell Dallas cares about this project as much as I do. He is just so devoted to the process. He really challenged us, but with a generosity of spirit that you just don't encounter that often. It was the best experience I've ever had on a creative level."
Rounding out the recording experience were co-producer Karl Bareham and Rogers' long time band: Matt Kelly (City and Colour) on pedal steel and keys, Erik Nielsen (Dralms, Rich Hope) on bass, John Sponarski (Aaron Pritchett) on lead guitar, and Leon Power (Frazey Ford) at the kit.
The idea of rebirth and renewal is one that lingers throughout Wildfire's lyrics, as do themes of detachment, disconnection, and confrontation with the past from a more educated and enlightened perspective. And yet, there's a thread of optimism that laces it all together.
Ultimately, the record cements Rogers' status as a peerless creator and storyteller. A skilled woodworker and gifted actor with his share of film and television credits, it's when creating music that the facets of his artistic self meet in perfect harmony, and Wildfire only reaffirms that – particularly for its creator.
"I just want to let this music speak for itself," Rogers concludes. "I'm really proud of it, and very grateful to have found this new path forward for my music." It was just a matter of stepping back from it all to find himself once again – to burn it all down and let something new take root.