Thomas McCallum, a textbook picture of a small town Nova Scotian singer-songwriter, prescribes to a certain Woody Guthrie quote: “There are folk singers, and there are people who sing folk songs.”
The 23-year-old Religious Studies/Classics major just released his first EP on Jan. 20, partly for personal expression and partly to springboard into a freewheeling musical career.
“I’ve been writing songs since I was about fifteen. Started getting better over time, playing in different places. Every now and then I’d get somebody coming up to me asking ‘do you have anything?’ in terms of recording.”
“What really inspired (the EP) was, I was working at a church in St. John’s, the Trinity Anglican there, and it was basically my whole life. I realized I needed something outside the church… by that point some of the songs were getting to be so old, I thought it’s best to record them now.”
This past summer McCallum contacted New Brunswick’s REM Studios to record what had been kicking around in his head for so long. He got some colleagues together to do background instrumentals too.
“You need to have something recorded so that you can send out to people. So you can go play places.”
Despite the six-or-so-year development process, where inspiration was gradually pulled off random things, McCallum says most of the songs were written in less than a day.
“The way I’ll write a song is that I’ll start thinking about a specific person, and then I’ll just kind of add to that. Things that aren’t necessarily about that person at all, but it’s kind of a caricature of that person.”
“Crocus Song,” for example, was written in Grade 12 after McCallum’s girlfriend broke up with him.
“Anybody who had their Grade 12 girlfriend probably thought they were going to be with them forever. Marry them and have a bunch of children and live a perfect life. I have a bunch of people telling me ‘That’s such a happy song’, but not really.”
McCallum says if there’s one song absolutely dead-on with nothing exaggerated, it’s “Goodnight,” written while McCallum worked at a church summer camp in the summer of 2012.
It was composed late at night in an empty cabin, and he wanted to capture the feeling of loneliness being surrounded by others who don’t understand you. In his case it was a bunch of kids. Being a King’s student, another major influence behind “Goodnight” is the theme of solitude in Pseudo-Dionysus.
“It’s really just a John Prine song revamped.”
While artists like Prine, Old Man Luedecke and Leonard Cohen are major influences, McCallum says he doesn’t like to subscribe to a specific label beyond singer-songwriter. Despite a huge appreciation for folk, that is.
“I guess a goal of mine is to write a true folk song.”
McCallum plans on doing just that, taking the next 18 to 24 months after graduation this spring to “really go at music… to write more songs and work with other musicians.” One local artist McCallum admires and ultimately aspires to be like is fellow FYP alumni Nick Everett.
“What I’d like is the time and resources to collaborate with other people… I’d just like to have a good solid little group that I can rely on.”