Callan Furlong Keeps It Simple

Callan Furlong Promo Picture

If only Hank Williams Sr. was around, he just might appreciate Toronto’s Callan Furlong, performing at Plan B Lounge on Tuesday evening. Furlong’s debut EP The Fool I Was Before draws inspiration from Williams, the Sun Records catalogue as well as from other pioneers of the country music movement, capturing one of arguably the best snapshots of this critical era in the history of music.

Furlong’s move into country music was never an assumed thing however. Growing up, he says that he listened to everything from the Gypsy Kings to the Talking Heads before gravitating towards acts like Sum 41, System Of A Down and Marilyn Manson.

“Eventually I started really digging into songwriters, and found my favourite three writers who have stayed at the top of my list ever since: Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Tom Waits,” Furlong tells The Times & Transcript. “My stuff isn’t remotely comparable to those three songwriters, but they are definitely the reason I started writing songs. I was never in choirs or anything when I was young, so when I first started singing it wasn’t pretty. But finding these people who could use language in such a powerful way, whose voices carried so much emotion, expressiveness and weight but were so many miles away from the world of American Idol, gave me a lot of confidence that I could bring something to the table as a singer as well.”

Furlong foray into country music is all the more surprising since, by his own account, he enjoyed virtually all styles of music with the exception of country.

“In high school, the band took a trip to New Orleans that also happened to stop off in Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry. On that trip, I befriended a girl who, when we got back to Toronto, loaned me a book of Hank Williams songs. I never looked back after that.

“I was very quickly captivated by how brilliant the music is in its simplicity. You don’t need anything but a voice and an instrument to make country music, People making something out of nothing, making something beautiful without too many bells and whistles has always appealed to me,” Furlong says.

He says that the five songs featured on The Fool I Was Before serve as before and after snapshots in one sense of the word. Realizing that he had been striving for perfection right across the board on all of his songs, it forced Furlong back to the drawing board one too many times. After coming to the realization that it is the little imperfections that give music the character that is lacking in much of the music being made today, his job suddenly got a whole lot easier.

“I had spent years writing songs, getting halfway through them and then discarding them,” he says. “Eventually, it started to sink in that striving for that perfection is what ultimately stops you from ever being able to do anything well. The way I see it, perfectionism is really just a defense mechanism designed to stop you from finding out how good or bad you really are at something.

“So I set myself a deadline to write and record five songs. I decided they needed a little bit more than just me and my guitar, so I went into the studio with a few of my friends.”

Furlong brought in a couple of friends to help him record the songs, playing them each of the tracks once before they set about recording the song together. Much to his surprise (and delight), he, guitarist Nichol Robertson and upright bassist Wes Allen nailed each of the takes.

“I had never played these songs with anyone before so it was really something to hear them come alive for the first time when the tape was rolling. We recorded the EP live off the floor with no overdubs and no edits.”

And though he admits that the EP is not technically perfect (“There are some small mistakes, mostly on my part”), the end result is something that he is excited to bring to Moncton next week.

“I’ve always found records that are a little rough around the edges to be charming. I hope that is how the EP comes across to listeners.”

Article published in the April 5, 2013 edition of the Times & Transcript