I first heard Vern Cbeechoo on the Goose Wings album. He impressed me then and he impresses me still.
I finally got a chance to catch up with this travelling man in Wemindji, where he performed some of his latest music at the 35th anniversary of the community’s move from Old Factory Island. The concert started about one and a half hours late. Not bad for Cree time and well worth the wait. Vern granted The Nation an interview after the concert.
This Cree comes from Moose Factory but is currently in Toronto getting ready to record a new album this fall. Vern’s last album was called Lonesome and Hurting. It came out in 1992 and had a countryish sound.
The sounds of Vern Cheechoo have changed to a harder native beat. If his music sent chills up and down your spine before, watch out now! Vern and his band shines in the new sounds
The Nation: The last time you were in Wemindji it was with Wapistan (Lawrence Martin). What do you think of his recent success?
Vern: I’m glad for him because we always talked about it. We talked about doing what we’re doing now. I guess back then we expected it to be a little more… [laughter]. Well, we were younger and we wanted to be stars and stuff like that. It’s not like that. It’s a lot of work.
When you sign a deal with somebody, people think right away that you’ve made it. Now you’re supposed to be rich and
things like that. It’s not like that. When you sign with a label that’s when the work just begins. A lot of promotion has go into it with a lot of roadwork to create a following.
So that’s what we are trying to do right now. It’s tough getting into opening spots for other artists. You need luck and hard work to create opportunities for yourself. With the new album we’re going to have an even bigger push.
Some of the songs you do deal with that.
Yes, some of the songs deal with the chances and I’d like to put those on the album.
What would you call your music style? Tonight I’ve heard a little country, a little rock, blues and sometimes pop.
I just want to keep people guessing, I guess… [laughter]. I don’t know. I don’t know where you would put me: I guess it’s a measure of Santana, CCR [Credence Clearwater Revival], Hank Williams… [laughter]. All my influences from the past—Jimmy Rogers, Billy Joe Shaver.
The kind of writing I like to do is to have the song say something, mean something. You know they are about me but they’re something people can relate to. Everyone has these things in their head.
When can we expect your next album out?
Probably by next January or February. It’s a long process creating an album. I know at least this process is taking a while… [laughter]. I haven’t been in a studio in a while.
While performing you mentioned problems with your wife. Was this because you were on the road so much?
I think it’s something that happened over the years. We didn’t know what we were getting into when we got married. It’s been in the last year or so that things have finally settled down and everything has come together for us. We just had to say let’s stop this because I’m sort of not feeling comfortable with this. My wife was saying the same thing. We decided we would let each other go and grow on our own for a little while. We decided to take that time, to give each other that time to be on our own for a while.
What it’s done for us is to bring us back together. It’s great.
I’ve noticed there are a lot of personal messages in your songs. Is this to help other people?
Yes. There’s a lot of people out there, especially the young people. They are committing suicide—it’s become an epidemic out there. The kind of work that’s going on in the com m unities is to try and resolve that situation. It’s looking at young people and the problems they are facing. There’s solvent abuse, alcohol abuse, sexual abuse and young people don’t know how to deal with it. The older people have problems of their own and they can’t see what young people are going through.
A lot of people today are starting to change that. They are beginning to heal themselves—to see what’s going on with the young people.
And that’s what the songs are about. Right now for the young people, to send a positive message to the young people. To help them get off that merry-go-round and get a breath. To look around and see it’s beautiful.
A lot of people are starting to stop the cycle of abuse. This is very hopeful.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Yes, I’m on my way to sleep now. It’s been a long day [lots of laughter all around]…
People wanting to get Vern’s music live should contact Serge Sloimovits of Dark Light Music at 416-977-9859.