Heart on a String

After six years, Winnipeg singer-songwriter Greg MacPherson is coming back to play for the Yukon.

His voice drips with energy and passion in anticipation of the trip, despite coming off what he calls the busiest year of his life.

“I really need to play music,” the 38 year-old says from his downtown Winnipeg office, where he works as executive director of the not-for-profit West Broadway Development Corporation (WBDC).

“It’s more than an artistic release for me, it’s very personal.”

On January 20 Greg MacPherson will play at Odd Fellow’s Hall in Dawson City. PHOTOS: Courtesy of Greg MacPherson

In July 2005, MacPherson played at the Dawson City Music Festival, and the following year the Frostbite Music Festival in Whitehorse. On January 20 he returns to the Yukon, belted with a Polaris nomination in 2010, and a raw, unleashed folk-rock solo performance in Dawson up his sleeve.

With Whitehorse opening act, Old Cabin, MacPherson’s show at Odd Fellows Hall starts at 8:15 p.m. The following afternoon, he will digress with locals in a two-hour songwriting workshop.

No show is scheduled for Whitehorse, but an impromptu performance during his one-night layover before heading to Dawson is a possibility.

MacPherson admits he favours a little room for surprise – a concept he lives and writes by.

“Rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be dangerous and full of possibility. It shouldn’t be scripted or theatrical – at least not the stuff that I like,” he says.

“I like the stuff that is fresh and crazy and different, challenging and exciting.”

With early influences from greasy ’70s Stillwater Bible records, MacPherson’s gritty, emotional sound elicits years of odd jobs, social activism and a nomadic lifestyle. Born in Sydney, Nova Scotia and making his home in Winnipeg, MacPherson – whose father worked in the military – has moved 37 times. He has played as widely as Paris, Berlin and Prague.

This fall he toured Germany with his latest album, Disintegration Blues. In late November he played in Queens, New York.

“I’ve lived in seven different provinces and just really got a travel bug early,” MacPherson says. “I try to find as many opportunities as I can afford to play, and play live.”

He started at WBDC four and a half years ago, after coming off a tour. He was hired as a contractor to fix the building’s front steps, then painted the front room, and worked his way up to executive director,

He was motivated by the organization’s mandate to revitalize the crumbling inner city by resolving conflicts between landlords and tenants, creating affordable housing and community garden spaces, and running training programs for people with employment barriers.

“I am a sensitive singer-songwriter type,” he says. “I kind of pick up on the struggles that people are dealing with in different communities and try to understand why.”

The issues and politics MacPherson faces in his day job he carries into his music.

“Whenever you get a job, it kind of factors into your writing as an artist or your perspective,” he says.

His list of other odd jobs includes being a gravedigger and a waiter, gigs in music and department stores, and working for Statistics Canada.

“It depends on where you live, too. Whenever you move, or are dating someone new, or anything like that it, comes out in your work.”

This time last year, MacPherson and business partner Cam Loeppky created a record label, Disintegration Records. It focuses on local emerging artists between 18 and 23 years of age, nurturing their talent and transformation into professional musicians.

Balancing his time between playing, producing and working, the road is where MacPherson finds time alone to write.

“Right now I have a lot of energy and I feel really driven to accomplish a lot of things. Until that stops, I am just going to keep pushing myself to do it all.”

MacPherson embraces each challenge as an opportunity to learn about himself and fuel his next move. He takes this tactic into his shows, playing unscripted and letting the atmosphere of the location dictate the volume and intensity of his show.

“I just get up and play songs,” he says. “You open your heart in front of people and not be afraid to show this powerful moment in your life. And that is something most people feel excited by and get into, inspired by. Some people get afraid of it.

“I don’t see music so much as a job, but as a vocation. It certainly is gratifying and rewarding, and frustrating – it’s always worth the effort from what you get back from it.”

Alyssa Friesen is our co-editor in Dawson City.

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