Folk Fest: Chris Gheran is more than a military junkie, but he’s that too
There’s a hip-hop/folk mixtape in my collection that samples a blustery, deep-voiced and unnamed man who proclaims: “Folk music is high-class music but there’s a lot of low-class people singing it. Matter of fact, most so-called folk singers don’t even look like folk! Folk songs tell true stories, but terrible stories, because folk are terrible.”
While Chris Gheran himself may tell you he’s an atypical folk singer due to his love of the military, passionate X-Box playing and “a lot of imagery of stuff burning,” he comes across as a bona fide human telling stories that touch on the sometimes terrible thing folks do.
Gheran is a master of weaving together the seemingly un-weaveable. We’re talking combining zombie romance with folk music or balancing all-natural soap-making with eagerness to be on a shooting range.
The Calgary native is taking to various stages at the Calgary Folk Music Festival this weekend to share some war-inspired tracks and “creepy love songs.”
“I’m pretty excited,” Gheran says of his first time at the festival, “because it’s finally a venue that I know everybody who’s going there is there to hear this type of music.”
Though his repertoire is loaded with plenty of war-tinged songs, Gheran’s at-times serene — but always formidable — voice and rich guitar are a perfect fit for the revered Folk Fest.
Folk Fest Spotlight
Saturday: 4:20 p.m. on Stage 6
Sunday: 10:30 a.m. on Stage 6
Sunday: 3:15 p.m. on Stage 3
Gheran first picked up a guitar in junior high when some of his friends started playing.
“I went and I was learning Nirvana songs — I hate Nirvana now.” He pauses, grinning. “Oh, I’m gonna make so many enemies. Maybe hate is a strong word.”
The moment his guitar teacher told him he had to get the Beatles’ White Album may have been the moment that sealed his fate as a musician.
“From there I was just like: ‘Oh my God! I love music so much!’ ”
Gheran recalled a recent show at The District where local pop crooner “Michael Bernard Fitzgerald was on the TV and I was like, ‘I’m like the evil Michael Bernard Fitzgerald.’ ‘Cause his songs are really poppy and sweet and mine are like — I write a lot of creepy love songs. A lot of imagery of stuff burning. I’m totally the evil MBF. I seem nice, but no. Maybe I’m so evil, I’ve gone full circle and become nice again. Now that’s evil.”
It’s clear that Gheran — who would have trouble convincing anyone that’s he’s evil and spends his days hand-making soap for local natural soap purveyors Bar Naked — doesn’t take himself too seriously. Some of the tracks on his latest album, Coup d’Etat would suggest otherwise. In APC Gunner, he sings “Afraid for my life, from a roadside bomb, and every market square I take a couple of shells and then I cut ‘em down with my 50 cal. I killed 30 men with my machine gun.” In reality though? “I’m too scared to go to war.”
“I feel kind of bad because I’m like the weird folk artist who’s really into war, and like ‘I love shooting guns!’ So many other folk artists are like —” he affects a snooty tone “‘Uhh, that’s not cool.’ But it’s like, how can you not like shooting a gun? If you’re not shooting to kill people, then its fun.”
Gheran recently received $10,000 from Rawlco Radio (Mix 97.7 FM) to work on his next album.
“I was so amazed,” he says of winning the money. “I was like, what? What’s going on?”
While the album — and a search for additional bandmates — are on hold while he’s busy with the Folk Fest and other shows, Gheran says he’s going to take a different approach in recording this album.
“I found with the last two (albums), you go and record them and then 5 months down the road after playing them so much, they’ve totally been tweaked, changed. And everyone’s like, ‘Oh, it’s not the same as on the album,’ ” he says. “Yeah, because it had to evolve to what I think is a better song.”
This time, he plans to record an initial version of the album and then revisit it after some time spent playing the songs before recording a final version.
When he’s not singing powerful songs about military services (“I’m just obsessed with war.”) or heartbreakingly sweet love songs (Just the Two of Us: “And if you die in a car crash/Wherever I am/My heart will burst into two.”) Gheran has dabbled in civic armchair activism.
“I totally wrote this song recently called Calgary,” he says with enthusiasm.
The song asks why our city seems to ignore those people outside the corporate world and questions the irony of having a tower bearing the name Calgary that most citizens can’t afford to climb to, let alone eat at, the restaurant on top.
After a short rant on his perception of Calgary Transit, Gheran laughs at his protest good-naturedly: “I wrote a song, what else do you want me to do?”
Before our interview ends, Gheran interrupts a brief lull in the conversation.
“I wish I could kick Justin Bieber,” he announces firmly. “I hate that little guy. It’s so weird though, how did he get the official rights to that hairdo?”
Affably inspired, Gheran resolved to someday write a song about Bieber’s hair.
If you’re not lucky enough to catch him at one of three performances during the Folk Fest, check out Chris Gheran’s website for upcoming shows in and around Calgary.