It’s a brilliantly sunny August afternoon on the Isle of Wight and Old Man Luedecke is about to go for a swim. It’s one of the few breaks he has in the midst of a busy touring schedule in support of his latest album ‘Easy Money’ – a calypso-esque, lyrically honest record exploring the nuances of family relationships and everyday life.
Tomorrow Luedecke plays a headline show here at Cecil Sharp House, a venue he’s known about for some time due to the American song-collecting activities a century ago of the man himself, Cecil James Sharp (1859–1924). We discuss his relationship to the term ‘folk’, as well as categorising his music into genres more broadly. It’s something he feels is difficult for artists to answer, explaining that the motivation behind the music is what counts: ‘I don’t write music for a particular audience. I write music primarily for myself rather than other people.’
In a way, folk music was sort of a rebellion for me. It was me standing up and saying I don’t need anything big and I can just be what I am and that’s enough.
This desire for authenticity is not only at the heart of Luedecke’s approach to music; it’s at the very ethos of his approach to life. Growing up with a musical father, he was taught piano and clarinet from a young age. But, as so often happens with young musicians, Luedecke chose the ‘sensible’ path and went on to pursue an English degree, not believing himself good enough to commit to music professionally. He was later pulled by a romantic urge to leave the city of Toronto where he grew up and move to the country. Arriving in Nova Scotia in his late 20s immersed him in the context of a rich folk culture. But it was in fact the indie scene in the 90s that Luedecke cites as bringing him into full-time music. ‘The tradition that I moved into was very much men in bars playing Beatles covers and also the thriving indie scene happening in Halifax in the 90s.’ Despite this, Luedecke never set out the play rock music; ‘I just wanted to play honest music about myself’.
And yet, shortly after this, Luedecke discovered the banjo and fell in love with writing songs. He describes this musical renaissance as a magical time: ‘in a way, folk music was sort of a rebellion for me. It was me standing up and saying I don’t need anything big and I can just be what I am and that’s enough. If you’re trying to do something that’s beautiful and pure, it’s not necessarily going to be the biggest thing.’
This is perhaps the central ethos to folk music and it’s not surprising that the rural landscape of Nova Scotia continues to facilitate the creation of such music even today. Luedecke is a fan of Halifax-based duo Mama’s Broke, who also played at Cecil Sharp House recently. He also cites Nova Scotian country singer Wilf Carter and Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music as influences. But what was it about folk that really pulled him in? ‘I like that folk music is so intimate. It’s a really special feeling between the audience and the performer that you don’t necessarily get in more produced shows. I have one question with all art: does it make you feel something? I just want to make people feel something when they listen to my music or watch me perform.’
How his music is presented is important for Luedecke too. The artwork for ‘Easy Money’ is bold and striking with its bubblegum pink sofa and palm trees – it’s almost a design you would expect to see on the cover of a pop record. Luedecke laughs, ‘it was important for me to have palm trees on the cover of this record at all costs! I wanted to have a calypso album and all of my 50s and 60s calypso albums had palm trees on the covers. The visual aspect is not a huge part of what I do – but I think it’s important to represent your music visually. Onstage I don’t dress up very much but I also don’t want to turn up in shorts and sandals. There’s not really an opportunity to dress up much in life if you’re not performing, so I do like to make some effort.’
Despite this, Luedecke admits that it’s become increasingly difficult to find the time to focus on these details with so much time taken up with playing live. What’s clear though is that what little time Luedecke does have in between playing shows and doing press interviews, he makes the most of. He’s already planning on visiting the nearby Primrose Hill prior to his London gig here (‘there’s that really great Loudon Wainwright song written about it’), and as he prepares for his swim he tells me how grateful he is to continue his lifestyle in what’s becoming an increasingly challenging environment for musicians: ‘I’ve been able to make a living out of this for 15 years and that’s a huge accomplishment. It still feels very special.’
Old Man Luedecke plays at Cecil Sharp House on Wednesday 21 August.