Getting sober is one thing. Writing songs about the experience is quite another.
Although Ottawa roots singer Lynne Hanson quit drinking in 2011 after deciding “I was a disaster as a human being,” she didn’t put out the first album she’d ever written and recorded without the dubious benefit of alcohol until 2014’s River of Sand.
“It takes me a while to be able to write about something,” said Hanson, who will perform on Saturday, Feb. 14, at Gilmore Guitars in Red Deer.
She feels time and space is needed to increase objectivity. Still, the four years that passed between her latest album and one before made her wonder: “Did everybody forget about me? Is anybody going to like it?”
Hanson needn’t have worried.
River of Sand ended up on several Canadian Top Albums of 2014 lists and was called “one of the standout country albums of the year” by the Irish Times. It was also featured on the International Americana Music Show’s Best of the Year program, and got some four- and five-star critical ratings.
Best of all, many listeners told Hanson that songs like This Too Shall Pass helped them through similar dark periods in their own lives. “People told me, ‘I was there, and it was an inspiration.’ And what a great thing to hear that,” added the singer, who feels it confirms her long-held belief that “art can be healing,” and music can make a real difference to people’s lives.
“If you want funny, listen to a pop song,” she said — River of Sand is not a light album. It’s about something very personal and very difficult.
Hanson remembers waking up hungover one morning in 2011, even through she had started out the night before trying to confine herself to only drinking soda water. “I thought, this is not a good thing. I really need to get a hold of myself.”
After years of being a functional alcoholic, who got by with certain rules — “I didn’t drink during the day, I never got up on stage after I’d been drinking …” — Hanson decided to finally quit alcohol for good.
She didn’t go to rehab or do any kind of 12-step program. She just stopped. And it seemed like every sober day that got added on, “I was one step further away from it.”
After confronting some of the reasons she drank, Hanson said staying off alcohol gradually got easier.
The sporty singer (who recently had to have surgery after blowing out a knee playing touch football last summer) now goes to the gym with ABBA music playing in her headphones.
“Dancing Queen really gets me going. Call me crazy, but I love it. It makes me feel good and makes me feel energetic.”
When she felt ready to write about going sober, she turned to her friend, Ottawa singer/songwriter Lynn Miles, for a second opinion on song lyrics. And Miles didn’t go easy on her.
She sent the song Whiskey and Tears back to the drawing board, telling Hanson the first version rang false. Hanson remembers reworking the lyrics until they were as honest as she could make them.
She asked Miles to be her album’s producer because “I had huge respect for her” and her truthful approach to the subject matter.
Hanson, who got married two years ago to the artist/sculptor who helped get her through the going-sober experience, said she’s very excited to be touring to Western Canada, particularly to Red Deer.
“I was supposed to play there about 10 years ago, but I threw out my back just before the show. I literally couldn’t get up off the floor … so I’m really looking forward to another chance to perform in Red Deer!”
Tickets to the 7:30 p.m. show at Bay 6, 4676 61st St. are $20 from the venue. For more information, call 403-872-0006.