“This is my claim to fame: we actually went to nationals,” Leif Vollebekk says with laughter in his voice. It’s not what you’d expect, but this Canadian artist is not a rival you’d want to face in a game of Ultimate Frisbee. Vollebekk is explaining what he does when he manages to step away from his music. “I also try to read, but only so I can become a better writer.”
Vollebekk says that Allen Ginsberg is an influence in the writing his songs and Sigur Rós influences his music. The result is a soulfully deep, rich sound that is consistent in both of his records, Inland and North Americana.
“I played violin, but I wasn’t very good. I hated practicing,” Vollebekk explains his first venture into music. He tells a story about finding his grandfather’s guitar: “I taught myself how to play guitar. I played like 10 hours a day. I knew I’d do it forever because it was so much fun.”
When I ask him about his first show, he tells me it wasn’t so black and white: “It was like an old man getting into a bath: I played recitals in school and then I think my first band show was in high school, then eventually into cafes, if those count as real shows. Maybe I haven’t had any yet.”
Vollebekk tells me what it’s like to be on tour and the thing he enjoys most about it: “How generous people can be, with their home, their food and their energy when promoting a show. It’s kind of amazing and it makes you kind of humble.” Of course, it’s hard for any artist to be on the road for lengthy periods of time, but Vollebekk speaks to the charm of being abroad and the opportunities that arise.
“Do you get nervous before you play a show?” I ask.
“If I’m ready to play a show, I’m worried about it. There are so many things that can go wrong,” he explains. Since the music he plays relies on such expertise execution, the sound is almost completely dependent on his vocals and guitar. He explains that his band is limited to how well he plays a performance.
With years of experience behind him, Vollebekk has amassed a wealth of advice for those looking to break into the scene. “First, to find your influences and to play more shows than you want to play. Everything I’ve learned has come from one of those two things… especially the shows.” He explains that it’s easy to get a big head when you’re not playing in public space: “You start to think, ‘Nobody knows how good I am,’ but when you play more shows you learn. You need a place to start.”
The titles of both of Vollebekk’s albums are geographically centred. He says that “the titles just come and it makes sense.” Inland, for instance, came from his experiences at the time: “I didn’t have to overthink it too much. The word kept coming up. I was by the sea a lot when I was writing it, but then I ended up moving back home.” North Americana, on the other hand, came about through a few factors, including the band: “They’re the essence of American music, somehow, even though they’re mostly Canadian. And also how most of my influences are south of the border.”
With his trademark humility, Vollebekk brushes off the idea of fame. “It’s about people listening to your music and coming to your shows. I don’t need people to think about me in a particular way,” he says, preferring, instead, to stand by the strength of his music. Vollebekk is a promising Canadian artist, Ultimate Frisbee and all.
Catch Leif Vollebekk at the Artery (Edmonton) on October 8, at the Palomino (Calgary) on October 9 and at the West End Cultural Centre (Winnipeg) on October 11.
By Brittany Lahure