By Will Yannacoulias
Don’t let the acoustic guitar fool you; with percussive groove-laden riffing, multiple time changes, challenging song arrangements and a brooding, droning baritone voice, Curtwood Bearsman has set himself apart from the stereotype; this is not your father’s singer/songwriter. The Kindersley based artist released a pair of experimental acoustic albums, his 2015 self titled EP and 2016’s Divinity Dropout, before taking a musical hiatus to backpack Down Under and complete his education degree. Bearsman’s recent return to music has impressed listeners; his three 2021 singles, “Is It Over”, “Holding On” and most recently “For Today” are all dark, complex acoustic tracks, offerings from a spiritual, nomadic artist who has comfortably found his unique niche.
Like many young people, Bearsman spent the early part of his twenties restlessly searching. Immediately after high school he enrolled in university and completed an undergraduate degree in religious studies before embarking on a master’s in theology. “I think it just wasn’t meant for me at the time,” reflected Bearsman. “I was younger then, when I quit my master’s program in theology I would have been 23; I kinda jumped into it and it didn’t feel like a real fit. The master’s in theology was getting pretty heavy for me, and I felt like I just wanted to go work random jobs and travel. My ex-girlfriend at the time was from New Zealand, working in Australia, and the call of adventure was appealing to me. I just wanted that real life experience.” Bearsman spent two years in New Zealand and Australia, working odd jobs and exploring his identity and his place in the larger world. As he explained, “I’d worked all these jobs and traveled so much and saw so much. I had awesome experiences and had terrible experiences. The spiritual takeaway, I’m still trying to completely figure it out. The experience made me homesick for Canada, I missed my friends, my family, even our accents and hockey. I knew I wanted to go home and live a life I was more content and fulfilled with. I wouldn’t change a thing about the time I spent overseas however, I don’t regret those two years at all.”
Contentment and fulfillment manifested itself in the form of an education degree and a teaching position, and a return to music. The three songs released in 2021 are difficult to label, stamped with Bearsman’s distinct, unique style: clean acoustic guitar with no drums and only bass for accompaniment, complicated arrangements and lyrics exploring themes of isolation, exhaustion, and frustration. “My sound is a little off the beaten track” Bearsman offered. “I’m still trying to figure out ‘where do I fit in in terms of genres? Who is my audience?’ I had someone describe my music as emotionally honest and I liked that. I just try and find nice sounding notes on the guitar that make me feel good. When I wrote 'Is It Over' I was really feeling burned out. The pandemic has been influential on everything, we’ve all been going through it and I couldn’t ignore that in my writing”. When asked about the creative decision to make 'heavy' music without a band, Bearsman explained that “because I traveled for a number of years I was always on my own, I guess I became accustomed to writing by myself and performing by myself. With my songs I am open to adding more musicians, to incorporating more layers, more instruments in the future”.
Bearsman’s current work is tied to fellow Kindersley natives Paul Hillacre, who produced the three new singles, and Evan Knouse, who played bass on the songs. Hillacre and Knouse are better known for their contributions to two other projects, acclaimed post-metal group The Basement Paintings and alternative noise-rockers The Radiant. “Oh yeah, there’s a cool Kindersley connection” Bearsman enthusiastically elaborated. “(The Radiant founder) Mikhaila Anderson, Paul Hillacre, Evan Knouse, we all went to school together, I go back with all those guys. I feel so lucky to have this crazy group of brilliant talented friends. Me and Evan Knouse used to be in a metal band around 2006 with Paul Hillacre’s younger brother Sean so there’s the connection there. My guitar teacher introduced me to Paul when we were kids. Paul has been my saving grace honestly, because I don’t know how do all the recording technical stuff.”
With no shortage of unrecorded material, Bearsman has firm plans to realize his dreams and release more music in the near future. “I have a lot of songs I need to record and release, and I want to start chipping away at that. It's a good problem to have as a musician, I’ve got all this material I want to put out into the world. I’m trying to find that balance between working and giving music enough respect and time. Everything I’ve done in the past few years with travelling and teaching has been amazing, but my music has been on the back burner. I’ve put off my music for too long, I want to honour that, give it a few years of solid effort and see how much of my life it can become, see how far I can push it.”
Photos courtesy of Curtwood Bearsman