Folk duo finds “true Burnstick” sound on second album

Wednesday, June 26th, 2024 5:45am


Image Caption

Jason Burnstick with wife Nadia make up the folk duo Burnstick. They have just released their second album.
By Brett McKay
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

On Burnstick’s patiently-crafted sophomore album, Made of Sin, the husband-and-wife folk duo Nadia and Jason Burnstick present a more unified sound and use it to explore deeply personal and difficult subjects.

“I think the sound has grown and changed just as our relationship has,” Nadia said.

When the two started performing together more than 10 years ago, “I was doing some of my songs and Jason was singing some of his songs and we'd add some harmonies.”

They didn’t necessarily have the intention of traveling and touring as a band.

“As we've grown and have been able to start, more and more, writing together and living experiences together, we can write about things that are important to both of us. The songs now have a sound that I think is true Burnstick,” she said.

The new album, released in May, was mostly recorded in the Burnstick’s home studio in Manitoba, which they have developed since the release of their 2019 debut, Kîyânaw.

Freed of the time and budget constraints of the typical studio experience, the duo experimented with elaborate instrumentation and harmonizing to produce the rich soundscapes on Made of Sin.

“We could take our time with it,” Jason said. “We've gone in and pushed delete more than a few times and started from scratch with some stuff because tonally it  wasn't there for us. We pushed each other very hard. And it was awesome.”

“We've really put the time and effort into our studio and making it so that it will sound beautiful and how we want it to sound. I don't think those elements were in place when we recorded our first album, and I think that comes out in the songs and in the production quality of the album,” Nadia said.

To achieve the desired fullness of tone in the recording sessions, Jason layered multiple guitar tracks, playing with a range of instruments and tunings to strengthen their presence and draw out subtle elements.

“I would work my way up the fretboard, sometimes with a capo, sometimes an open tuning, sometimes a baritone… sometimes overdubs with electrics and lap steels and things like that. That's something that we really explored and tried out,” he said.

In October, audiences will have a chance to hear some of these pieces with full orchestral backing. During two separate concerts, Burnstick will join the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra for two songs.

The title track, “Made of Sin”, was written after the discovery of unmarked graves at the site of the former Indian residential school in Kamloops. It deals with the “different stages you go through when dealing with childhood traumas,” Jason said.

A survivor of the Sixties Scoop, Jason was put in a foster home at age four and spent time in a boarding school in Edmonton. The song moves through his anger toward the foster care system and experiences of self-blame to the realization that he isn’t responsible for being taken from his family.

Through music Jason has grappled with some of the lasting impacts of the abuse and neglect endured in his childhood, but “this is going to be an internal battle for the rest of my life,” he said.

“It's going to be a lifelong process. I'm not over it. I'm living it. It's a part of who I am. But I'm not going to let the residential school man win and give in to hatred and anger. I am going to celebrate the love that I have in my life, be grateful for the life that I have with my family, period.”

There are dark moments and darker histories among the songs on Made of Sin, yet the album is really full of love and light, Nadia said.

“In our message, and in what comes out in the songs and the emotions, there is a lot of positivity and love.”

That love is perhaps clearest in the first single from the album, “Closer”. An expression of the overwhelming emotion that came with the birth of their son, Burnstick also wrote the song as a prayer for guidance to be able to support him through life.

Burnstick’s debut album Kîyânaw earned the band a JUNO nomination and a Canadian Folk Music Award for single of the year. The band has also composed several pieces for film and television, including the Canadian drama Little Bird, a writing experience that feeds back into the unique cinematic feel of Burnstick’s folk music.

Made of Sin is available now through the band’s website and on all major streaming platforms.

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.