Kim Beggs is always tweaking her tunes. Sometimes even after she has recorded them.
That was the case with her fifth solo album, Said Little Sparrow.
“The epiphanies came in time and then it was like, ‘Ok I gotta redo,’” says Beggs, sitting in a Whitehorse coffee shop a week before the Feb. 7 release party for her record.
She wasn’t unhappy with her vocals, she says. She liked the character and sound quality just fine. But when she listened to the lyrics, they weren’t quite saying what she wanted them to say.
“It’s a puzzle, right?” she says. “You have so many syllables, so much space to convey a really concise idea. The journey of a song being created, it can happen in two hours or it can take two years.”
That was the case with Said Little Sparrow.
Beggs wrote much of it three years ago during a residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts.
There are 12 songs on the record. They’re about family, friends, the strength of community during the loneliness of winter. There’s even a love song, something Beggs says she never writes.
The music is supplemented by a book of very personal liner notes. These include a dedication to a long-time friend, Sharone Maldaver, who died of breast cancer in 2013.
Shortly after Beggs moved to the Yukon from Toronto more than 20 years ago, she and Maldaver went south together, visiting California and Mexico.
At the time, Beggs had been playing open mics around Whitehorse. She said she was getting positive feedback, but she wanted to play for strangers.
“People can be very supportive but you’re not necessarily getting the truth,” she said.
Beggs came back from that trip feeling encouraged enough to continue with music.
The rest of the booklet is filled with lyrics, family photos, and little stories written by Beggs and members of her family, including her mother.
If there’s a common thread running through the songs, Beggs says her mother is that thread. The song “Walking Sticks” is about Begg’s mom discovering, in her 50s, that she was adopted.
Beggs said the adoption, once her mother knew about it, was never a secret in her family. With “Walking Sticks,” Beggs wanted to write a song that would commemorate and celebrate that, while empowering listeners who might have similar histories.
”Blue-eyed beauty arrived on her own/In ‘37 with a secret growing,” Beggs sings on the track. “On a woven landscape/come the secrets of the ancient woods/the roots and trunks of the trees are thick/but branches blossom into walking sticks.”
Beggs’s mother, who will be 81 this spring, has heard the record. She sat down with the CD, and read everything in the liner notes as she listened.
“And then at the end, and she did this after my first album, she said, ‘Kim I just want you to know I agree with you.’” Beggs says.
“For all the” — Beggs mimes two hands, beaking at each other like birds — “that we’ve been doing all our lives, it’s pretty special. And I think that’s what I like about songwriting. It’s that I really get to express myself.… I take the space and time to say what I’m really trying to say and it’s a real honour for my parents to, for my mother to agree with me.”
Though she’s just launching the record now, Beggs is already at work on a new one. She’s doing all the writing during February Album Writing Month — an annual songwriting challenge aimed at writing 14 songs in 28 days.
That’s how she’s done it the last few years, though it doesn’t always come easy.
In 2017, Beggs says she was struggling personally and found it tough to write.
“With three days to go, the night before, I said, ‘Kim, however you feel tomorrow you’re gonna write a song.’ So I woke up and I wrote a song. And then I wrote seven more songs that day.”
She ended up penning 14 in three days. They weren’t great, she says. She’s not bragging. They needed work. She expects the same will be true when she participates in the challenge this year, but refining is what March is for.
Beggs has been accepted into another residency at the Banff Centre this March. It will differ from the previous one she did, which had her working alongside musicians of all types, including opera singers and composers. Beggs says it was great, but felt disjointed because the various musicians were making such diverse kinds of music.
She’s excited to attend this one, which is specifically for singer-songwriters, because she’s looking forward to having feedback from people who do the same thing she does.
Beggs launches Said Little Sparrow Feb. 7 at 8:30 p.m. at the Old Fire Hall. Tickets are $22. She will be joined by Justin Haynes, Lianne Cranfield, BJ MacLean, Craig Carpenter and Bob Hamilton.
Contact Amy Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org