Jeremy Fisher Interview

A couple of weeks ago, I went to my first folk festival in Canmore, Alberta.  My pre-conceived notions of hippies frolicking in the mud, playing hackysack, and dancing in their free-spirited way were only partly true.  Most of the people I ran into were 9 to 5ers and just really love good music.  It was a great weekend of music and one of the crowd favourites was Jeremy Fisher.  Jeremy lives in Montreal and this was his first time playing the Canmore Folk Festival.  On a sunny afternoon, we found a bench within earshot of the main stage, with kids building sand sculptures close by.  My connection to Jeremy came through a place we spent a lot of time at, though at different times in our lives.  YMCA Wanakita, located in Haliburton, Ontario was summer camp for Jeremy growing up – as a camper and a counselor.  And that’s where we started our conversation.

Did summer camp do anything for you in terms of your love for the outdoors?

Growing up at summer camp gave me a lot of things – independence, confidence to go out and do adventurous activities, like bike tours across the country or canoe trips.  To this day, I’ll often embark on a day trip or a week trip without much planning… I know I can figure it out.  I attribute that to being able to go on awesome canoe trips every summer.  With a little bit of knowledge and being aware of the world around you, you’ll get by!

One of the issues that can come up in these conversations is accessibility – not every kid is going to have the opportunity to go to summer camp.  There are elements of summer camp that could be incorporated into our education system a bit more… any thoughts on how kids can experience what you experienced without actually going to summer camp?

It really starts with parents.  School is one part of the equation, but so much of that is social… public school is limited in its ability to divert from the curriculum. But maybe that’s what you’re saying – that the curriculum might need to change.

I’m 35 years old, but I still feel like a kid because my lifestyle hasn’t changed too much.  I still canoe trip, I still do bike trips… it’s part of the fabric of who I am.  I never thought I should do those things – it was never that I shouldn’t play video games – I played a lot of video games as a kid and I watched a lot of television, but I don’t feel like there was a negative impact on me.. I was impacted by the positive alternatives that existed.

A lot of it was social – it was the friends I had… friends who wanted to go out and explore the world with me, whether it was on our dirtbikes in the neighbourhood or out in canoes on the lake, or just going to the beach for the day.

I think independence is key and I’m not judging anyone because I’m not a parent myself but I’ve noticed from talking to friends of mine who are parents that they they’ve observed that there is less independence for children.  There’s a lot more danger in the world… I walked the kilometer to school and back each day… now I sound like an old man!  But that unstructured time of walking through alley ways and poking sticks at things – just exploring the world without adult supervision… I can see how that might be terrifying for parents to relinquish that control, but I think it’s essential to pique kid’s curiousity with the world.

How do you think we can get the train back on the tracks with some of that unstructured time where there’s not adult supervision.

That unstructured time is golden.  We have to let kids define their own character.  They can’t do that if they’re constantly running between swimming lessons and piano lessons and shuttled around in a mini van between these activities and there’s no time for imagination.

I fall into the trap sometimes of texting with friends instead of actually calling them or making that time to get together for a coffee or something… do you make conscious decisions about the time you spend in front of screens?

Ya, definitely.  Sometimes I have to actually put a moratorium on emailing and using my phone.  I’ve gone through periods where I am writing a lot of music and if I’m answering a lot of emails and trying to write at the same time, it’s a different part of my brain and it’s hard to go back and forth.  What I’ll do is not open my laptop until the afternoon… because it’s so easy to open it up and burn 3 hours just going through emails.  I’ve even thought about getting that babysitting software that won’t let me on the internet because sometimes I have to sit down and do other work.

But it can be tough… not having a computer these days is like not having a phone book back in our days or having a telephone – so much of what we do is tied to that technology.

When I’ve gone into schools, the key message is balance.  Video games are way better than when I was growing up, having the internet and all the rest of it… but if they’re spending 54 hours a week in front of screens, they’re likely not spending a whole lot of time outside.

You’re right, it’s about balance. But what’s the incentive?  It can’t always be about health… all these boring things that kids don’t often care about – I don’t even really care about!  I try to think about my health as I’m growing older, but not even that much!  I’m fortunate that what I enjoy doing in life keeps me active.

We get told about all the health benefits and other benefits, but we forget that if you throw kids into a forest, they inevitably just have fun!  They don’t have to have activities, they don’t have to have play structures… they just have fun on their own.

And in fact, when adults try and give them activities, they often don’t want to do them and in some cases, it makes it not fun for them!

In your music, you write and sing about biking… your first tour was from Seattle to Halifax on a bicycle – how did that come about?

I had actually ridden my bike across Canada a couple of times before that, but when I put out my first record I decided to promote it in that way.  And it was just my lifestyle – that’s what I wanted to do.  I still like bike touring – I get to spend 6-8 hours in the fresh air with my bike, meeting interesting people – it’s exhilarating!  You can’t buy that feeling you get from the sense of accomplishment

Seeing the country at a different pace is pretty neat…

You definitely gain an appreciation for its sheer awesomeness and size.  We’re surrounded by huge mountains, but once you climb them, you’re even more amazed!

And I think that’s what we’re saying… that if you take the time to actually climb those mountains, thinking of the mountain as the metaphor for any journey, when you get to the top, you learn something you could never learn by just observing it from a distance.  That stays with you for a lifetime.

Does any of that time outside make its way into your music? 

For sure!  You actually jogged my memory… I have a rule when I’m at home working… if I ever get this feeling of not knowing what to do – whether I’m indecisive or whatever, I go outside.  No matter what the temperature or what the weather’s like, it always brings clarity to the situation.  Even if it’s just a walk around the block or taking the neighbour’s dog for a little walk – there’s something about movement and that time outside that helps me get over the inner thought-stiffling that happens sometimes.

Couldn’t agree more!  Thanks for your time.

Anytime.  Thank you!

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