Hope, healing and truths of place and purpose are at the heart of the emotional third studio album of award-winning duo Fortunate Ones
Who are we? What is our purpose? What do we do when that purpose is gone?
Those were looming questions Catherine Allan and Andrew James O’Brien – aka award-winning duo Fortunate Ones – wrestled in recent years wrought with massive shifts and changes both personally and professionally.
For O’Brien, that change began in 2019, where a procedure on his hand led to him unable to play guitar in any meaningful way for the short-term.
“At the time it just felt like a physical inconvenience, I think, in a lot of ways. We were headed toward and already feeling kind of professional burnout in some ways. We had toured so relentlessly for many years without any real stopping. It just felt like that’s what you do,” O’Brien shared in a stidown with The Herald.
“So at the time when I had my finger operated on, I wasn’t really thinking about it in the grander sense of life. It was more of an inconvenience. But I started working at The Inn by Mallard Cottage, and it was this job that I took just to do something in the downtime. And I really kind of got into it.
“Once my hand healed I was playing guitar for fun, which is something that I hadn’t done for years. I felt burnt on the instrument. I felt like I had hit a ceiling in my playing. I didn’t feel creative. And then all of a sudden, with this slowdown, it started to creep back in naturally, this kind of creativity and the need to explore or kind of mentally debrief after years of constantly grinding. And then COVID happened, and it was like the ultimate universal reaffirmation that the slowdown was necessary.”
Time to breathe
The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic may have served as a grim and uncertain cloud for many in the music industry, but for Allan and O’Brien, it was a respite from tireless years of performance-based burnout.
With O’Brien becoming sober in February 2020, and the duo still re-charging from their tireless schedule for the past five years, the global shutdown became almost therapeutic for a pair in need of time to breathe.
“I had actually gotten sober in February 2020. Didn’t know what COVID was at the time. And so coincidentally, it was basically like the universe was telling me I needed to recalibrate. So the pandemic was this ultimate kind of audit of life. And then when I got down to it, we were able to focus on important life changes and just rest and self-care, getting back to each other. And that was the catalyst for all this kind of creative, almost like a personal, creative renaissance,” O’Brien shared candidly.
“We sort of retreated,” adds Allan. “And we could see a lot of our peers really panicking, which is really unfortunate, racing to see what are we going to do during this time and doing the online shows and whatever they could to keep their ship going, whereas we completely retreated because we had no idea. We thought okay, we need to really reset here and maybe the best use of our time for now is to keep writing, keep making and relax into that.”
Relaxation and mediation would come in the form of a house sitting gig in rural Newfoundland, where the in-and-out-of-music couple would take to a salt box house in English Harbour.
“Honest to God, I thought so many times when I was out there, like this is saving me,” Allan admits. “Just the quiet, looking at the ocean, trying not to get swept up in the panic of the moment, which was really hard for all of us. And we all had our freak out moments. But rural Newfoundland really gave back to us over these last couple of years.”
The pandemic downtime proved fertile creative ground, with O’Brien and Allan communicating with their producer Joshua Van Tassel remotely, setting to work on their third studio album That Was You and Me.
With production for the album originally scheduled for the spring of 2020, the duo worked remotely with Van Tassel, working on demos in their home before heading to Toronto to record in October of 2020.
“One thing about having that extra time, because the majority of the songs were written pre-pandemic, we really got to like live inside them when we actually demoed them ourselves and bounce ideas back and forth with Josh,” explained Allan. “We really got to live them and it was such a good distraction and sort of therapeutic to really get inside those songs.”
The promising upstarts that burst on a national stage with their debut album The Bliss in 2015 and the seasoned and battle-tested professionals before us in 2022 – distanced by time and life lessons – couldn’t be more different artists and indeed people.
Desires, dreams and realities change. For O’Brien, realizing there’s indeed life after music, was a strong catalyst in his own road to personal growth and healing.
“Ever since I was 18, I in some way wanted to be an artist or a performer. At first it was an actor for a brief time and very quickly became, no matter what it takes I’m going to be a musician. I’m going to be a songwriter. I’ll do absolutely everything it takes,” he shared.
‘An honest way’
“And then when you realize you put all this work in and then all of what you’ve built gets taken away so abruptly and kind of profoundly, coupled with the pandemic and me kind of happily working at this inn in Quidi Vidi, writing and playing for fun again for the first time in years, I realized that I wasn’t interested in dying on the hill of music as my sole career or sole identity or sole pursuit.
“And I think once I actually reckoned with that and kind of came to a place of peace with that, it opened me wide up creatively. I felt the pressure was gone. I felt like it didn’t matter to me how what I was creating was received. It just felt good to be doing it in an honest way again. And I realized that I can play guitar and sing and write songs for fun and do other things for money if I have to and if I want to.”
A beautiful new album, new management team and publishing deal, and the future shines bright for two of our province’s finest musicians, and warmly welcoming humans.
For now though the final word goes to Allan, who channels the good words from the bands’ deeply personal, emotive and all-together from the heart record.
“I’m going to quote a lyric from that new record. ‘All the moments you had, both the good and the bad are just a part of your story.’ It feels like we’re on steady ground for the first time in a couple of years and everything was worth it leading up to now.”
For more information on Fortunate Ones and That Was You And Me visit fortunateones.ca