To me, his music sounds like being lost in an autumnal forest at golden hour. He is 35-year-old singer/songwriter Ken Reaume, and his first album, Four Horses
, captivated me. The hypnotic finger-picked guitar interwoven with his ethereal vocals is the musical equivalent to making out under a wool blanket outside while it rains. I became a fan, eagerly anticipating his next recording. Finally it is here.
Ken released the new disc, Acedia
, under the name Black Walls. He doesn’t like to use his own name, which he figures is hard for most people to pronounce. (He previously recorded as Viviv.) “Acedia is a word monks use to describe prayer, when they would reach a point akin to depression,” he says. “Acedia is working towards something but not seeing a result. You just have to have faith that it will be worthwhile.”
Ken grew up in Scarborough, with hard-core born-again Christian parents. As a kid, he skateboarded and listened to heavy metal. When he was seven, obsessed with AC/DC’s Angus Young, he begged his parents for a guitar and by his third lesson was playing “Stairway to Heaven.” But at the age of 16, his parents found some gay pamphlets hidden in his room, and the confrontation was horrible. “They were going to send me to a camp to change. I had hives all over my body; I was sick all the time, so I dropped out of school and left home. I was sad, suicidal, almost dead. I moved in with a gay couple when I was 17, and they saved my life. I wouldn’t wish my 20s on my worst enemy.”
Typically, a solo artist who makes the sort of music that can make you cry does not listen to the same stuff most gay men like, preferring artists like Iron & Wine, Grouper and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. “There’s a lot of music out there that is vexatious, and I don’t want to contribute to that. I think music has to heal, or at very least reduce anxiety.” A true one-man band, Ken prefers doing everything himself, including the cover art. It’s almost as though his work is so personal that he can’t even share the duties of making it. He also pays for everything himself. “Most indie artists have grants behind them,” he says. “But I was lucky, in that Pleasence Records expressed interest in the finished recording. They pressed it, mastered it and will distribute it. We did 400 copies on white vinyl. You need something to sell at a show, so it’s either T-shirts or vinyl.”
Perhaps the biggest problem Ken Reaume has is self-promotion. He’s the only person I know on Facebook who doesn’t send out a thousand irritating notifications about his every move. In fact, I knew about the new record only because I bumped into him at an event. “We live in an age of constant gratification,” he says. “I would rather people just find my work.” Success to him is not a hit single; it’s to not have to work a day job. Oddly enough, he already is a 2010 Juno nominee, but not for his music. He was nominated for his artwork on a special limited edition of City and Colour’s album Bring Me Your Love
Despite the sadness in his music, Ken isn’t gloomy. “I’m so grateful in my life. This record has been amazing. Does that sound hokey? I hate to say it, but I love life. I spent so many years wishing I was dead. But what I’m doing now, I’m making music and have new songs to play and share.” After the tape recorder is shut off, he confides, “That was very scary for me.” I understand. Self-promotion can be so unnerving. — Paul Bellini