An Insight into Inspiration
Talking Songwriting and Creativity with Timothy J
Inspiration’s a funny thing. Sometimes, it can feel almost unavoidable – as if a thought, idea, or notion chooses you, chases you down, and doesn’t let up until it’s been given shape as a story, a song, or some other tangible form of labour or expression.
Other times, though, it can feel like the exact opposite is true: that you’re the one doing the chasing, doggedly pursuing something, anything that you can pin down and wrestle into some coherent expression of creativity.
When it comes to experience with inspiration, nobody is more well-versed in the subject than singer-songwriters. Just ask Tim Cambridge – lead vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter behind the alt-rock / Americana music project Timothy J. Together with Daron Schofield (guitar and vocals), Jaret Hunchak (drums and vocals), and Jamie Warren (bass and vocals), Cambridge plays some of the most heartfelt, emotive rock music you’re likely to come across – and with a new, full-length album slated for release on October 15, you can bet he’s more familiar than most with the heady notions of inspiration and creativity. After all, he’s certainly no stranger to the process of writing music – he’s spent more than his fair share of time in the business.
“I’ve been a professional musician for many, many years,” Cambridge related to me lightheartedly as I caught up with him in the weeks leading up to his CD release. “I’ve played in a lot of bands and toured all over Canada. Recently, in the last couple of years, I found that I really gotten back into songwriting. I started writing some songs and was just really enjoying it, with no real expectations of putting out a record or anything like that – I just sort of started doing it. I put together a few songs and did some rough demos and things progressed from there. Before long, we found ourselves in the studio. We recorded a couple of songs and I got a really good response out of it all and so I just carried on. I kept working on tunes and that got me to where I am now, with four singles out now on all the major streaming services and a ten-song record coming out on October 15 – which is honestly sort of hard to believe,” he ends off with a chuckle.
Learning a bit more about Cambridge’s background, though, it isn’t that difficult to believe that he’s got a brand-new ten-song album in the can at all. In fact, it almost starts to feel like an inevitability that he’d find his way toward success within the industry, given how much work he’s done to establish himself in it.
“I started playing music very young,” Cambridge told me when I asked how he’d gotten his start. “I picked up a guitar as a teenager and almost immediately jumped into a band with some of my buddies. We released our first EP when I was 15 years old. We even had a manager back then, and he had this huge vision about what we could do – he actually even got one of our singles played on BBC One! Nothing ever really came of it, but I did get to hear one of my songs on the radio, and I mean, at that point I was hooked. We travelled all around northern Alberta playing at high school dances and things like that, and then as I got older I was able to do the bar thing and sort of had no fixed address for a long while. Back then you’d play somewhere for a few nights, live in the hotel attached to the bar, and then move on to the next venue or town.”
That’s a long time to be playing music – and a long time to be writing songs, too. It was at this point that my conversation with Cambridge found itself steering toward those same topics of creativity and inspiration that this article opened up on. As a singer-songwriter, Cambridge trades in narratives and storytelling, after all – creative endeavours that require no small amount of inspo to breathe life into. Coming up with even a single original piece of music, a compelling story to build a song around – that’s no easy feat. Doing it more than once is even more difficult. And crafting an entire full-length album of songs? Now that’s a truly herculean effort.
I picked Cambridge’s brain about what his songwriting methodology looked like as he built out ten album-worthy tracks for the first Timothy J LP – and as it turns out, the process and story behind each song is as varied and unique as each track itself.
“For me, at least, songwriting is a very difficult process,” Cambridge reflected. “When I think of artists who have like, fifteen, twenty albums out…that just feels crazy,” he laughed. “I find the narrative part of it – being able to tell a story in three minutes – to be very difficult. What it comes down to is that it’s work, and you have to apply yourself accordingly. I have a song called ‘Rescues’ that really came to me out of the blue, just very naturally – but then I’ll go for days and feel like I will literally never write a song again. And then something happens, and you experience a moment in life that inspires you, and there it is! And then you’ve got a song written and you go, ‘How am I ever going to do that again?’ and then it happens again! I never feel like I know exactly where it comes from, except in a very small number of circumstances.
“The song ‘Olive (Don’t Lose Faith)’ is exactly one of those instances,” Cambridge confided with a marked contemplativeness. He warned me that it was a bit of a long story, but I wanted to capture it here in its entirety, because it goes a long way to illuminate just how personal and introspective Cambridge’s songwriting really is.
“My grandfather was an archdeacon in the Anglican Church,” Cambridge began, “and his wife – my grandma – ended up dying from cancer. As this was happening, he made a cassette recording about his experience. He felt like he’d lost his faith because he was angry that his wife had been taken from him. So, he made this cassette for my mother and her two brothers for them to listen to when he passed away to help them deal with loss. It wasn’t about religion, really – it was about faith, plain and simple. On the day of my father’s funeral, my mother played the tape for us, and I was absolutely floored by it. On the tape, my grandfather was explaining this idea that there’s happiness and sadness to both sides of everything when you’ve got faith.
“When people die, for example,” Cambridge continued, “you know that even though that person’s passed away and there’s a sorrow there, there’s also a joy in knowing that there are people waiting to greet that person on the other side – and if you listen to the lyrics of ‘Olive,’ it’s all in there – my grandfather’s whole story is part of that track. That was one of those writing experiences I had where I knew I could definitely get a song out of it all – I was completely moved by this experience, and I didn’t really know what I was going to do with it musically just yet, but I had a real concept of an idea I knew I had to follow through on. Then one day, I was out walking, and the melody line just came to me, and it was one of those things where, in three hours on a Sunday afternoon, I had almost the entire song written. It evolved from there, of course, once I started working with producers – but it was all fundamentally there.”
This all might feel like some pretty deep subject matter to explore over the course of a rock n roll song – but then, that’s the nature of being a singer-songwriter, isn’t it? Taking those most poignant, affective moments in life and distilling them down to something engaging, relatable, and understandable, all within the context of a three-to-five-minute tune. To hear Cambridge tell it, though, he’s just happy to have the privilege of doing so.
“There’s a certain amount of gratitude when you think about all the people involved with this and everyone who’s played along with my ideas,” he reflected thoughtfully, “Everyone who’s helped me, corrected me along the way, all that stuff. And then, you put your music out there and suddenly it just is what it is. You hope for success and you want to do all the things you think you can do to make it successful, but I’ll be honest, I have no expectations or delusions of grandeur or anything. And really, that helps to take a bit of the pressure off as a songwriter in terms of dealing with that voice in the back of your mind that says, ‘If this isn’t going to be a hit, why would I even bother?’ Because to tell you the truth, the thought of somebody I don’t know listening to one of my songs and thinking, ‘That could be about me!’ or being able to totally relate and make a connection with my music – the thought of that? That’s quite rewarding.”
Timothy J’s new full-length album will be available for listening on your favourite streaming platform starting October 15, 2021 – but why simply stream it when you can see it played live? Head down to Langdon’s own Firehouse Bar and Grill on October 15 for the Timothy J CD release party and watch
Cambridge, Schofield, Hunchak, and Warren perform songs from their new album live on stage. Come out, grab a cold drink, enjoy some delicious food, and support local live music. We hope to see you there!