Gordie Tentrees' mom exposed him to music when he was growing up but he didn't start to make music himself until he moved to the Yukon twenty years ago. He explains, "Everybody here plays music whether they do it on or off of a stage. There's a plethora of musicians and songwriters here in all different genres of music. I sort of got hooked on it living here."
Strong Roots (Profiles in Canadian Roots Music): Gordie Tentrees
I talk to Gordie Tentrees about why he writes songs, his continual drive to improve as an instrumentalist and what inspires him to keep writing new songs.
"Write what you know" might be a literary cliché but it has held Gordie in good stead. He points out, "I've had some interesting experiences that I wanted to share, so that keeps spurring me on. I've tried writing songs about things that I haven't experienced but I haven't quite figured that one out yet. I've stuck to writing what I know so sometimes that means having to live in between writing songs so that I can connect with the song and get behind it."
He's also experienced a continual growth in his ability as an instrumentalist. Gordie says, "I went from strumming a guitar to deciding that I should learn to fingerpick. After that, I added a harmonica on a rack. I figured out how to play blues harp instead of the Bob Dylan style of playing. I added slide guitar and dobro and lately I've added percussion. I play porch board bass with my left foot and snare/tambourine with my right foot."
In the last two years, Gordie has been playing with Jaxon Haldane. He talks about Jaxon and says, "He plays a multitude of instruments and he's a great harmony singer. He really fills in what I'm trying to do. It's nice to have such a full sound with just two guys."
Lyrics are the main starting point for his music. Gordie explains, "They just come out of me and it's a matter of writing it down fast enough. I've learned to record things on my phone which is quite helpful. I record lyrics, ideas and melodies but develop them later on. The process for me isn't trying to edit everything or tear it apart. I just want to let it all out and go back to it later to work on it.”
On his new record coming out in 2017, Gordie wrote most of the songs with Jaxon. He says, "He has a different approach to writing to me where he starts with melody and the music end of things rather than the lyric end of things. He has a different way of approaching story songs where he wants to build on a character, develop the character and write about that character."
His 2015 release Less is More is his favourite out of all his albums to date. Gordie says, "I felt like everything else I'd done before in making the other records helped me to make that record. I feel like I've definitely had an improvement from the other records as a musician and a singer. I spent a lot of time writing more songs than usual and then cutting the ones that didn't come together on the record. I think it's my strongest record song for song than any record I've done before it."
The folk/roots music scene in Canada is small and Gordie has seen many changes in it over the years. He says, "The people who were in it five years ago are nowhere to be found now. I've seen a lot of people come and go. I've been touring internationally for ten years and in that time all of the people that I met the road have decided not to do it for both personal and professional reasons so the fact that I'm still doing it amazes me."
The small size of the Canadian scene and a decline in the value placed on musicians by the culture contributed to him deciding to tour internationally. Gordie comments, "I basically tour Canada once a year but I can't just tour in one country. I was lucky enough to figure out how I could transpose my music to other countries. In Europe, music is seen as a really important part of the cultural fabric. Musicians are seen as a valuable thing to have."
Another concern of Gordie's is the lack of people going to see live music. He says, "People are sitting at home and watching what they think is live music on Youtube. It's really scary how the generation coming up isn't going out to see live shows. When I see anyone under the age of 30 out at a concert, I make it a point of letting them know they can keep coming and help keep the scene alive."
Gordie says that he once told himself that he'd have a 10 record, 20 year plan for his career. He adds, "I'm about to put out my seventh record. I started my career late and I had a lot to learn. I'm glad that I was able to recognize that it's a never ending learning curve and really embrace that. I'm certain that there's been improvement every year as a musician and a performer. Knowing that and feeling that is really inspiring for me to keep creating songs and pushing the limits of what I can do."
He continues, "I really feel like I'm halfway there. I'm never fully there and I don't know that I ever will feel that I've made it all the way, but I hope to one day be a better all around songwriter and instrumentalist."
In terms of his inspirations, Gordie cites performing and songwriting. He says, "Those two things are pretty much neck in neck, one ahead of the other sometimes but mainly it’s the joy of unearthing a new song that comes out of you. It's happening and it's never stopped for me.”
For more information, please visit Gordie Tentrees' website here.
This profile is based on an interview conducted via telephone and recorded on January 15, 2016.