It takes a guy from the centre of Canada to feel as at home with big-as-your-thumb blackflies as it does trying to traverse through the gridlock of this country’s largest city.
But that’s what music has given acclaimed Canadian singer-songwriter Luke McMaster, 38, who has written for the likes of Rihanna and Nick Carter of The Backstreet Boys – a chance to see all corners of this country, even when the lure of Nashville and L.A. has beckoned.
Although he is now based in the concrete jungle of Toronto, the Brandon, Manitoba-raised artist is looking forward to seeing the forest through the trees of the Big Smoke’s largest green space, High Park, near where he lives with his wife and 11-month-old daughter.
He returns to Vernon Wednesday to kick off a western tour to promote his first solo album, aptly titled All Roads, a mixture of old Motown, blue-eyed soul and feel-good pop songs.
“I love Vernon,” said McMaster, who has really seen just about every part of Canada, having toured from the East Coast to the West Coast on numerous occasions. “I grew up in Manitoba, so I love the outdoors.”
One of McMaster’s favourite places, besides here in the North Okanagan, is where folks like to kiss cod and drink a concoction known as Screech.
“There’s this stereotype of friendly Manitoba and that’s true until you’ve been to Newfoundland. I mean the traffic there stops to let you in, and people ask you if you know where you’re going,” said McMaster, who has collaborated in the past with Labrador City singer Damhnait Doyle. “Everything about the culture is about music, which I love.”
It wasn’t that long ago when McMaster was blowing in the wind of Winnipeg as one-half of the now defunct hit-making duo McMaster & James.
With fellow singer-songwriter Rob James, McMaster saw success with radio friendly singles such as Love Wins Everytime, Thank You, I Understand and Sweet Sensation.
It was after the break up of McMaster & James and a move to Toronto that McMaster found himself crossing the border more and more to work with fellow producers in L.A. and Nashville.
“I never made the move permanently as I was just as interested in performing as I was doing songwriting and production. I was still setting up tours here in Canada,” he explained. “But, I got pulled behind the scenes and had success writing for other people. I sort of slided into that and learned a lot going down to L.A., writing with amazing songwriters. I was like a sponge. It helped with my own songwriting.”
Success also came when McMaster was asked to participate in the Canadian Idol Song Writing Camp, working in collaboration with Randy Bachman and Rob Wells, as well as for the TV show Instant Star.
“I’ve been asked if I am naturally gifted at songwriting, but my thinking is that you never stop learning and so collaborating with other people is a gift,” he said. “When I went to the songwriting camp in Toronto, it was such an honour to have someone like Randy Bachman want to write with me. Turns out he was a fan of McMaster & James and of course I grew up with The Guess Who. He was happy when I made suggestions and said he loves working with young songwriters.”
Other collaborators who have since become a major part of McMaster’s circle are Marc Jordan and Jim Brinkman.
McMaster met Jordan, a Juno and Grammy award winner who launched pop star Rihanna’s career and has written songs for the likes of Rod Stewart (Rhythm of my Heart), Cher, Celine Dion, and Joe Cocker, in a writing session for Instant Star.
It was Jordan who introduced McMaster to Brinkman, an American songwriter and pianist of pop and adult contemporary music, as well as a radio show host.
“Marc said ‘you have to meet Jim Brinkman.’ He has worked with Lady Antebellum. Marc told me Jim would like my style and that Motown thing I do,” said McMaster, adding, “What first drew me to Motown was Hall and Oates. Although they were not Motown, they were influenced from that era. The music appeals to me because of the way I sing and the melodies that rise and fall…”
Soon after, McMaster and Brinkman were on the phone sharing ideas.
“He was on a tour in Erie, Pennsylvania and told me to come down to the show. It was only a four hour drive from Toronto.
“I thought I was going to meet with him and chat, but he said ‘enough of the chit chat, let’s write a song.’”
That collaboration would end up in the hit single Good Morning Beautiful, a bouncy pop song with a distinctive piano run, which rose to the #3 spot on the U.S. Billboard AC radio charts in 2013, and resulting in a theatre tour around the U.S.
“I used to hate mornings and then I married a schoolteacher. I started to get up with her. The song has more meaning now, looking forward to that first cup of coffee with my wife, and seeing my daughter’s smile,” said McMaster, adding having a child has inspired his songwriting two-fold.
“I was talking to Marc (who has two children with fellow Canadian singer-songwriter Amy Sky) about having kids. I tour a lot and he said he brought his kids with him when he went on tour as they inspired him. I really feel that now. I feel more fearless on stage. I never had stage fright, but now it’s about letting go of everything and feeling that happiness of a kid. Everything else just fades.”
McMaster sustains that feeling on his All Roads tour, which will feature songs off the new album and some of his other hits.
“I honestly can’t wait to come back to B.C. I have a band that is so talented. We play musical chairs, as we all play multiple instruments. There should be something for everyone. We’ll even have an electronic element.”
McMaster gives an intimate concert at the Powerhouse Theatre in Vernon Wednesday, June 4 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are at the Ticket Seller box office in the Performing Arts Centre and cost $25 (all seats.) Order at 250-549-7469 or www.ticketseller.ca.