Roots rock revival

Ontario plays muse on Harmer’s latest

FIVE YEARS IS a long time between records. But Sarah Harmer is an artist who can’t be rushed. So don’t ask. With her new album Oh Little Fire, the wait is over.

The iconic singer-songwriter is in fine form hearkening back to her rock ’n’ roll roots on what could be the most enjoyable disc of the summer.

“I did expect to chill out for maybe six months at least after the last tour, but then I just got used to putting down some roots a little bit, and there was a lot of time moving back and forth between Kingston and Toronto,” says Harmer, trying to explain the long period between albums.

According to Harmer, she isn’t one to sequester herself for a period of time to crank out some material. The first single off the new album, “Captive,” is Harmer’s ode to that feeling of being shackled to a project with the light at the end of the creative tunnel far from view. It has all kinds of relationship appeal, sure, but the inspiration was her inability to sit down and say, OK brain, hit me with a song.

“I did pick up the guitar and say to myself I’m going to f***ing write a song.” Harmer laughs. “My attention had really been fragmented, and I was just not able to really commit to something, you know. So I wanted to be held captive. I wanted to not get up until I had something to show for it.… But, I did get up and that song took months to finish!”

The album’s heightened energy level is the result, at least in part, of Harmer’s collaboration with producer Gavin Brown (Metric and Billy Talent).

What makes it a uniquely Harmer experience is the localized songwriting that links the natural world with a personal experience. Her interest in writing about her immediate surroundings was inspired by songwriters such as Suzanne Vega and Michelle Shocked, artists who were writing about their own little corners of the world.

“They weren’t trying to be too general. They were unearthing the dirt under their feet,” Harmer explains. “I’ve always been interested in that localized expression. It felt like no one else could do it, and no one else could write that, and it moved me to participate.”

Harmer grew up on the Niagara Escarpment outside of Burlington, near Mt. Nemo. She started playing in bands while a student at Queen’s University, first with the Saddletramps, followed by Weeping Tile.

But her most successful period came solo. Her first album, You Were Here,went platinum in Canada, followed by All Our Names and the stripped down I’m a Mountain. But what came first, the hippie or the rocker?

“Well, you know, like many Canadians, I got my first acoustic and started playing ‘After the Gold Rush’ in high school,” Harmer says. “Those three chords on the acoustic went a long way for a while.Then I went and got into bars, illegally, and saw rock ’n’ roll up close.”

That duality helps define Harmer. She is at home with rock, pop standards and folkie jams as her latest album demonstrates to full effect.

Check out her tour dates at


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