Steven Lane (left) and Rachel Stiles (middle left) listen to Basil Park (right) discuss his disdain for titling songs. David Sagolj, Centretown News.

Art House Café hosts intimate music series

By David Sagolj

In the tight confines of the Art House Café, three songwriters turned their backs to the audience to play their music and let loose their emotions.

The Story Behind the Song is a series of intimate musical performances hosted by singer-songwriter Steven Lane at the Somerset Street venue that works with artists of all kinds.

Lane said he was inspired by a show he saw in Nashville, where musicians performed and spoke to each other while the audience peered in from the outside. That, he said, made the experience more about the songwriters than the songs.

“I feel like it’s a little more difficult for songwriters to have the arena to share their work, or to share the practice of it,” said Lane.

He said songwriting is an invisible practice that makes it harder to understand compared to singing or playing an instrument, but learning about the writer’s emotions helps. “When you realize there’s a person behind these products,” he said, “they become easier to understand.”

At the first show on Nov. 4, Lane performed alongside fellow Ottawa singer-songwriters Rachel Stiles and Basil Park. The three performers, who are all working on new music for release, took turns singing and discussing their musical, lyrical and emotional influences.

“I feel like sometimes we get stuck in wanting to maintain a certain state, like we want to be happy,” Stiles said of her song Twenty Six. “It’s just about accepting the flow of different emotions we have and being OK with that. It’s about whatever comes and goes in life, and the rebirth of different parts of ourselves and others that come in and out of our lives.”

Stiles said she enjoyed the intimate experience of The Story Behind the Song. “It was nice being able to talk to the different artists, learn from them, and about yourself — playing off the emotions of each other,” she said.

Park said the highlight for him was “getting the opportunity to do something where you engage with artists in a public space — getting the interaction and reaction from other artists.”

Even the crowd was distinctly different from most musical performances. “Everyone was just in the moment, in the zone, paying attention, and I thought that was really cool,” said Francis Egan, who came to watch.

Even though they were not face to face with the performers, the audience watched attentively or closed their eyes as if reflecting on the music and lyrics they were hearing. When Stiles moved to the piano to play Twenty Six, only two audience members could see her playing in one of the café’s many nooks. Nevertheless, the entire crowd was still and attentive.

“I felt,” Lane said after the show, “like we were able to surprise the audience and ourselves as performers with the format, its intimacy — but also the way it drew people to listen in, almost like those in the audience were being let in on a secret group of songwriters who were just doing their thing together.”

A second show was held on Nov. 11, and the final show of the year is scheduled for Nov. 18. Lane, however, has ambitious plans to make The Story Behind the Song a weekly event in the new year. He said he wants to turn the series into a “premier songwriting hub, not just for the city, but for the province and the country.