Calum Graham picked up a laugh while describing how he bought his first mattress during the COVID-19 shutdown.
The 30-year-old acoustic guitarist was referring to a heavy touring schedule of 200 shows annually where a go-bag was his constant companion. He barely slept at home, but COVID forced him to slow down and take stock of his life.
“When I first started travelling, I would meet people from all over the world and I discovered we wanted the same things — love, happiness, and a peaceful existence. Despite our differences, we have a common ground — musically, socially, spiritually,” said Graham.
The Victoria-based musician-singer-songwriter has been dubbed one of the world’s top 30 guitarists under 30 by Acoustic Guitar Magazine. He has recorded six albums of original material and teamed up with IMAX composer Steve Wood to write the musical score for Humpbacks, an underwater 3D documentary about whales.
His last album, Thread of Creation released April 2019, has reverberated across the Canadian musical landscape. Fans and reviewers alike lauded his rare fingering style that relays the impression more than one instrument is being played at once.
Originally slated to visit St. Albert last year, the concert was delayed due to COVID. Graham makes his city debut as part of the Arden Theatre’s professional series. Since the theatre is too spacious for an intimate experience, he will perform Friday, Nov. 19 at the new City Arts Space in Campbell Park.
Although born in British Columbia, Graham grew up in Taber and High River.
“I initially started playing the guitar when I was 13. Dad had just quit smoking and brought home a guitar to keep his hands busy. He showed me a few complicated chords and I never gave him his guitar back,” laughs Graham. Initially he played the electric guitar, flirting with music from rock giants Rolling Stones and Van Halen.
“I fell in love with the guitar. There wasn’t that much to do in a small town. I created my own entertainment not living in a big city and being saturated all the time.”
The electric guitar became an extension of himself. When a teacher introduced him to Don Ross, two-time winner of the National Fingerstyle Guitar Championships, Graham discovered his niche.
“It sounded like three guitars playing at once. My head exploded and I picked up an acoustic guitar.”
At this point in his career, Graham looks to the now-deceased Michael Hedges for inspiration. The innovative American acoustic guitarist created an entire movement within the acoustic music world. A creative composer and musician, he introduced two-hand tapping, slap harmonics, and wildly-altered tunings to create beautiful sonic landscapes.
“He transcended technical wizardry and he had a great voice. He’s my big inspiration. I want to follow in his footsteps and focus on expressing the acoustic guitar. I listen to different influences. My approach to writing music is blending those influences.”
World-renowned acoustic guitarist Antoine Dufour produced Graham’s last two albums.
“Antoine is a genius. He’s a creative mastermind, but he also understands how to get the best sound. As a producer, he has no ego. He’s just a great guy,” said Graham.
Although Graham has recorded several songs blending music with lyrics, most of his tracks are instrumental.
“If I were to describe my music, it’s very atmospheric and very much an ambient soundscape. For a live show, it’s a relaxed ambient sound as well as a few energetic pieces.”
In new and diverse ways to express himself, Graham’s next album is planned as a 12-track layered with nature’s sounds recorded around Vancouver Island — owls, birds, Pacific chorus frogs, rain, wind, and water.
During his concert at City Arts Space, Graham will test out new material, play a couple of songs he composed as Christmas gifts, and deliver a few evocative works from Don Ross and Michael Hedges.
The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. at 105, 125 Carleton Drive. Tickets are $28 and can be purchased at 780-459-1542 or online at stalbert.ca/exp/arden/
Attendees are asked to follow all provincial health measures currently in place.