We spoke with Terra Lightfoot about meteor showers, the cycle of life, presenting her vision in the most honest way, how globalization has bled out cultural uniqueness and why it’s okay to be a shut-in.
My musical philosophy right now is to present my ideas in the most honest format and the most honest way.
I recently had a conversation with a friend about we are all “organized messes” in life. I don’t know if I’m mischaracterizing it, but would seem that plenty of your most recent music deals with coming to terms with imperfection, wrongness and ephemera. Is that part of your musical philosophy in any way? In other words, do you think your work presents yourself as a still-developing musician and person?
No, you are not mischaracterizing. You hit the nail on the head! My musical philosophy right now is to present my ideas in the most honest format and the most honest way. That means using instruments and players that I believe in, who can communicate my ideas in the way that I want and to play the notes how I want to hear them played. I’m lucky to have a great band and we are a living, breathing, changing thing, in many ways like a relationship or a person. I certainly hope my work presents itself as still developing. People I really respect who have done great things seem to be constantly pursuing new messes and new wrongness and new imperfection, or perfection…
I’d like to go way back from there. Can you please describe your earliest memory as a child? What was going on, where were you, and do you instill any personal importance in this memory?
That’s an interesting one. I suppose you never really know what your first memory is. My parents lived in a little apartment on Hamilton Street in Waterdown, ON, and my first memory might be a birthday party where my mom was filming my friends and I saying silly things. I might have been three or four. I remember thinking that we were on television — I had seen people on TV, so I assumed we were on TV too. But the important thing about this memory that sticks with me now is that I was very loved as a kid. Really supported, regardless of anything that was going on. I remember the feeling of that memory more than what was really going on… that I felt safe, comfortable, silly and happy.
Please describe your most recent experience in a town or city you’d never visited before. Did anything noteworthy occur? Have you found extremely varying conditions in every location you’ve travelled to in your life, or are people kind of the same everywhere?
I’m in Japan right now, so this question is very pertinent. Everything noteworthy is happening here, all the time. There’s lychee in their fruit salad. They’ve got miso soup and hot coffee in vending machines. It’s the future! In the past couple of years, I’ve been to so many places I’ve never visited before, and a lot of folks would tell you that people and places are mostly the same. There are people who love to help others, there are people who are angry, there are kids who are taken care of or not taken care of, people with addictions, artists, painters, monks, farmers, businesspeople, there are galleries and tourist traps and beaches and markets… the same kinds of people exist everywhere. Globalization has taken away some of the unique things we could have cherished about different cities. There’s a Burger King or McDonald’s everywhere you go, and I hate that. But in a lot of ways there is a lot of beauty on every street you walk down in every city, and that beauty changes over time. It’s all different in tiny and wonderful ways.
I used to only be interested in being around other people, but doing a few solo tours has taught be how valuable being alone can be and now I crave it.
As my personality has developed since I was a kid, I’m much more enveloped in my own space than constantly wanting to go out at every opportunity. My significant other would call me a “shut-in,” especially since I began working on North of the Internet! Where does your personality fall between inconspicuousness and outgoingness? How has it changed over time?
I’m very black and white when it comes to this. I like that you are a shut-in. That’s being honest with yourself about what you want to do. I love to be inconspicuous, and being in places where I don’t speak the language is great for that — being totally anonymous in a German restaurant or taking a walk in a park in Nagoya. But I also crave intimacy with people sometimes. I miss my friends and my family when I’m away, and few things can take the place of human interaction. So I guess I’m walking the line. I used to only be interested in being around other people, but doing a few solo tours has taught be how valuable being alone can be and now I crave it.
Please describe the three most influential people in your life, related or unrelated, dead or alive. How have they influenced your views or your daily behavior?
My grandmother on my mother’s side, Lorna Rankin. She never had any money, but she was very happy. She was forgiving, she understood people, she listened to them and she cared about them. She saw the good in everyone, even people nobody else could stand. True unconditional love. I always ask myself how she would react to a certain person or situation, especially when I’m frustrated.
In terms of what we were talking about before — pursuing new developments in music —Daniel Lanois has been a huge influence. He has been a great supporter of mine since we met five or six years ago. I’ve learned so much about music from him but also about how to treat the people around you, and how to have a sense of humour about yourself. He will tell you he’s still developing as an artist even though he’s made a thousand hit records. He’s working on new music and new sounds all the time. He’s a person who has never had to change what he was doing to have success, and yet he still pursues these new ideas and new kinds of music. That’s something I’m striving for in my career and my personal life as well. Dan also has this way of inspiring the people around him. Spending a few hours with him can shift your whole philosophy on life; he has a different way of thinking that is contagious in the best way. I’m always trying to catch up with him.
Another person who has been hugely influential on me is Jackson Browne. I’ve really loved listening to his music and his songs and his ideas. He seems like such a humble guy despite being one of the best songwriters of all time — he wrote “These Days” when he was 16! — and he’s an insane piano player and guitar player. I got the chance to meet him at a party a little while ago and we played and sang together all night. It was like a dream sequence. He was gracious and funny and kind and loved just hanging out and playing music. That was a big shift for me, because when I was starting out, all I wanted out of my music career was to meet Jackson. Hanging out with him has given me a sense of closure and inspired me to look further down the road, to find new goals and more musical heroes.
I’m kind of interested in how we’re all kind of more in-tune with our physical and mental health than we were a hundred years ago. But some of it almost doesn’t jive with what we observe… with all our advances, people still die young for no reason or live to three digits on cigarettes and bourbon. Do you think it’s kind of encoded into our genetics how long we live, or have we received benefits to our longevity with all these strides in medicine and science?
Another great question. I had a family cat who lived to 22. She was alive almost as long as I was when she died. She ate no-name cat food and I don’t remember her going to the veterinarian very much, if at all. She never needed to. Some people are like that too: They put garbage in their bodies and they wake up feeling the same as somebody who takes 100 vitamins a day and drinks beet juice. I think there are ways of cheating aging or sickness that were always there — eating well, doing yoga, drinking lots of water, sleeping well, you know… all that hippie stuff. But some people are just going to do what they think is right, whether that means taking a pill to combat the side effects of another pill or not taking the pill at all. And any one of them could get sick, I guess. Then other people are going to get hit by a bus and none of the vitamins will be able to save them. I’m going down a deep hole here…
If I hear about someone messing with one of my friends I am usually ready to murder that person within minutes. Luckily, I’ve never had to put this quality to good use.
I’m a Leo, so we can begin there. I also love the stars. We played a fest this summer in the middle of nowhere during the Perseid meteor shower and I saw the biggest shooting star I’ve ever seen… so enchanting. I guess could name the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, Orion, Polaris…maybe Ursa Minor, Ursa Major, Cassiopeia? This question is reminding me that I have much to learn.
Lastly, please describe in detail the last instance in which you felt annoyed. What was it, specifically? Are you easily set on-edge? What about the last time you felt truly soothed and comfortable?
Annoyed? That’s tough. I don’t usually get annoyed. I get frustrated when I can’t find things — annoyed with myself. Being on the road is a constant game of keeping track of everything you own, and it’s easy for me to misplace things like my ear plugs or capo or a tiny cable I need to power one of my pedals. In Vancouver, I lost my in-ear monitors for most of the time we had to soundcheck and was pretty pissed off because it had the potential to wreck the show (or at least mess with my comfort level) and I was looking everywhere. So I was even angrier when I found they were sitting in plain sight.
I’m not easily set on edge, at all, except maybe when it comes to people messing with my friends and family. If I hear about someone messing with one of my friends I am usually ready to murder that person within minutes. It might not be my best quality — and luckily I’ve never had put it to good use.
Curated by: Morgan Enos
Conducted by: Email
Published: November 7, 2017
Total questions: 8
Word count: 1816
Reading time: Seven minutes
Beet juice: Unnecessary
Pill: Other pill
Cat lifespan: 22
On TV: Everyone
aloneness, astronomy, beet juice, Big Dipper, bourbon, Burger King, Cassiopeia, cat, conspicuous, constellations, cosmos, globalization, guitar, hippie, inconspicuous, Jackson Browne, Japan, Leo, lifespan, Little Dipper, lychee, McDonald’s, meteor shower, miso soup, music, Nagoya, Ontario, Orion, Perseid, philosophy, pill, Polaris, soundcheck, Terra Lightfoot, Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Vancouver, vegetarian, Waterdown
About the curator
Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.
Related conversations W