Victoria-grown singer-songwriter Chris Ho tries to get his music out to anyone who may want to listen — but he wasn’t always this outgoing.
“Well, they say that a lot of being successful is just showing up, but I never showed up,” says Chris Ho, 23, from his apartment overlooking Shelbourne Street. Ho is coming off a pair of shows in Victoria and Vancouver, respectively, celebrating the Jan. 18 release of his debut LP, City of Dust, recorded at Infinity Studios. It follows 2011’s highly successful Answers EP, which helped land him a seat on CBC’s Tracks on Tracks, an experience that involved a cross-Canada train tour and playing shows alongside artists like Sidney York and Shred Kelly.
But this was hardly Ho’s musical beginning — his genesis was spent recording albums at home, generating a cult following through the hand-to-hand sharing of these self-produced records. Ho refers to this time as “the reclusive years” of making records but almost never performing the music. “I recorded at home about 10 albums, all about 10 songs each,” says Ho. “[The songs] were just coming out because I was in such a dark head space, just reclusive and not very happy — but that was the thing that was actually preventing me from getting my music out there and performing more.”
If his musical genesis was one of despondency and isolation from the greater musical community, the recent events in Ho’s life are representative of an exodus from this mindset and a journey towards musical success.
Upon listening to City of Dust, one is immediately struck by the folk-indie hybrid compositional style found among such West Coast artists as Aidan Knight, whose albums, according to Ho, “you can’t help but be somewhat inspired by.” Ho credits other B.C. artists like Dan Mangan and The Zolas as major influences on his craft. As a graduate of UVic’s English Department, Ho had many opportunities to dig his well of lyrical inspiration even deeper. He cites modern and postmodern poets from T.S. Eliot to Kevin Young as influences. “I never got a cap and gown,” says Ho. “Tracks on Tracks fell at the same time.”
In his lyrics, Ho displays a sense of the consequences of the ways that human beings and nature interact: “When winter hums her tune/ the heart of man chooses not to listen even though he will regret/ the way the water freezes over with his debt.” This theme runs through the entire album in the form of topic and imagery, flowing throughout the more familiar pop territories of love and love lost.
“It’s Coming Along” is a funky, minor-chord-driven journey into rock ‘n’ roll. It’s also one of the most lyrically adventurous pieces on the album, beginning with the visually arresting lyric, “When we started out/ the sparrows built a nest with our tongues.”
The opener, “Trouble,” would not be complete without its whistle choir and horns. And then there’s the album ender, “Simple Notes,” which compares searching for the elusive qualities that make a song whole with the beauty of a simple life — a calm mind amidst the troubles of love.
Ho is candid about the struggles that have accompanied his recently achieved success. “People want to put you in a category; they want to say, ‘Okay, this is who you are, so you are going to want to market this,’ but it’s hard to say when you don’t really know who you are — you don’t really know where you fit in.”
For Ho, the hardest thing to gain was recognition for who he was as a musician and not just for how he could be marketed. He worked to find a sound unconfined to the realms of slow-tempo folk-rock or indie music — one that allowed for his creative process of “go[ing] beyond the moment where you sit down and spend x amount of time on a guitar riff or lyrics or a melody,” says Ho. “[Song writing] is actually all the time. I truly believe that a singer-songwriter will subconsciously be writing quite often throughout the day.”
Ho has no intentions of slowing down once City of Dust has settled. “I am definitely going to apply for the Peak Performance Project,” he says. He wants to apply for festivals over the summer and to play in Victoria’s Rifflandia festival in the fall. “[The organizers of Rifflandia] saw me perform just a little bit too late [last year],” he says. “They already had the lineup.”
On the title track of City of Dust, Ho muses, “City of dust, where are your roots?/ You ask us for love, ask us to consume/ for you.” We can only hope that Ho’s roots grow deep into his own successes, if only so that listeners can enjoy more albums like this one.
The Archers, Chris Ho, Hawk and Steel
Fairfield United Church, all ages
Feb. 16, doors @ 7 p.m.
Tickets available at Ditch Records