There’s a romantic quality about life on a train. The miles and miles of open space, unplugged from the world. Legends of folk, blues and country have sung songs about it, but it’s rare to hear that perspective from a woman. Vancouver’s Lisa Joyce, a.k.a Joyce Island, set out on a journey last year to promote her first solo record, and in the process found out more about herself than she was originally anticipating.
Growing up in Alberta to a musical Ukrainian family, she was exposed to records by the likes of Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. Her love for “Americana” music was planted early on, and played a part in how she went about her last tour.
How did you feel when you finally released your solo record?
I put my album out in April. It was my first album and I really didn’t know what to expect. I had zero expectations and zero idea of what I was getting into. I was really surprised the album was met by a ton of positive media attention. I was totally taken a back; the producers and everyone were just like, “What??” Then the song started getting play across Canada on CBC Radio; it was trippy. Then people were telling me, “If you’re getting radio play, you gotta tour”.
I’ve always loved music, and I’ve never been one of those strategic people. I mean, I always have hopes for what I’d like to see happen, but I’ve learned to let go of the expectation, which is good cause it treats it like an existential adventure.
So how did the tour on the train come about?
One day I just had a brainwave after watching a lot of old documentaries with Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, and all these icons, and I thought, “Why don’t we do something on a train?” This antiquated vintage idea of a train in the first place suits the music, which has that older rootsy feel, and I thought it was more of an original way to showcase my music.
What was the reaction of you playing for the passengers?
It was surprising how much the music on the train brought people together. On one of the nights, one of the cars was crammed full of people; you could barely move, and everyone was just singing and partying. I didn’t know what to expect when I started, but that was such a powerful experience. Some people afterwards would tell me “Thank you. You made my trip so memorable”.
I made some serious friendships on that trip. This older couple on the train going to Halifax totally took me under their wing and invited me to dinner at their house in Halifax. The guy pulled out a 1958 Gibson guitar and was teaching me some old Stompin’ Tom songs about Nova Scotia; it was just crazy how rich that experience was.
In a humble way, I’m trying to tip my hat to my heroes and pay homage to an era that was hugely influential to music and that I’m most inspired by.
Lisa will be heading back out for another cross-Canada tour on Via-Rail this year. Dates will be available on her website.
By Brnesh Berhe
Photo credit: Angela Hubbard