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Long-distance relationship works for duo

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You wouldn't know it to hear it from their intimate, affecting songs, but Fearing & White often have half a world between them.

Juno-winning singer/songwriter and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings member Stephen Fearing is based in Halifax. Acclaimed singer/songwriter Andy White, who originally hails from Belfast, Northern Ireland, lives in Melbourne, Australia. And yet they've been songwriting partners for more than a decade.

The pair met at the Winnipeg Folk Festival back in 1998 and immediately hit it off. "You often meet people very briefly at festivals and never see each other again," White says. "Stephen and I instantly developed a rapport." (Fearing has Irish roots, so White says the pair were also bonded by the TV show Top of the Pops and marmite.)

After that chance meeting, the duo began an informal series of annual co-writing sessions at Fearing's home in Guelph, Ont. Eventually, they decided to record an album, 2011's self-titled effort.

"That first record was really the cumulation of a 10-year friendship," Fearing says. "We were writing the songs without the intention of making an album; we thought we might take them away to our separate things. At the end of 10 years, we looked at this pile of material and thought, 'Let's make a record.'"

Figuring there was probably a more efficient way to write a followup, Fearing & White decided to take a more concentrated approach to their second album, this year's Tea & Confidences. The new record was written in two breathless sessions -- one in Halifax and one on B.C.'s Salt Spring Island -- and recorded in Guelph with Gary Craig (Bruce Cockburn) on percussion, Jeff Bird (Cowboy Junkies) on harmonica and Ray Farrugia (Junkhouse) on drums.

"Musically, (the albums) are different in that (for the first record) we decided that we'd confine ourselves instrumentally to what we could reproduce on stage if we decided to go on tour," Fearing says. "There were a couple little graces, but mostly it's two guys and two guitars.

"For this one, we thought we'd let the songs dictate the instrumentation -- and then figure out how the hell we were going to tour." (Well, for one, they're touring with a drummer: Kent Macrae. But both songwriters say the record translates well live.)

Tea & Confidences is a dynamic album, one that brings together the best of both songwriters, but perhaps what's most striking about it is the spirit of collaboration that's imprinted into each of these songs. Fearing and White have that rare, magic Lennon-McCartney bond; it's what makes their seemingly impossible arrangement possible.

"We bring different things to each other that we don't find anywhere else," White says. "I think that's why it evolves and grows."

"We enjoy each other's company, but we also feel like the work is good," Fearing says. "We could get together as friends, but to take it to this level and want to get into a van and go through all the hurdles of organizing a record, it comes down to believing in the work."

"It's actually Stephen's smoothies," White deadpans. "The quality of his smoothies is unparalleled."


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 26, 2014 G11

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