Jade Turner’s break from music has been longer than expected.
The Cree singer-songwriter from Misipawistik Cree Nation has been winning awards since the release of her first album in 2013. Two years ago — after being named Emerging Artist of the Year by the Manitoba Country Music Association and with new music ready to be released into the world — she took a step back to focus on family.
"I had gotten pregnant," says Turner, 34, over the phone. "At that time, I wanted to make sure that I could do a tour… and I just didn’t feel like I was able to do that when I was pregnant because I had gotten put on really light duties at work from my doctor."
She gave birth to her first child, Jaxon, and was feeling ready to get back on stage in 2020 after wrapping up maternity leave.
"Then COVID came and put it off again," Turner says with a laugh.
And so, she waited. When it became clear live performances wouldn’t be happening anytime soon, Turner decided to start putting out some of the music she had written long before becoming a mother.
Highway Town, a twangy ballad about leaving home, hit the airwaves last summer and Hangover Blues, a blues-infused anthem about wanting more out of a relationship, came out last month. The latter is something of a musical evolution for Turner.
"I thought I was getting into my vocals before, but this song is just something else when it comes to vocals," she says. "I can feel it in my stomach, in my soul."
The singles are part of a forthcoming, self-titled album Turner has been writing and recording with Winnipeg producer Murray Pulver. While the pandemic has made touring and performing impossible, it has allowed her to slow down and assemble a team of audio technicians, promoters and designers to support the release of her next project — something that was missing from her first two albums.
"There’s so many people involved to release things properly nowadays," she says. "I’ve learned so much since that first album… I had no idea what I was doing."
She has also gained more confidence in her abilities as a songwriter over the last eight years.
Turner grew up moving around a lot with her mom, who worked as a nurse in remote communities in northern Manitoba. Being the new girl made her a target among classmates, and music helped her escape the bullying she experienced in school.
"Music was my everything back then," she says. The first song she ever wrote came while skipping school in the middle of winter to avoid her tormentors.
"I just ran into the bush and stayed there until my watch told me I had to come out. And all that day, I remember sitting there, like, building little forts, walking around and writing and singing to myself… it’s always been my safety net and my way of expressing any kind of emotions."
She was drawn to country music because it was always playing at home on the radio tuned to NCI FM. Strong female vocalists including Faith Hill, Céline Dion and Martina McBride were major influences.
These days, song lyrics pop into her head unexpectedly. She keeps her phone on hand at all times so she can sing a line or two into her voice memo app while driving or working.
By day, Turner works at a generating station as a Red Seal millwright. It’s a career she fell into entirely by accident, but one that has given her the time and funding to pursue her passion for music.
"Life is expensive; I need to be able to survive, as well," she says. "It actually makes music more fun in a way because it’s less daunting… (music) pays for itself now, which is awesome, but in the beginning it didn’t.
"I do hope one day that I’m able to do music full time, but right now I’m currently pretty happy with the situation that I’m in."
Highway Town and Hangover Blues are available on Spotify, Apple Music and jadeturnermusic.com.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.