Kathleen Edwards on quitting music, falling for a conman – and her comeback

Frustrated about her career and fighting depression, the Canadian songwriter left the industry in 2014 to open a coffee shop called Quitters – before a partner ‘tried to deconstruct my sense of self’

When Kathleen Edwards opened Quitters coffee shop in Stittsville, Ottawa, in late 2014, customers would ask if she was the country singer. Yes, in a manner of speaking, she was. “Great!” they would say. “I’ll have a coffee.” Edwards laughs. “It was a wonderfully freeing experience where I didn’t have to be so precious about who I thought other people should think I was.”

Edwards is not really a country singer, but rather a Canadian songwriting star of two decades whose wry, openhearted Americana brings to mind that of Tom Petty. Six years ago, expectations around who she was crushed her, prompting her to quit music and start the cafe. A new album, Total Freedom, marks a fresh start. Her brother suggested she put a bald eagle on the cover to emphasise the title. “I know it sounds a little ‘doo doo-doo!’” says Edwards, mimicking a military bugle as she FaceTimes from her bed, her red hair tied back. “But it was the essence of where I’ve got to.”

Among fans, Edwards is beloved for her sharp lens on relationships and mounting feelings of discontent, and for putting a Springsteen-ish spin on Canadian lore, naming hockey players and domestic murder victims in her songs. Her 2012 album, Voyageur, attracted a different kind of attention. It was produced by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, then on his own skyward trajectory. He was also Edwards’ boyfriend, following her divorce from the Canadian musician

That became the whole story: critics asking “if this was my divorce record produced by my new boyfriend”, Edwards says bitterly. “The reason that I had a record deal must have been because my work was OK, not because I made really good choices in my romantic partners.” She had hoped that Voyageur would elevate her career – not that that was why she made music, she clarifies. Yet Vernon’s mammoth success became a stark point of comparison: “It was hard getting a call saying: ‘I’ve just played to 20,000 people in Melbourne,’ and I can’t even sell 200 tickets in LA.” Continue reading