People who didn’t watch the talent contest La Voix [the Québec-base franchise of U.S. nationally televised singing contest The Voice] in 2016 have probably never heard of Ryan Kennedy. They haven’t heard his stripped-down versions of Bruce Springsteen’s I’m on Fire, Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Cars” or Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone.” But most of all, what they haven’t heard is his soft, reassuring voice, one that weaves its way down to the bottom of our hearts.

Ryan Kennedy“I learned to sing louder than the crowd in bars so that they would hear me, it’s part of my journey”, says Kennedy. At 30, he’s just launched his second album, Love is Gold. His first album, the Neil Young-esque Home Fires was released in 2015. Both were self-produced.

Love is Gold was recorded by guitarist Dimitri Lebel-Alexandre with invaluable help from keyboard wizard François Lafontaine (Karkwa, Galaxie, Marie-Pierre Arthur, etc.), who handled arrangements and orchestrations. “I was very fortunate to work with him, he definitely left his mark on the album,” says Kennedy. Marc Hébert, Patrice Michaud’s bass player, also collaborated on the album.

“I played Father John Misty, The Nationals, Bon Iver and Beck to Dimitri so he’d get an idea of where I wanted to go,” says Kennedy. “And the record reflects that; guitars are neglected a little for the benefit of atmosphere, and keyboards that we can hear better. The overall musical colour that was our guiding light, our inspiration.”

When one Googles Ryan Kennedy, another one comes up first – a Christian rock artist. Ironically, religion has also played a major role in this Ryan Kennedy’s life, having been a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses until he was 21, when he left the group. “They’re a sect that made me live full speed ahead, but I left and I can now enjoy life much, much more,” he says. “I want to turn the negativity into positivity. I don’t like to talk about it, but let’s just say there was only one line of conduct. When I decided to go into music, I was told I couldn’t, so I left. And when you leave, you lose your family and your friends.”

“I’m one of those artists who write songs in parallel to therapy; my songs are entirely autobiographical.”

He no longer had any contact with his loved ones; that was the price he had to pay for a better life in pursuit of his dreams and aspirations. Music was his redemption. One almost hears the REM song “Losing My Religion.” “I’m one of those artists who write songs in parallel to therapy,” says Kennedy. “My songs are entirely autobiographical.

“When I was writing the song ‘Sanctuary,’ I was thinking of my little corner of the world, the place I can go, in the mountains, and be at peace with my past, to avoid allowing all that to re-surface,” he says. “Morin-Heights,” adapted in French by Benoit Pinette, aka Tire le Coyote, is one of the two Francophone songs on Love is Gold, alongside “Je cours toujours.” (“I’m Always Running”)

It goes:
L’histoire se termine là où elle commence
Dans les cendres blanches du silence
Et les plus beaux lendemains
N’y changeront rien

[The story ends where it began
In the white ashes of silence
And brighter tomorrows
Will change nothing]

Just as on “Whiskey Bar,” – a song about alcohol, and learning to cope with vice – “Love is Gold” is about being away on a never-ending tour, and the joy of coming home. “That’s pretty much my inspiration,” says Kennedy. “Ultimately, love is the theme that recurs the most, even when it has a bitter taste, like on ‘When You’re Sleeping.’ When a relationship ends, there’s always some apprehension that the other person will meet someone else and re-build their lives. That’s basically what I’m saying: I don’t care to know where you’re sleeping.” That’s a reference to his first wife, Tracy.

“‘Borderline’ says a lot about my condition and what goes on in the mind of the people who suffer from that disorder,” he says. [Borderline personality disorder, or BPD, is a complex psychiatric disorder with extremely varied symptoms.] “I am indeed very intense. The goal is to find a balance. On this record, I really laid my soul bare. It did me good.”