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Folk musician’s latest album focuses on expressing anger in modern society

Chatham, Ont.-born singer-songwriter Sarah Hiltz brings her "The Calm Fury Tour" to Moose Jaw on Tuesday, Oct. 4, at The Hive on Main Street.

Folk musician Sarah Hiltz’s latest album, “Calm Fury,” came about after she spent three years researching how people — especially women — experience, express, and repress anger in modern society.

Hiltz kicked off The Calm Fury Tour on Sept. 8 in Toronto and is heading west to promote the 11-song album, her fourth since 2009. 

The Chatham, Ont.-born singer-songwriter brings her show to Moose Jaw on Tuesday, Oct. 4, at The Hive on Main Street. Her friend, Rebekah Hawker, will open and join her for some songs during the main show.

Their combined show features two distinct and contrasting sets, full of engaging songs, humour, storytelling and well-arranged moments of harmony and collaboration.

Hiltz’s work during the last decade landed her a Folk Music Ontario’s Songs from the Heart award (political category), opening slots for Canadian icons Gordon Lightfoot and Ron Hynes, a top-3 placement in nation-wide music competition She’s The One, a Best Folk Album nomination via the Toronto Independent Music Awards and an invitation to give a TEDx talk in 2014.

Excited to perform

“I’m really quite excited. It’s the first tour that I’m doing since fall of 2019 … ,” Hiltz told the Moose Jaw Express. “I’m really excited to share these songs with people for the first time … because I haven’t been playing a lot of shows.

“So I’m very excited to share that and I’m also excited to go on a road trip with my pal (Hawker),” the folk musician laughed. “I love that drive across Canada. And I think it’s a beautiful time of year to do it.”

Hiltz believes that songs aren’t truly finished until they are performed for others. While she can write lyrics for herself, the magical part is sharing that work with others. This is one reason she has missed performing live during the past few years. 

Researching anger

Hiltz began researching the theme of anger during a residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in March 2019. 

The songs from that process focus on how anger is processed in the body, communication with others, female anger and the male response, how anger is used as energy, self-directed anger, justified anger, creativity and anger, and spirituality and prayer. Various media, video footage and texts from interviews with other musicians were also sources of inspiration.

Hiltz released “Calm Fury” on March 4, 2022, but she was in Alberta researching a new project when the album came out. She returned to Toronto and began planning the album’s official launch but faced continued pandemic lockdowns and restrictions.

“I’m self-managed, so … I don’t have the capacity to do that (planning tours) and have it be cancelled while I had other projects on the go,” she said. “So I thought I just better play it safe and wait a little while.”

Expressing emotion

Hiltz named her album “Calm Fury” because, while anger is a volatile and high-intensity emotion, she wanted to learn new ways to express it constructively. Sometimes people become angry about unimportant things, while sometimes they become angry for good reasons and should act on that emotion.

“But if it’s expressed in a way that is destructive to other people and relationships, then it … leads to more problems,” she said. “That’s what I was finding with myself, because I’m the type of person who repressed anger in my life. So when I realized that about myself, I wanted to try to learn how to express it.

“It kind of just went really poorly,” Hiltz continued with a laugh, “because I learned that in my life growing up. And I didn’t like the person that I was. That is what kind of initiated this project … .

“So ‘Calm Fury’ is the idea of being able to hold the emotion of anger without letting it overtake you.”

Big step creatively

Hiltz is pleased with the 11 songs she wrote and believes the album is the best she’s created. She teamed with a Montreal producer to create the album, while she worked with great musicians to craft the songs. 

“I feel like it’s definitely a big step forward for me creatively,” she said.  

Hiltz had never taken a thematic “deep dive” on her previous albums but appreciated this opportunity since she could pursue a topic wholeheartedly. She enjoyed compiling the data she acquired and turning it into music. 

“If you listen to the songs on the album, most of them don’t sound like their angry songs. They’re telling stories and expressing heartfelt emotional situations,” she said. “There is a heartfelt ballad that sounds right out of a musical that tells the story of a neighbour of mine … . 

“But if people want to dive deeper into it with me, then that’s all there for them to go below the surface.”

Future projects

Hiltz might be promoting her newest album, but she is already working on the theme of her next album. That work last winter led to unexpected life changes that created a season of uncertainty and left her feeling uncomfortable. 

The newest theme, “The Exit Interview,” explores the idea of “liminality,” similar to being in limbo or between two periods of life. Hiltz connected it to winter farming practices in Canada, a liminal time when crops are not growing and producers are waiting for good weather to return.

“And there’s nothing you can do. You’re just stuck waiting in the uncertainty of it,” she chuckled. “And obviously, we know from the season that eventually winter is over.”

Visiting Alberta farms showed the folk musician that farmers take uncertainty in stride, whereas she likes having control and knowing all the details beforehand. 

“I conceived of this project before the pandemic, but I feel like now, the idea of trying to learn to be better with holding uncertainty is something that we all could probably make use of … ,” Hiltz added. “I’m in the middle of that research right now.”

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