Canadian singer-songwriter Terra Lightfoot is making a name for herself internationally as one of her home territory’s brightest new talents, her third album New Mistakes showing off not only the power and versatility of her vox, but also an array of chunky riffs to tie it all together.
Lightfoot, a multi-octave mezzo soprano singer, first started out as part of a country-folk group in her hometown of Hamilton, before picking up her signature Gibson SG and moving into heavier roots-rock territory. New Mistakes, however, introduces wonderful elements of soul and blues to form her strongest work to date.
“I think the songs tell the perfect story of where I’ve been and where I would like to go,” she explains. “And I don’t want to apologize for any of it – I’m proud of it, mistakes and all.”
If those mistakes are what led to this record, it’s hard to argue – and Terra details the process behind it in our track-by-track interview below, as she continues her tour of Australia with talented local troubadour William Crighton this weekend.
Check out the tour dates and the new album below, along with Terra’s behind the scenes look at each track, and grab a copy right here.
Terra Lightfoot talks New Mistakes, track-by-track
“Paradise” actually started out as a different song called “Thunder” that was a huge hit at our shows.
On the last day of tracking the record, I had this crazy idea that I wanted to change the words because I wasn’t happy with all of them, so I set up a pillow fort and a guitar in the tracking room, went to work… and ended up with a new verse melody and completely different words. The producers liked the new verse so much they said, “Okay, now go write a chorus to match that verse” — and “Paradise” was born.
For me, “Paradise” is about letting go of perfection in love, the realization that everyone makes mistakes and relationships go through highs and lows. It’s not wrestling with the problems and missteps in our relationships but embracing them.
A really fun song that came about due to extreme fatigue. I was in Ottawa, having flown in on a red eye from California after attending a dinner at the Canadian consulate in LA.
I went out with some buds after the show and found a basement venue with a crazy loud band and a row of old pinball machines.
We played most of the night and the next morning I woke up in this beautiful hotel with my guitar out of the case on the bed beside me and reached over for it and started singing and playing the verse riff while my eyes were still closed.
The whole song fell right out of the sky almost finished.
This one is really close to my heart. It’s a tender song about falling in love at a messy time in your life, when nothing’s really working out and you’re not really the person you want to be quite yet.
And of course it’s about trying to love somebody long distance when you’re travelling. It’s about trust and believing that even when you don’t hear from them, that everything is going to be fine.
New single ‘Paradise’ is an absolute stomper
‘You Get High’
I wrote this while vacationing with my family in Northern Quebec in the mountains. I sequestered myself in a small room of this beautiful cabin and came up with the guitar part on my acoustic guitar — and it’s rare for me to write a song on acoustic.
Anyway, this song spans over many years in a temporal sense and the chorus brings us to the present where the subject continually makes the same mistakes over and over, pushing people who love him away. It’s also about that relationship we’ve all had.
When you’re in it, you know it’s not good for you or maybe for the other person either, and maybe your friends know it
too… but you stay because your lives are so entangled and you’ve been hanging around each other for so long that you can’t bring yourself to leave.
It’s a sad one, but the point is that we eventually learn to move on.
‘Stars Over Dakota’
This is a wild little number I wrote on a mini-tour where we drove around the Great Lakes in five days. We started in Toronto, drove to Wisconsin, Iowa, Chicago, Manitoba, Thunder Bay, and then home to Hamilton.
We logged around 3,000 miles in that run and were all sleep-deprived from the overnight hauls.
Between Iowa and Winnipeg, I had the late driving shift, which I usually don’t do, and I was just swimming in the night sky out in the middle of nowhere while the band slept. It was so beautiful I wrote the song in my head while I was driving and recorded it when we eventually pulled over.
I was inspired to write this song after meeting a Canadian woman named Norma Gale who was a near-famous country star in the 1970s. She played all over the world but specifically had a great following in Nashville, played with Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty.
This song is one of my first songwriter songs, I’d say. It chronicles the life of Norma as a musician in the ’70s, and trying to bring up her young son while she’s gunning for sustainable success.
I kept in touch with Norma and her son, and I let them know when I finally made it to Nashville to do some writing, but unfortunately she had passed away two weeks earlier.
‘Hold You’ (feat. Jake Clemons)
I wrote this while reading the Jim Guthrie biography Who Needs What. There was a specific passage I read over and over and for some reason the same riff would pop into my head when I read it. I fell asleep and woke up at 4am or 5am with the song in my head – it literally woke me up. I took that as a sign and went into the piano room to record “Hold You” essentially front to back.
I finished and fell back asleep afterwards, not really remembering the song until I was leafing through my voice memos looking for something else a little while later. We had talked about maybe having some horns somewhere on the record, so when the song was nearly finished, I got in contact with my friend Jake Clemons who I had met a few years ago at a charity show.
He graciously agreed to lend his talents to the song and truly put the cherry on top of the sundae on this one with a wicked sax solo.
‘Slick Back Kid’ (feat. Oliver Wood)
I started writing this song in Germany at a point when I was looking forward to an upcoming trip to the Mojave Desert (I guess that’s inspiring enough — to be in Germany thinking about a desert trip).
This is one of the songs that sent me in a new direction with my writing and with the genre I inhabit. I feel like I’m getting a little tougher, more comfortable with being labelled a rock musician or a blues musician and really living inside those labels and making them my own.
On that same Germany trip I had the pleasure of opening some shows for the Wood Brothers. I made friends with Oliver and we met up later in Nashville for a celebratory meal when my last record came out in the states. He’s a wonderful man and we’ve kept in touch, talked about writing. I was overjoyed when he agreed to lend his slide guitar chops and beautifully unique voice to the song.
Sometimes I don’t know where songs come from. This is one of those songs that came out of nowhere and I was left sitting at the piano nearly in tears. Just thinking about this song is heart-wrenching.
I think it speaks to self-reflection: not knowing whether you can change the past, or wondering if you could have done something different to change a situation. So much emotion in this comes through my guitar — the little riffs and details do some of the talking for me. Sometimes it’s hard to communicate a feeling through an instrument but I think these guitar lines really say everything I wanted to get across.
I wrote “Two Hearts” in mid-winter, when I had locked myself into my piano room to get some new songs happening. My usual songwriting process at this point was me sitting with a thousand pages stacked on various parts of the piano and playing my guitar on the piano bench. Messy, yes.
This song is similarly messy… about being confused in love, and being pulled in two directions. I wrote the lyrics just after a European tour where I had visited so many beautiful cities that I’d been dreaming about seemingly forever. “Two Hearts” wrestles with that guilt we feel when our eye wanders outside our relationships. I think it happens to everyone from time to time and is nearly unavoidable, and I wanted to engage with that feeling, not push it away.
One of my favourite parts of the entire recording process was tracking that end chord progression live-to-tape first thing in the morning. We woke up, went downstairs, hit record, and ended up with some of the juiciest vibes on the record in my opinion.
‘Three In The Morning’
This song contains one of my favourite lyrics on the record: “I long for the lover I thought you might be.” When you first get together, you think you’re going to take over the world together, that they’re perfect for you, that they complete you. And you eventually find out that nobody is perfect and it’s kind of unrealistic to put somebody on a pedestal like that.
It’s about caring too much for someone to tell them you’re leaving. It’s about trying to lose track of that unhappiness for a moment by partying together, making yourself forget about how dissatisfied you are because you’re drinking and you’re dancing and you’re having fun with your friends. It’s about the momentary postponement of something that deep down, you know is inevitable.
I wrote this in the dressing room when we were opening for Blue Rodeo on their big Canadian tour after witnessing a beautiful light pillar in the sky in Saskatchewan while everyone slept in the van.
It’s about the exhaustion we experience touring as a group but also about the inability to push someone from your mind when you’re contemplative and sleepy and in the middle of nowhere.
“Lonesome Eyes” is also about not going back to a love that wasn’t serving you, but reflecting positively on your time together — that you learned something together and you can continue moving through life without that person even though you care about them.
I also had the most fun ever recording the guitar solo for this.
Terra Lightfoot’s latest album New Mistakes is out now, and she plays her remaining dates this weekend with William Crighton – check out the dates below.
Terra Lightfoot’s Australian tour with William Crighton
Thursday 2nd November – Australian Music Week, Cronulla, NSW Friday 3rd November – Central Bar, Newcastle, NSW Saturday 4th November – Inland Sea of Sound Festival, Bathurst, NSW Sunday 5th November – Smith’s Alternative, Canberra, ACT Monday 6th November – Yah Yah’s, Melbourne, VIC
Thursday 9th November – Leadbelly, Sydney, NSW
Friday 10th to Sunday 12th November – Majors Creek Festival, Majors Creek, NSW
Thursday 16th November – Left’s Old Time Music Hall, Brisbane, QLD