His bags are packed, and he's leaving Wolfville to set off and write songs about places he’s never been before.
Some might call it running away and others perhaps exploring, but modern-day troubadour Andy Flinn thinks it’s somewhere in the middle.
And he likes it just so.
Roaming has always been at the root of everything he does. It’s what brought him to Wolfville in the first place and it's what is now taking him back to where he grew up in a small Swiss German town in Switzerland.
“I’m always looking for new connections so I can go through the same shakes all over again. That’s what I do – I need novelty, and I even need problems. It can be dark – but I know that I can be happy as well, and that I need that, too,” he says.
Decade in Wolfville
It’s been more than a decade since Flinn first landed in Wolfville, but he says his first visit with then musical and life partner Ariana Nasr feels more like a millennium ago.
“It was cold, right, and it was Christmas – we came quite spontaneously, on a surprise visit, to see my partner’s family a long time ago,” he says.
Flinn came to Wolfville as a transplant from Toronto, where he lived after moving to Canada from Switzerland, where he grew up in a Swiss German village.
His first official taste of music was playing recorder in school, and Christmas music door-to-door. A less official start with music was creating random noises with random objects in his yard.
“I don’t know – I just really loved it. I loved making noise” he laughs.
He picked up the guitar at 17 but says his trademark beat-boxing began even earlier, when he made attempts at scatting after seeing jazz greats like Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton and Chris Barber with his mother.
He brought these crazy sound combinations to Wolfville in 2004 when he moved here with Nasr and says their unique flair caught the town by surprise.
“It was so eclectic – often playing in thirteen-eight time, things like that – and we learned from the song writing community to become a little more accessible, but we kept the freak show. The kick drum, the high hat, my beat boxing,” he says.
Crafting the sound
Flinn says he began making his mark when Nasr introduced him to the many musicians in town, who he began collaborating with on various instruments including bass, guitar and vocals.
He’d never before studied musical theory, so he began auditing music classes at Acadia University. It was a time Flinn describes as fundamental to how he now hears and plays music.
“I grew so much. I’ve always been that way, and obsessive about exploring – new places, or in this case new sounds – and I love when I do something weird. So hearing all of these different things, right, was very cool to me,” he says.
Flinn then became a musical fixture at the Wolfville Farmers’ Market, and got involved as the soundman for the open mic at Paddy’s Brewpub in Wolfville.
Along with Nasr, Flinn also had a hand in revitalizing Night Kitchen, a musical evening mainstay in Wolfville that has changed hands several times over the years. They also ran the Acoustic Music Producers where they produced professional live demos for artists from 2009 to 2011.
These events became synonymous with Nasr and Flinn, and even since Night Kitchen switched hands again – it’s now run by the Dead Sheep Scrolls – it remains a unique showcase of Nova Scotian talent.
“It’s a special event because there is no favouritism, everyone has the same sound and same settings. It’s so refreshing – you can’t show up with a pedal board,” says Flinn.
Champion of local music
The number of people Flinn touched through these events is too high to count, but there are many people in Wolfville who’ve known him since he first arrived.
People like Wolfville singer-songwriter and music producer Kim Matheson, who says Flinn “is a champion of local music who’s given all, local and those from away, who wanted to bring their songs to a welcoming stage. He’s also given us his madcap eye rolls and facial expressions, voice and turn of phrase.”
Another of Flinn’s friends and frequent collaborators, Mike Aubé, describes him as a positive force who “has been so supportive of other musicians. His positive energy and genuine enthusiasm have inspired me and countless others.”
Former Grapevine co-manager and owner and current Where It's At, Tour Nova Scotia Ltd. operator Jeremy Novak arrived in Wolfville around the same time as Flinn and says the two found each other straight away because Flinn could not be missed.
“Andy was always right in the middle of it, either playing in his bands or manning the soundboard. Between all the unique sounds coming out of this Valley, I think his beat box scatting and folk combo is the most recognizable. That's Andy Flinn at his finest,” says Novak.
Flinn has started literally writing a new chapter in his life as he reverts to his roots writing songs in Swiss German.
Leaving Wolfville has come with excitement and sadness, but he’s looking forward to what his future holds, whether in Switzerland or elsewhere, and knows he’s also be yearning for a Paddy’s Monday night.
But he says that Swiss lifestyle of taking a train and sipping a beer is calling him home. That, and that tell-tale urge to hit the road.
He sees that Swiss German boy making a huge racket and knows he’s one step closer to getting back to those roots, even if it means stepping away from Wolfville.
But he knows that he’ll be back.
“I’m looking forward to being different there, [and] I want to do it all with just a guitar, so I do nothing but tell my story,” he says.
“But I will always love this place because it’s where I got to be me.”
Andy Flinn has written the following love letter for Wolfville:
“The love and acceptance of art and artists as a matter of culture is overwhelming and can be found across all generations, in small businesses, in the farming and food circles as well as educational institutions of all levels. Looking back, I see my Valley-self as another splotch of glue connecting artists and small business. Besides performing up to 200 times a year, I was lucky to witness thousands of performances, both as member of a support crew and from the audience perspective. This was my apprenticeship,” he writes.
“Here I learned that life imitates art. Photographers, writers and poets, actors and activists create a narrative that is almost exclusively supported by a hand to mouth population. Low income people volunteering to put on open mics, variety shows, coffee houses and jam parties, year after year, with little or no compensation. Think of Donna Holmes, Mike Milne, the Dead Sheep Scrolls and many more. Friendships and connections formed via the exchange of self-expressive show and tell. From the Union Street to the Rolled Oat, from the Noodle Guy to countless pubs and farmers markets between Windsor and Annapolis Royal, the mood and atmosphere of events and venues is fuelled by a segment of the population without economic visibility or clout.”
- TUNING IN: Combining unique sounds, songs for mosaic 'Like Coming Home' album
- TUNING IN: 'Music makes sense' to ECMA-nominated soundman Kory Bayer
- TUNING IN: A late-blooming musician makes a career out of music
- TUNING IN: Playing, singing music feels like 'coming home' for Wolfville songwriter
- TUNING IN: Combining classical voice with songwriting a priority for Acadia musician