University of Ottawa’s Fulcrum

Canadian singer-songwriter Jon Brooks brings back a musical tradition 

JON BROOKS IS taking music back to its storytelling core. The independent musician, a resident of Ontario’s King City, recently released his latest album, Moth nor Rust—a solo acoustic project that preaches the simple values of faith, love, and justice. 

“The only definition of folk music I care to discuss is the idea that these are the songs that outline the current spirit of the people, their suffering and their happiness,” reflects Brooks. 

Brooks, who spent his youth as a member of Toronto rock group The Norge Union, shifted musical orientation after a seven-year hiatus, now using the edifying capabilities of folk as his preferred form of musical expression. Brooks’s music is lyrically dense, in the folk tradition of awakening others through song. 

“Music works emotionally and irrationally—the words tend to work on the intellect,” says Brooks of his morally charged and occasionally political songwriting. “I feel like one part journalist, one part storyteller, and one part preacher.” 

Moth nor Rust is a combination of these three approaches. Brooks gathered the material for the well-written compilation of stories through multiple interviews with everyday Canadians. In this album, Brooks departs from his previous concentration on his war experiences and resulting perspective, a focus that garnered a Canadian Folk Music Award nomination for best songwriter in 2007. Although delighted with the success of his previous album, Ours and the Shepherds, Brooks opted for a more positive tone with Moth nor Rust, feeling that he had more than just military tales to share. 

“I couldn’t help but generate an image in people’s minds as this guy who has a strange fascination with war stories. With this [album], I’ve gone as far away from war as I possibly can.” 

Although this latest release shifts dramatically in tone, Brooks decided to include one song, “War Resister”, in order to tie the two albums together. 

“The first song on this [album] had to be a walk away from war,” explains Brooks. “I hope that the song is not moralistic, in the sense that I’m telling people what to think. That’s never my aim. My aim is to make people think.” 

Brooks’s goal of creating thought-provoking material resonates throughout Moth nor Rust. 

“I’m really sick of the ironic,” says Brooks. “There comes a time when we’ve shown the world as it is in the most postmodern, ironic, and cool ways. Now I feel bored by it. Now can we have someone go and try to show what Woody Guthrie did?” 

Late American singer-songwriter Guthrie was a pioneer musician in the storytelling tradition of folk music. His work is known for its upbeat tone and focus on the complicated lives of ordinary people—exactly the kind of music Brooks sought to emulate on Moth nor Rust. 

“I believe that an [album] is like a movement,” says Brooks.“Twelve little movements in a symphony.” 

Besides touring Canada and the United States with Moth nor Rust, Brooks is also working on yet another album with a strong central theme—the Canadian immigrant experience. 

“There’s a lot of great successes in the fact that we’re a country of immigrants,” Brooks explains. “But there’s a lot of dirty little failings too. I want to tell some of these stories that reveal maybe the not so successful aspects. 

by Sepideh Soltaninia 

October, 2009