Mild mannered bureaucrat by day, recording artist by night: Wes Regan album release party July 26th at Fox Cabaret

When I moved to Vancouver twenty years ago to pursue a career in music and the performing arts I never imagined myself working in social policy and community economic development for the City. I’m proud to be a public sector worker engaging communities on some of the most complex and serious issues around poverty, inequality, cost of living and social inclusion, but it’s also work that sometimes takes an emotional toll. Compared to peers working on the front lines of the overdose crisis what I have to deal with is tame, but there are times when the gravity of the challenge, and the frustration of facing trends or structures that have became hammered together over decades to create it, just requires you to have an outlet, some way of coping. Some hopefully healthy way.

So, a few years ago I reconnected with my creative self and began writing and recording music again. It actually started with my candidacy in the 2015 Federal Election, I wrote a few songs inspired by climate hope (and climate dread) as well as political activism (and political oppression) just acoustic guitar and some piano. One of those songs I recorded “The New Normal” made its way onto a new album (with a full band) being released this month.

The album is titled Haven’t Dreamed In Years and the album release listening party is this Friday July 26th at the Fox Cabaret. Ticket sales are being shared with two local non-profits working on harm reduction and poverty reduction (More about that later in this blog post). It was recorded with Jason Corbett of ACTORS at his busy studio, Jacknife Sound. And includes guest artists Rob Chursinoff (Tegan and Sara, Kinnie Starr, Ben Lee) and Adam Fink (ACTORS, Frankie, Gang Signs), Darcy Hancock (Louise Burns, Ladyhawk, Jon Rae and the River) and Hillary Frances Tuck (East Van Choir) who all helped make it sound amazing. I am truly excited, thrilled with where these songs went to with all their input, Jason’s most of all.

The album draws from my exposure to the amazing work going on in Vancouver and elsewhere to address the overdose crisis, climate justice, the crises of poverty, inequality and affordability that are gripping many cities. These and other issues that I invariably find myself working on or connected to or inspired by.

It is also about possible worlds, and being able to see that different reality, almost like a dream-like nether-state, in the world of today. When we are unable to see those possible worlds, when we stop dreaming, I believe we become stuck, paralyzed by our own lack of imagination. It’s a very difficult way for a mid-level bureaucrat to sometimes think, as we are so firmly entrenched in the realms of the possible (funding, risk, policy barriers, political will, public perception etc.) That being said, I happen to feel that the City of Vancouver is home to some pretty amazing creative problem solving staff and I have loved working with them over the past few years.

Fire Inside is one of those songs that I began writing in 2015 before I joined the City, it was inspired by the resistance to anti-LGBTQ laws and cruel political oppression of queer communities in Russia and other countries.

Where were you love when the darkness fell
Like a boot on your neck again
I could see it in your eyes,
They shone so bright
some kind of fire inside

I can’t help but feel that we’ve been here before
And we said then, never again
Treated like a criminal for stealing a kiss, for holding his hand

But there’s some kind of fire inside, for being who you are
Some kind of fire inside, for loving who you love
Some kind of fire inside, for dreaming what you dream
Some kind of fire inside that won’t go out

I had worked in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside for several years already in different roles but my work in Social Policy brought me closer into the overdose crisis than I had ever been. In many ways Vancouver has made tremendous progress in combatting the overdose crisis, the harm reduction actions borne of community (and some academic and political) activism save lives every single day and have helped to de-stigmatize drug use and re-humanize drug users to many who previously may not have been on board. But the underlying causes of pain, trauma and anxiety that are at the heart of the crisis remain frustratingly difficult to change. The lyrics in the first track of the album, Poison Town, are largely about this.

I’m gonna find the man who poisoned this town
I’m gonna open hell and drag him down
Through the wailing spirits and wandering souls
Pay the ferry man his final toll
Make my way home through the smoke and haze
To a cedar smudge wafting up from Main
There was a chemical fire down at the port
Didn’t kill you this time, so be a good sport

I’m gonna find the man who poisoned this town
And bring every lost lover back home

Keep your heart beat going

I’m gonna find that ache in the middle of your heart
For the one you miss, for that missing part
We got angels working on the front line
While I’m coping and groping wandering blind
So much love in this pitch black world
We can dust it off like a dirty pearl
I try to lift you up don’t want to let you down
Looking for the man who poisoned this town
Looking for the man who poisoned this town

Keep your heart beat going

Some of the songs were also directly inspired by friends and colleagues who had passed away in the last couple of years. Tracey Morrison was a champion for harm reduction and Indigenous cultural healing, and just an all round beautiful and wonderful person. Her personality, her smile and good natured presence could light up a room. Her baskets of bannock too for that matter. She was always one of those people who I was super happy to bump into in the neighbourhood. She was taken by tainted drugs in 2017.

Hendrik Hoekema was a tireless advocate for education, skill development and training for people who faced barriers to opportunity. If it wasn’t for him I don’t know what I would be doing today. He gave me my first opportunity to work in the DTES on issues of social inclusion and CED and poverty reduction in 2010 after he convinced the CEO of the agency I was working at as a co-op student, Shirley Chan, to hire me on after my co-op placement was done. In fairness, Shirley gave me my first opportunity when she previously hired me on as a co-op student, the ultimate deciding factor being the fact that I lived in the DTES at the time. Hendrik insisted she keep me around! (He was Board Chair at the time conveniently).

At that point in time my opinion of myself was that I was a struggling musician/bartender/server who was faking his way through a pretty awesome job with an intergovernmental agency as best he could. Hendrik convinced me that I had a career in this field, convinced me that I had the skills and abilities. This was something he also did for countless others I learned over the years. He gave them confidence, he gave them trust, he gave them a chance, sometimes several. Hendrik’s health deteriorated rapidly in 2017, dealing with complications from diabetes and other things. He gave his entire self to his work; from his death bed plotting how to get resources into community, pondering how to strengthen the connections between CED and reconciliation, and ensuring the body of knowledge around CED was passed from generation to generation.

The song Gravity is about the loss of friends. During one session in the studio in 2018 we received news that someone in the circle of friends of guest drummer Adam Fink (ACTORS, Frankie, Gang Signs) and Jason died of health complications related to substance intake. It reminded me of Tracey, and Hendrik, and others who I’ve known who passed recently and how it just rocks your world, you feel almost untethered as you try and process it.

I can’t feel it turn, the world underneath
As real as those dreams where you’re picking up teeth
I reach out to grasp, gravity
But it’s not there, at least not for me

When someone you love’s no longer in this world
There’s an emptiness that can never be filled

People they search their whole lives
For that speck in the dust that’s actually spice
Like telling a star from a satellite
You get closer and closer, feel the warmth from the light

When someone you love’s no longer in this world
There’s a part of you that feels so far away

The work that takes place in community to prevent lives being taken, and to help enrich the live of those dealing with trauma and cycles of poverty and prejudice, is a constant source of inspiration and hope for me. That’s why the ticket sales from my album release party on July 26th will be shared with Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society (WAHRS) and the newly established Hendrik Hoekema Legacy Fund (Administered by Vancity Community Foundation). The fund helps improve access to post secondary training and education for low-income individuals who face barriers to employment.

Hope you can make it. Tickets available here.