Eric Howden had felt a strong connection to Iceland since his first visit in 2010. “I get inspiration for my lyrics everywhere,” he explained. “But being in Iceland inspired my lyrics the same way that being ferociously in love colours everything.” So he went there to be alone in the Winter of 2011, and to work on Öxnadalur, the third album of Raised by Swans, his alter ego and solo musical project.The process of putting the album together started during six weeks on a farmhouse in a desolate area in Northern Iceland. “I had these amazing long nights in Iceland in which I was forced to write as much as possible.” The five-hour days made it easy to get into a songwriting routine — he would spend all five hours of daylight outside, hiking, climbing, even sleeping. Then when it would get dark, he would cook himself a dinner and work into the night. Howden would continue to work for over three years after that trip to complete the album, as the songs changed and evolved. “I needed a seed of inspiration, and I found it in Iceland. I could then take that seed and grow it anywhere,” he said. The finalized songs reflect the beauty of Winter itself — otherworldly and a little melancholy, while unfolding a warmth all at the same time.
That mood was revealed when Howden performed a release show on Dec. 18 at the Horseshow Tavern, where there was an undeniable sense of intimacy between musician and audience. There were the small jokes inserted between songs and show of support yelled by some audience members, but there was also a thoughtful mood that permeated throughout the performance. This was one of only three release shows in 2014 — a solo show in Akureyri, Iceland and two full band performances in London and Toronto, Ontario, and the first performance with a full band in over two years, accompanied by Andy Magoffin (Two Minute Miracles) on bass guitar, Ray Cammaert (Pink Moth) on keyboards, and Brady Parr (Tournament!) on drums.
For his part, Howden is humble, if not downright self-deprecating about his place in the independent music scene in Canada: “I only write the way I know. I just desperately want to express things that are inside me.” But Raised by Swans has been around and garnering fans from all parts of the world since 1998. The previous two albums, Codes and Secret Longing (2005) and No Ghostless Place(2010) received the attention of filmmaker Atom Egoyan, who featured songs from the two albums in his films Adoration (2009) and Chloe (2010). Meanwhile Canadian novelist and artist Douglas Coupland featured “Violet Light” in his film Everything’s Gone Green (2007).
Somehow, though the project has been around for over sixteen years, Howden managed to keep it from completely entering the mainstream consciousness. “Every single time I hear from someone about my music its a moment of wonder and humility,” he says. “Raised by Swans is such a tiny thing and it absolutely blows my mind. The people who reach out to me would expect me to continue to make music that's original."