Chase silver, and you know you’ll catch gold. These words of wisdom planted in the lyrics of the title track of Justin Hines’ remarkable new album Chasing Silver reveal the philosophical profundity that the singer and songwriter from Newmarket, Ontario weaves into his magical melodies. “I always try to write something relatively meaningful,” Hines admits. “For me it has to saying something and not just be ear candy.”
Blessed with a slightly graveled tenor voice, reminiscent of a hybrid Jim Croce and Cat Stevens, and an articulately poetic eloquence that shines in such songs as the first single, the thoughtful Say What You Will, the strident Courage (Come Out To Play) and the autobiographical The Troubadour, Hines is definitely not spouting ear candy. And even when he bears his heart with a romantic streak that nearly outshines his indomitable spirit, Hines is never cavalier nor flippant: the tender strains of You With Perfect Eyes or the playful organ-driven It May Be Too Late, divulges a depth approaching the artistry of some of his most revered influences, including the aforementioned Croce, Stevens and fellow songwriters James Taylor and Carole King. “Writing’s a weird thing,” Hines concedes. “You’re writing for yourself, but you’re also writing for other people without even knowing it. So it’s kind of a strange thing in that sense. But if the singer and songwriter comes from a place of sincerity and honestly, I think people can connect and resonate with that. I think my goal ultimately is to be that kind of artist.”
The 11 original songs (excluding two remixes and a potent cover of Solsbury Hill) on Chasing Silver easily fulfill that mandate. Justin Hines pours his heart and soul into an album that marks a steady evolution from his 2007 Orange Records debut effort Sides: Chasing Silver (plus two remixes) chronicle a life and experience that has stepped outside the boundaries of what even Hines could have imagined. Wheelchair-bound due to a rare genetic joint condition called Larsen Syndrome, Hines has never restricted or abandoned his goals to pursue the best that life has to offer. Even the whirlwind that occupied his life shortly after the release of Sides -- and the success of his radio hit Wish You Well -- found him traveling to destinations that he never dreamed were possible, as he touched and inspired people in China, Dubai, Scotland, the Persian Gulf and all across Canada with his music , his optimism and his outlook.
“For most of my life, I’ve been relatively home based. I didn’t branch out too much as a kid because of my physical situation, and now that I’ve got to see the world a little bit more, it’s certainly shaped my perspective somewhat. You go to places like Dubai and China and you see the differences, but you also see the similarities in all of us, the humanity in people. That’s actually been the greatest thing about traveling: understanding people from faraway places and coming to the conclusion that we’re really not all that different at all.” Hines says Courage (Come Out To Play) is a direct result of that experience. “That particular song is actually a song that encompasses my last couple years, in terms of totally branching out and dealing with new challenges that I haven’t faced before, and facing them with dignity and courage,” he admits.
These lessons serve as the apex and touchstone for 11 of Chasing Silver’s dozen songs: the sole non-original lone wolf being a spirited cover of Solsbury Hill, Peter Gabriel’s declaration of independence. Using acoustic-driven, folk-influenced pop stylings as a palate and producer Justin Abedin’s finely honed arrangement sensibilities, Hines took the Chasing Silver songs he sketched out on his keyboard and transferred them from his head to a sonic canvas that’s a little more expansive than his debut album. “I think I stepped out a little bit of my comfort zone, but in a good way,” the 27-year-old Hines explains. “It was a really liberating experience and I’m really pleased how it turned out. On the last record, I didn’t really want any electric guitars or anything like that. I wanted to keep it pretty stripped down. This time around, I decided to play with more layers. It’s still organic, but a little more evolved. I wanted to take it to the next level.”
Although the keyboard is the instrument with which he expresses himself as a songwriter, Hines confesses that songs germinate in his mind long before he articulates them. “For some reason, my brain can hold a lot of ideas, so I find myself constantly writing,” Hines explains. “Most of the time, songs form in my head a long time before I even get to the keyboard. I like them to fester in my brain and sleep on them for a while.”
“Somebody gave me some really good advice a long time ago: They said, ‘If you’re writing a song in your head, you fall asleep, you wake up and you still remember it, it’s probably worth remembering.’“ Indeed, Hines says his biggest challenge for Chasing Silver wasn’t coming up with ideas, but completing them. “The biggest challenge for this album was finishing songs, actually, because there was so much going on and I was writing in between things. “So it was a challenge to get into a place where I was really happy and I could say they were done.”
Hines says he was affected by the shift from the “my own clock, my own dime and my own time” independent dynamic of Sides compared with the deadline-driven Chasing Silver, but he took it in stride. “This time around, I think it kept me – no pun intended – on my toes a little bit,” he chuckles. “I was just ready to try new things wherever possible.” As for “Solsbury Hill,” Hines said he simply loved the tune. “I’m a big fan of poetry in music – using a lot of metaphors to convey a message,” he says. One of the more intriguing and rewarding experiment is an exotic-flavoured remix of the title track, Chasing Silver, featuring the South African vocal group All Things Are Possible.
As extraordinary as he is as a songwriter and performer, Justin Hines is just an ordinary guy. He’s a meat-and-potatoes man who enjoys a good vintage board game, loves basketball, hockey and WWE wrestling. His aspirations for those who take the time to appreciate Chasing Silver are equally simple: enjoy it at face value. “I would just hope that people take something meaningful and positive from listening to it – even if they don’t necessarily like it,” says Hines, who will be performing select Canadian dates in the fall. “As long as they feel something, I’m happy and I feel I’ve done my job.”