Edmonton

How a serious illness led a punk rocker to folk music success

A major health crisis gave Edmonton-born punk rocker Laurier Tiernan a new outlook on life and a new sound for his music.

The folk duo Nature Airliner is on a short, cross-Canada tour with a stop in Edmonton on Tuesday night

Eiko and Laurier Tiernan are a Tokyo-based folk music duo. (Supplied/Nature Airlier)

A major health crisis gave Edmonton-born punk rocker Laurier Tiernan a new outlook on life, and a new sound for his music.

The life-long rocker gave up the frenetic beats and hard edges that had long defined his work for something totally different — a folksy, acoustic sound he refined with the help of his wife, Eiko.

The Tokyo-based duo, now known as Nature Airliner, is currently on a short cross-Canada tour, with a show in Edmonton on Tuesday night at Shakers Roadhouse.

Tiernan, 45, was diagnosed as a teenager with Marfan syndrome, a condition that can cause the aorta to rupture. After his aorta dissected in 2008, he went through emergency surgery, and a lot of the anger that fit with his punk repertoire faded.

I think I grew up angry because I had the possibility of sudden death hanging over my head all the time.- Laurier Tiernan

"I think I grew up angry because I had the possibility of sudden death hanging over my head all the time," Tiernan said Tuesday on CBC's Radio Active.

"I think, subconsciously, I was always angry because of that. That my life was always in the balance."

Love and music in Japan

Tiernan moved to Japan after college to work on his punk career, at the invitation of a friend who had set up a record company there.

After lacklustre sales from his first album, he started again with a new group and was getting radio play around the world.

"I thought this was my big break — and then my aorta dissected just as [things] were taking off. So I had to have emergency heart surgery. And after that, I kind of lost my taste for angry punk music," he said.

In recovery, Tiernan said he started writing acoustic songs. 
The duo Nature Airliner released their album, Cardinal, last year. (Supplied/Nature Airliner)

"But I couldn't sing them myself. I'd ask Eiko to sing the melodies in our room to try it out. And as soon as I heard her voice, I thought I really, really want to try doing something with her."

Eiko Tiernan didn't have a musical background, aside from singing in a girls band in high school.

"I just took it as, 'This is the family business, so I have to get into it,' " she said.

Her voice fit perfectly with the gentle melodies her husband was writing.

Success as a folk duo

The pair released a new album, Cardinal, last year.

While the sound of Nature Airliner is totally different than the music Tiernan started his career with, in some ways it is still influenced by his illness. 

Tiernan said the single Letting Go was written to encourage people to pursue their ideal lives.

"I spent 10 years feeling suicidal," he said. "I overcame the depression. I now want to write songs that will hopefully give people energy to go forward, and pursue the life of their dreams, regardless of what's being thrown at them."