Music from the streets: Saskatoon-raised Steph Cameron talks inspiration from struggle

The singer-songwriter left Saskatoon and ended up in the East Hastings neighbourhood of Vancouver. She will be playing at Winterruption on Jan. 21.

Cameron to play Winterruption on Jan. 21

Saskatoon-raised singer Steph Cameron will be playing Winterruption on Jan.21. (Eric Anderson/CBC)

Steph Cameron is a Saskatoon-raised singer and songwriter whose debut record was long-listed for the Polaris Prize in 2015. She also opened for Buffy Sainte-Marie and will be playing at Winterruption on Jan. 21 in the bridge city.

Before she was being recognized on the national stage, Cameron was struggling to get by on the streets of the East Hastings neighbourhood in Vancouver.

When she was 17, Cameron left Saskatoon with a goal of working at the safe injection site in Vancouver. She quickly got into housing activism and was hired by the Downtown Eastside Residents Association to help people struggling in the community.

"That is a community that is defined by the struggles that it faces, but it also has a very creative spirit and it takes care of its own. I felt very inspired by that neighbourhood," Cameron said on CBC's Saskatchewan Weekend.

"I have quite a few songs about that time down there and the special, dynamic, creative people down there."

After four years of working in the neighbourhood and dealing with illegal evictions, bug infested hotels, and navigating the justice system for clients, Cameron said she was burnt out.

"I was sort of on and off the street myself at that point. Things from different parts of my life were bleeding together," she said.

Steph Cameron's debut album made the Polaris Music Prize long-list in 2015. (Steph Cameron/Facebook)

Cameron left the job and decided to focus on music. She made a living busking on the streets, and self-recorded a demo album, which she used as currency, trading it for food, drinks or anything she needed. The demo finally landed in the right hands and Cameron got a record deal with Pheromone Recordings. The album Sad-Eyed Lonesome Lady has been well received by music critics across Canada.

The folk music, reminiscent of the beatnik era, is largely about the East Hastings neighbourhood and the people in it. But Cameron said people across the country can relate to the stories of struggle.

"I… get several people coming up to me, often in tears, talking about someone they knew who had faced a struggle," she said.

"I think that a lot of people have those experiences, or have known somebody in a disadvantaged position and it helps as sort of a therapeutic thing to hear other people have gone through that, have gone through those struggles, and understand."

Cameron will be playing with Dave Bidini at the Refinery on Jan. 21 as part of Winterruption.


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