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Boreal Community Media

Inspiration from isolation at Isle Royale National Park

Dec 06, 2018 06:36AM ● By Editor
Huckfelt spent three lonely and productive weeks in a cabin overlooking Lake Superior.  Photo:  Annie Humphrey

By Allison Geyer of isthmus.com - December 6, 2018

A successful career as a full-time musician is the ultimate dream for many working artists. But what people don’t talk about is the difficulty of constant touring and the tedium of managing the business side of a creative project. After 15 years making it work with his critically acclaimed Twin Cities indie-folk band, The Pines, singer-songwriter David Huckfelt was experiencing some “cumulative mental clutter.”

It’s an inevitable side effect of being a working artist these days, he says. “It’s an endless situation of being in charge of your own destiny and trying to wring out a little bit of space for the creative part.”

Huckfelt knew he needed to carve out some time for “total isolation and immersion.” So he applied for the artist-in-residence program at Isle Royale National Park — said to be the nation’s most remote and least-visited national park — and spent three weeks alone in a cabin overlooking Lake Superior. He didn’t bring much: an acoustic guitar, a recording device, a notebook and “a mountain” of books for inspiration, mostly history and poetry. Within two weeks, Huckfelt wrote 16 songs. Some were realizations of ideas he had been gestating for years; others seemed to “fall from the sky,” he says. “Entire songs with no precience were written in minutes or hours.”

The result is Huckfelt’s debut solo album, Stranger Angels. The title is a nod to the link between heaven and earth, the mystical power of nature and the sacred spaces where these things seem to collide. The album is set for official release in February, but Huckfelt has started making it available at select record stores and shows. He’s playing the High Noon Saloon Dec. 8 with The Last Revel and Pat Ferguson & the Sundown Sound.

Waiting more than a decade to devote time to his solo work gave Huckfelt the opportunity to “say everything [he] wanted to say when it’s at its most refined.” Later recorded at a farmhouse in Menominee, the songs took shape thanks to a “revolving door of collaboration” with a group of well-known Midwestern musicians. He compares the end result to a book with 12 chapters, weaving together a story about spirituality, family and Midwestern identity

“If you can show up somewhere with a calm or attentive mind, the natural world starts to take its shape around you,” he says. “You don’t have to be on an island to get there, but it helps to know that there are forces nearby that demand your respect — wind, storms, wild animals. It helps put the ego in check, and that’s a really healthy thing for songwriting.”