Life has been a series of right turns — in more ways than one — for Corwin Fox.
In his teens, an opportunity to attend an arts high school saved him from a life of petty crime. A decade later, meeting the love of his life catapulted him from the freewheeling lifestyle of a musician hitchhiking across the continent to being a dad and a full-time student.
Now Fox produces award-winning CDs in his Cumberland studio, hangs out with family and writes and records his own music.
“Corwin is one of the shining lights in the Canadian Roots Music Industry,” says Doug Cox, artistic director and executive producer of Vancouver Island MusicFest. “When we were mixing our new CD in Nashville with Bil Vorn Dick — the master of mixing acoustic music — he was so impressed with our sounds he wanted to know who recorded our tracks. That’s the quality of work Corwin does as an engineer and as a musician as well.”
It’s the attention to detail that makes Fox stand out from the rest. As a CD producer, he’s responsible for making sure the project is completed to the highest level possible. That can include arranging songs, working on lyrics and recording, to bringing in other musicians and graphic designers. A multi-instrumentalist, Fox often accompanies musicians on their recordings.
“Part of my job is to make sure the project stays true to the artist’s vision and to push the artist in that vision,” the 34-year old explains. “As a musician myself, I understand the challenges of creating that vision and then following through on it.”
Fox’s expertise in the studio has paid dividends for artists such as Sarah Noni Metzner, whose album Daybreak Mourning won Best Solo Artist at the 2007 Canadian Folk Music Awards. He’s also explored new territory with Shane Koyczan, a poet who performed at the 2010 Olympic opening ceremonies.
But Fox nearly ended up singing the jailhouse blues. Born in Halifax and raised in Ottawa, he got involved with a bad crowd in high school.
“I suffered a lot of depression in my childhood; it’s something I’ve struggled with on and off my whole life,” he admits. “We were stealing cars and other stupid things.”
Then someone suggested he switch to an arts-focused high school. He applied, neglected to attend the audition, but after some urging on his mom’s part, went to the last call.
“I went to Canterbury on a whim and it changed the direction of my life,” Fox says. “Along the way, I realized that the friends I had before weren’t genuine. Most of them have been jailed for assault and have addiction problems. I just squeaked by.”
Fox was in the theatre program in Canterbury, but learned to play guitar and bass and became a punk rocker.
“Our band was pelted with garbage and we were banned from some schools; it was my first taste of success,” he says. “Then I joined an art-rock band called Big Fish Eat Little Fish. From 1996 to 1999, we put out three albums and toured Canada numerous times.”
Fox got much of his music education on the road, learning music theory and how to write songs in the back of a touring van. Then an invitation to join his brother picking mushrooms in the Kispiox Valley led to another of those quirky turns in his life.
For a while he lived on an old 700-acre farm in Telkwa. The former owner, Joe L’Orsa, was deceased, but Fox got to know him through the books, instruments and recording equipment that had been left in the house.
“Then I fell in love with Kirsten and went to London, Ontario, to take the Fanshawe College Music Industry Arts Recording Engineering program,” says Fox. “It was a huge change that more or less happened overnight.”
After Fanshawe, he founded Coqi Records with two buddies and started a band called Balls Falls which toured across Canada and Australia. In 2001, Fox won an award for best song from EMI Music Publishing Canada for Doctor God.
Back in Canada, he began producing CDs for other artists. To date, Fox has worked on more than 100 albums, completing five in March. He’s also composed music for theatre and documentary soundtracks. And found time to produce two full-length albums of his own, Compassionate Relay and Dream Water Rain Music, and three EPs.
“The focus was on producing while Kirsten was at massage school,” explains Fox. “But now I’m beginning the transition back to my own music.”
This February, he spent time at the Banff Centre for the Arts composing songs with Miss Emily Brown. Their 2010 CD Morlove was recorded at a tiny church in Wells, B.C. Fox and Brown will be performing together and as soloists at this summer’s Vancouver Island MusicFest.
“Finding the right balance is always a struggle,” admits Fox. “There’s the balance between my music and producing other artists and the balance between work and family life.”
“When things are going well, I like to ride it out in the studio with no outside interruptions,” he says. “But when artists come here to work, they know it’s a family thing. They meet Kirsten and Tao and Kaya and often have dinner with us. That’s my life — making music, working with talented artists and hanging out with my family.”