Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass: Kevin Hearn

Turning points in the music world often occur in the form of a record deal, a big gig or another beneficial break out of the blue. Perhaps it was an opportunity to share the stage with a celebrated band, or a chance to learn at the hand of a seasoned songsmith that helped transform a career and bring a performer to the next level of success.918presspass

Turning points in the music world often occur in the form of a record deal, a big gig or another beneficial break out of the blue. Perhaps it was an opportunity to share the stage with a celebrated band, or a chance to learn at the hand of a seasoned songsmith that helped transform a career and bring a performer to the next level of success.

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Kevin Hearn (Photo: Courtesy Ivan Otis)

Kevin Hearn’s turning point was different. Kevin Hearn’s big break, or if you prefer, his lucky moment, nearly killed him.

In 1999, Hearn was diagnosed with leukemia. It took a prolonged hospital stay and a bone marrow transplant from his brother to save him, but eventually his cancer went into remission and Hearn was able to continue the music career he had, unofficially, begun at age five. Only this time, things were different.

“I’ve always found songwriting challenging. It doesn’t come as naturally to me as improvising or just playing a piano part or guitar part,” Hearn says. “[After being diagnosed with cancer] I felt I needed to write about it. Going through something like that, it helped me to be honest about the situation with myself … face the fear of death and just dig deeper than I’ve ever had to before. It’s something that has helped me in my writing since. I find it easier now and I enjoy it more now.”

Hearn recorded much of his stay in the hospital on H-Wing, his second solo album. Hearn recognized the change immediately, and he wasn’t the only one.

“I’ve had a lot of feedback over the years from people dealing with cancer either personally or within their family because [H-Wing is] straightforward and it’s not candy-coated,” Hearn says. “After recording that album I was able to perform my music better, deliver it better. A lot of my earlier stuff, I didn’t have that depth to draw on. It was either weird or funny, or trying to be deep without the experience.”

Hearn has always been attracted to the “weird” and “funny” of the music world. After a childhood devoted to learning classical piano, his ear was eventually caught by the new-wave synthesizer sounds of the ‘80s. It was a sound he pursued with one of his earliest groups, The Look People, from the late ‘80s to early ‘90s.

In 1995 Hearn latched on to another quirky act as a keyboardist, replacing Andy Creeggan in renowned pop-rock outfit Barenaked Ladies.

Though Hearn may be best known for his time with BNL, which included authoring a tune used as the secret track on Maroon, he continued to dabble in a plethora of other projects. His website, kevinhearn.com, lists performance credits on nearly 30 titles from over his career.

“I guess I’m just driven to make music because I love it so much,” Hearn says. “I’ve had some opportunities to work with people that I just didn’t want to turn down. Just love what I do I guess.”

Dabbling with different performers also helps him learn new ideas to contribute to his own writing or, as he puts it, from “getting bored or stagnant.”

Hearn also collaborated successfully on his previous release The Miracle Mile, working with Ron Sexsmith and former BNL bud Stephen Page. His latest album, Havana Winter, recorded with longtime backing band Thin Buckle, debuts in the U.S. July 28.

The seven-track album kicks off with “Coma,” a tune that transitions from a surrealist intro with echo-from-a-dream vocals to a finale of a fuzzy-guitar crescendo. The Caribbean vibes emerge on the second track, “On the Runway,” a breezy, hands-outside-the-convertible joy ride — frivolous and fun.

The highlight may well be “Luna,” a Leonard Cohen-caliber ballad built upon a two-beers-deep piano riff and … of course … honesty.

• Kevin Hearn performs with Thin Buckle July 12 at Jammin’ Java. The performance begins at 8 p.m. And tickets are $15.