Songs from a Fire Tower
By Amy Sellors
Great music is so often the result of great inspiration. Inspired by vast amounts of solitude atop Rocky Mountain peaks, Mountain Mansion is delivering to us Songs From a Fire Tower. The album is one of a five-part series that combines dreamy, unique indie-folk with stories from some of the most elevated and most remote parts of Canada.
Mountain Mansion is the name Calgary- and Thunder Bay-based multi-instrumentalist Shane Turner is adopting to launch this series. The name is a tribute to Phil Elverum’s song “The Mansion.” Elverum’s “cabin in the woods” songs have long inspired Turner, and he knew a woodsy record was percolating in his mind.
Turner is a wildfire lookout on boreal forest fire towers atop Rocky Mountain summits. Alone at his current post, Barrier Lake Lookout, he scans the horizon daily for indicators of a forest fire. On the hour, he provides weather updates to his team to help predict the risk of spread should a fire break out. “It takes the right kind of person,” Turner says. Before he took to the mountains, he split his time between working as a musician and as a mental health addictions worker. Originally from Vancouver, Turner lived briefly in Toronto and then moved to Thunder Bay where he joined the thriving music scene.
“Isolation is a time for healing, a time for self-discovery, and charging your batteries as an introvert,” says Turner. “Up here, you’re in tune with nature. You can’t ever not be inspired.” For Turner, when inspiration strikes, like lightning, it makes an impact. He’s written 50 songs describing his life in the tower, his relationship with nature, and the role fire plays in it all. The music and the lyrics flow all at once.
Most fire towers are powered by noisy generators. However, in 2019, Turner was stationed at Alberta’s Livingstone Ridge Lookout, which is powered by much quieter solar panels, so he helicoptered a portable studio out to the tower and recorded his music every possible moment. “This job and this music are connected,” he says. “It’s the reason I’m here.”
The musician prefers to play concerts in smaller venues, which is perfect for the intimacy of his storytelling songs. And his time at the top of the mountain has restored his soul. “Now the balance works perfectly because when I get out into the real world, I’m excited again to talk to all the people. I can put that energy back out there.”
Mountain Mansion’s first record from Songs From a Fire Tower landed last July.
Find Mountain Mansion’s music on Bandcamp or your favourite streaming service, and follow @mountainmansion on Instagram to see photos and videos of his home-away-from-home.