Loreena McKennitt Premieres Ronald Wright-Inspired 'Lost Souls'

Richard Haughton
Loreena McKennitt

Loreena McKennitt's simple explanation for the 12-year break between new albums of original material is that "life happens" -- touring to support her previous releases, caring for her late mother, researching another musical project. But McKennitt is back with the May 11 release of her 10th studio album Lost Souls, whose title track is premiering exclusively below.

"I had a lot of people ask us, 'Are you ever going to release anything original again?'" the Canadian songstress -- who also released two collections of traditional material following 2006's An Ancient Muse -- tells Billboard. "I figured the quickest way was to go to the cupboard and look at what had been written in the past. Four or five songs existed as little breadcrumbs from the late '80s to the present, which gave us a good start. So (Lost Souls) is a bit more of a collection, a corralling of pieces than 'Here's a creative vision and I want the right pieces to fit that.' It's more like a gathering, a collection of morsels."

The nine tracks on Lost Souls span more than three decades. McKennitt recalls performing "The Ballad of the Fox Hunter" and "Ages Past, Ages Hence" during the late '80s, while "Spanish Guitars and Night Plazas" was written during the early '90s. "La Belle Dams Sans Merci" was considered for An Ancient Muse, "Sun, Moon and Stars" has been around for a few years and "Manx Ayre" comes from a melody McKennitt composed during her days of busking on the streets of Toronto.

The "Lost Souls" track, meanwhile, was the album's most recent song, written last year and inspired by CBC lectures published in Ronald Wright's 2004 book A Short History of Progress. "(Wright) has studied civilizations as one might study the black boxes of aircrafts that have gone down," McKennitt says. "In his view it seems as a species we have a tendency to get ourselves into progress traps. When he wrote this lecture series it was coming as much from an environmental concern as anything else, but I put the connection to new technologies. I think they are very quickly and drastically changing everything we have known in such a fundamental and a quick way that I worry we may be in a progress trap here, too.

"Those were the ruminations that underpinned that song. I didn't want to get into it too literally, like many artists, so I wrote in a cryptic or metaphorical way so people could relate to it even if they didn’t understand where I was coming from."

McKennitt will support Lost Souls' release with in-store appearances May 16-18 in Germany and the Netherlands. She plans to begin touring in earnest during October, with a two-year global campaign the will kick off during October in South America. Meanwhile, McKennitt already has her sights on her next album, a set that will examine the connection between Celtic and Northern Indian cultures that she began working on some years ago.

"It continues to morph each passing day, almost too dangerous to time," McKennitt says. "I took a wonderful trip (to India) to start working on this and got plenty of inspiration, and I would love to feel I can go and do another. It's very interesting but very challenging because of the way the music business has changed so much in the last 10 years or so, when we released Ancient Muse. The creative side is the least of my worries; It's more, 'Is there going to be a proper return for the time and money invested in this. Will people actually BUY something when it's put out?' So there's much to study and learn and evaluate."

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