If there was ever a song needed to describe the emotions felt on a stormy or wintry Canadian night, Jom Comyn, a.k.a. Jim Cuming, would be the one to write it. His default approach to songwriting—crafting reverent soundscapes and enchanting baritone indie rock hooks—somehow always comes out sounding frost-bound, so much so that some media has categorized his sound as “snow-globe folk.”
“People seem to identify with my sound if they live anywhere with shitty weather,” Cuming says over beers at Empress. “I definitely feel more comfortable in the cool and cold weather. I don’t like being stuck in a snow storm like anyone else, but this summer everyone is fucking miserable ’cause it’s overcast and raining alot and I have been so happy. I fucking love it. When it gets above 25 into like 32, beating hot sun, I’m on survival mode. When it’s pissing rain I’m so stoked.”
Cuming’s latest effort, Crawl, produced by his influential friend Chris Dadge of Lab Coast, comes after his 2018 I Need Love album—a poppier 28-song work that had him experimenting with jazz, motown, and country—but draws similar sonic comparisons to his 2014 album In the Dark on 99 (All the Time, All the Time)—a record that he recalls as the first time he “got it right.”
“With this one I didn’t want to have any gimmicks and wanted to make a return of writing a really good album,” he says. “Right after 99 came out people would tell me ‘Oh just make another one of those,’ but I already had The Black Pits EP in the can and then the I Need Love thing. You never know what people are going to like so now I’m just doing what I think is a good record.”
Cuming is the kind of songwriter to release an album and then have another full one almost completed. He wrote the first melancholically infectious track “Mountain” back in 2014 when he was writing The Black Pits EP and had the other Crawl tracks written after I Need Love came out. Simply, Cuming is always working, yet after Crawl, he doesn’t have a concrete idea of what comes next.
“It can be liberating and terrifying,” he says. “Recently, I felt kind of panicked ’cause I had two songs that are kind of orphans that I don’t know what to do with—and then just nothing. I thought ‘Maybe this is it? Maybe that’s what I got.’ Music still seems to be the only thing that makes me get out of bed in the morning, so that’s good to know.”
He is also only truly happy when he’s working on the next song.
“When I’m chewing on the puzzle, it feels good to have two or three of those going. The pace is really slowing down as I get older, but once I get going on a song I’m always like ‘Right. This is what it feels like to be happy and healthy,’” he says.
And perhaps it’s his abstract painter approach to songwriting that makes him so easily listenable. No Jom Comyn song is ever written to be about a certain situation or object, yet the music always influences it.
For example, “Chapel of Chimes” was a funeral home downtown that Cuming used to walk past when picking up groceries.
“I found some ideas melodically that sounded like ‘Chapel of the Chimes,’” he says.
He wrote “Street Sweeper” in the early morning.
“Yeah the street sweeper goes by my window and I was having some insomnia and up late playing music and they would be going by like clockwork.”
Both of the songs and all of the songs on the album sound like they are meant to be there, which is rare in an age of singles taking over the airwaves. Cuming cites iconic artists like Neil Young, Tom Waits, and the more modern Chad Van Gaalen as influences who dabble in both full fledged albums and singles. Van Gaalen also plays pedal steel on the song “Away,” something Cuming calls a “career high.”
“Those guys would have a whole wackadoodle album but as long as there’s one or two songs that grab the listener … you can do both. I love albums, but I’m not ashamed to say that I’ll skip around. I’ll find the one that I love and burn it out on repeat. In musicians circles, that can be taboo, but fuck it. Sometimes I don’t have time for that shit. I have emotional needs and only five songs by five different artists will do that—and fuck you, I can do what I want,” he laughs.
So even if you only find a few songs that do it for you on Crawl, Cuming won’t fault you. He’s just happy that you care. He’s also one of the most prolific artists working in Edmonton right now and even though some of his songs do come off a pessimistic odes about crawling through swamps, you can’t help but feel uplifted after hearing them.
“I had someone ask me point blank once ‘Why do you do music?’ and of course I wanted to be was like ‘I do it for me and if there was no one else on Earth I would still do it,’” he says. “But thinking about it that way is a bit disingenuous, punk rock 16-year-old logic. I could just record albums and put them on Bandcamp for no money, and to create them, you always have to pretend that’s how it is. But of course there’s that thought of insecurity of ‘Will people like this?’”
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