It takes time for people to process the aftermath of their first love, but for Victoria musician Rob Nesbitt, it took a little longer than most – more than two decades.
A 25-year labour of love and passion, Nesbitt’s first solo record, Mine Would be the Sun, was released this year. Under the artist title The SuiteSixteen, the record is full of the searing anguish, desperation and desolation of heartbreak at any age.
From a military family, Nesbitt moved around – doing a good portion of his growing up in Maple Ridge and Sidney before moving to Victoria in 1984.
“I actually credit Victoria with saving me in some ways because I was an extremely emotionally troubled kid, I’d been through some drug problems when I was quite young,” he said.
Nesbitt started his music career as a co-lead singer and guitarist for Bum, a four-person, Victoria-based pop-rock band which gained an usually heavy and ongoing fan base in Spain. Bum’s first album, Wanna Smash Sensation, came out in 1993, but Nesbitt suddenly felt lost in a money-fueled industry opposite from the anti-establishment punk he craved.
“I found that rock and roll didn’t live up to what I thought it was going to be,” he said. “When you get in the music business it’s all about deals, and who you gotta please and you got to grease this guy.”
After a two-year break from music, Nesbitt came back to songwriting and began working on music about his first girlfriend, who he met growing up in Maple Ridge. Their relationship was on and off and lasted briefly into his time in Victoria.
“She was a person I hung a lot of ideals on that weren’t maybe realistic,” Nesbitt said. “I live very intensely in anything I’m doing, and I put every romantic hope and dream I had ever thought of or heard of in a song or seen in a movie on this girl.”
By now they are both married – to different people – but his wife supports his musical venture into the ghost of a girlfriend past. The album, and the hundreds of hours put into it, is as much an exploration of Nesbitt’s selfhood and wordy, passionate intensity for life and love – as it is into the girl he once loved.
“It started out as almost a clinical examination of myself and why I am the way I am,” he said. “What does this actually mean? Is emotion just a chemical reaction?”
Nesbitt spent countless hours in a record-filled second bedroom turned studio, developing the words and chords to perfectly express his message, fine-tuning the songs for his love story.
“I grew up loving these really highly-polished records by Def Leppard and Fleetwood Mac. I dreamed of being able to spend the amount of time it took for me to make exactly what I wanted … and that’s what I did,” he said. “I just kept going at it until it was exactly what I wanted.”
The details of the music, album sleeve and included book are emblematic of lost love – the minute phrases, moments and symbols of a relationship past are framed next to Nesbitt’s wife’s photography of empty spaces from his youth – an empty swing set, dirt road, tree-lined street – brimming with nostalgia and heartache.
A hand-drawn sea turtle by Nesbitt himself represents a desperate attempt to win back his girlfriend through witchcraft. A young Nesbitt borrowed a library book of love spells that advised its reader to put a picture of a sea turtle beneath their pillow in a bid for reciprocated infatuation.
“There are things about emotion that cannot be explained … I felt those feelings and it was important,” he said. “It was beautiful and I don’t regret a single second of it.”
Mine Would be the Sun is also, in part, a love letter to the intensity of youth.
Nesbitt rejects a common adult notion that teenagers only have “puppy love.” For him, that love – and the lessons it taught him over the following 25 years – was one of the most real things he’s ever experienced.
“I think young people’s lives are way more deep than we give them credit for,” he said. “It’s not puppy love. That’s an easy way to dismiss something that’s really powerful.”
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