He once eyed life as a medical doctor, but William Prince is now living the dream entertaining audiences around the globe with his ear-catching folk music.
Fresh from opening for Canadian icon Sarah McLachlan on Toronto’s famous Budweiser Stage, Prince is touring until mid-December—and that includes a stop at Victoria’s Harbour Blues & Roots Festival later this month (August 25 to 28).
“It was wonderful opening for Sarah,” said Prince, who will close the festival with his 7 pm show at Ship Point on Sunday, August 28. “It was my debut playing the iconic Budweiser Stage, with the sun shining and my band with me. And the reception was great—a perfect show.
“It was a one-off date; the last day of her tour and the third day of mine. So we were both in good spirits.”
The third date on his Canadian tour, that is. Prince, 36, also recently spent a month touring the UK, Scandinavia and Europe, and will bring the Canadian leg of the tours to a close in Victoria.
“It’s a while since I’ve been out west, but I have some friends there and it’s always beautiful travelling to BC. Getting to play the festival in-person, after the pandemic, will be a real treat.”
Prince, a member of the Peguis First Nation in his hometown, Winnipeg, Manitoba, says he loves playing live and is blessed to perform for a career.
“There are two sides to the artist’s coin. The majority of your artistry is spent off the stage and then you get to spend the hour on stage, showing people what you’ve collected or thought about. So I love performing. It’s why we’re out here.”
Making music for now two decades, Prince toured his JUNO-Award-winning debut album Earthly Days (2015) for several years, before releasing a brace of follow-ups in 2020—Reliever and Gospel First Nation—the latter a foray into gospel music which began as a Mother’s Day gift and was equally inspired by his late father, with whom he performed in his teens.
His song “The Spark” also won the 2020 SOCAN Songwriting Prize, while singles “Run” and “Sing Me A Song,” a duet with Serena Ryder, have added fuel to his growing prominence.
After his extensive touring this year, Prince will focus on new music and another album in 2023.
“I have a folk record in the can and I’m really excited about it. It focuses on the things in life I really love. I’ve dealt with a lot of heavier subjects: grief, loss and heartbreak. But I challenged myself to see the joy and good in life and share that head-on.”
When it comes to his songwriting process, Prince says he’s a sponge for absorbing life, people and an eclectic mix of experiences.
“There’s collection and harvest in my writing. I feel like I’m always collecting B-roll; walking around watching and observing people, friends, my family and life in general. Just taking it all in.
“And then, when you’re not on the road, you can shift to processing these collected images and ‘developing the film.’”
He adds: “I’m always humming melodies or writing lyrics. I’m really happy that my life’s work is to interpret these feelings and collected images for people—and myself. Does it feel good in my heart? Does it feel good in my body? Do I feel genuine when I speak these things every night?”
Prince wasn’t planning a career in music originally, but playing and performing with his father as a kid lit a fuse.
“At the beginning it was just for the joy of it; learning an instrument and voicing these many feelings. I grew up playing in an old country band with my dad. So I kind of learned the formula of songs, how to balance a band and how to speak to people through his influence.
“I was more geared towards a life of safety. I went to university for a long time, got a science degree and started a career in medicine. But I just felt the pull to music. It was a bigger calling.
“My musical aspirations initially were to be a songwriter. To maybe write country songs for Tim McGraw and then play my own shows on the side. But nobody was singing my songs, so I just sang them and here we are now.”
The Oji-Cree musician still calls Manitoba home and laments the time away from his family and his six-year-old son. But the big-picture perspective and creating a life to benefit them all is what fuels his creative fire.
“These are the ground-working years,” Prince says. “You have to want to be out here and willing to sacrifice time with those you love and being in your own home and giving up those comforts.
“Everything is growing. And it’s happening in a really organic, maintainable, manageable way, that I’m comfortable with. So I’m just hoping for more of the same and that it just keeps growing and people still want to hear these songs.”
To learn more about the artist, visit williamprincemusic.com. For more information on the Harbour Blues ‘n Roots Festival, visit jazzvictoria.ca.