If his bandmates were the branches of a tall and sturdy Cedar, Tsimshian folk artist Saltwater Hank would be the trunk, with all of it grown from his roots and held by the land. An analogy to a tree might seem a tad trite, but the mighty Cedars, Spruces and Pines have not only provided us with the most essential of needs every time we breathe in, they have also provided us with the materials we need to resonate the strings we lay and stretch and pluck upon them. They give a home for tones and timbres that connect us to each other through story and song. To compare the music of Saltwater Hank to a tree, is to hold memory for the origins of our musical experiences, whether in the company of others or sitting by ourselves. Solitude is a familiar feeling for many musicians these days. Going it alone on screens and stages since the pandemic set itself upon us, Saltwater Hank has used the space onstage and in his creative process to dig further into his relationship with song and build a deeper connection with his heritage and surrounding community. A guitar player to start, he moved into bluegrass realms when he zeroed in on the banjo, and eventually made his way to the fiddle. The drive to master the old-time stringed instruments emerged from witnessing the skillful delivery of all things string from his esteemed colleagues and collaborators, and may have even been spurred by the competitive envy that can sometimes rear its head in such environments. Something that Saltwater Hank has made peace with during this time of solitude.
For nearly anyone, the self-confrontation that emerges from a long spell spent alone can be uncomfortable, but sometimes a gem of truth emerges from the shadows. Diving deep into the waters of reflection to find a pearl of purpose, Saltwater Hank realized his music isn’t a vessel for comparative technicality, it’s a vessel for stories. He now celebrates where he’s at when he’s there, instead of focusing on what he could or should be, and has grown further into himself and his myriad of strengths. A natural comedic timing compliments his songwriting and performance, and his many hours spent dialing in on all of his chosen instruments are shown through his skillful playing. Having relocated back to his home community of Kxeen (Prince Rupert, BC) before the pandemic, the time away from the hustle of touring and other music industry pressures allowed Saltwater Hank to hold a newfound space for himself and his community. Immersing himself in his roots led to writing songs about his own experiences gathering food and spending time on the ocean and nearby Skeena River (Ḵ’a̱la̱ Ksyen), as well as musically relaying the stories of history and culture shared with him in the Gitga’ata community. A testament to his commitment to the craft and the connection that it serves, Saltwater Hank has released four EPs since the beginning of 2020, all aptly titled “That’s Not How Tommy Played It (Volumes 1 to 4)”. Saltwater Hank has always been a storyteller, and he’s embracing it now more than ever.