“The music of Opal Canyon evokes a dreamy place where you want to climb in, sit back and absorb the sounds,” reads the bio of this Northampton, Massachusetts, folk band, and after listening, it’s a hard claim to dispute.
Opal Canyon is spearheaded by husband and wife Dave Houghton and Debra DeMuth. The two met while Houghton was performing in a local bar with his country rock band Fancy Trash, and DeMuth was a spellbound onlooker in the crowd. And since that fateful night, the two have been inseparable and inspirational ever since.
The band’s lighthearted and happy-go-lucky Americana lyricism is pioneered by DeMuth, while the duo’s entrancing musical aura and instrumentation is created by Houghton.
Today, Opal Canyon released their first single, “Come Ashore,” from their sophomore album, Tomorrow by the Sea, which is slated to release this spring.
We had the chance to chat with the two to learn more about the fresh single, their musical dynamic, and more.
So I was hoping you could tell us more about the inception and creation of Opal Canyon.
Debra: We wanted to create a place where people could find escape through music. A dreamy, majestic soundscape that could bring comfort, joy and solace. Opal Canyon was inspired by both the open skies of the sea and the desert. A place that brought those opposing elements together in harmony. Musically, Dave and I have varied backgrounds and together it creates its own sound and synergy. We are backed by a very talented and experienced group of musicians who all add their own dynamic energy and do what’s uniquely suited for the song.
Being a husband and wife duo is a very unique aspect of Opal Canyon. What’s the dynamic like when writing and recording music together? And what might each of you bring to the table that complements the other?
Debra: The process is a team effort. I will mull a concept around in my head for a bit; typically something that I am trying to understand as a person in the world. Something I’m confused about or upset about or thrilled about…anything I am trying to make sense of. I will typically have a chorus and a melody at the start. If it feels right, I buckle down and find the words to create meaning in the verses. Then I hand it to Dave. He then finds the chords that best express my melody. Dave adds his unique style of guitar playing; percussive and passionate. I love every part of the process but for me, the best part is when Dave finds the chords and he sings it back to me. That is where the song is born.
What’s the folk and singer-songwriter music scene like where you are in Massachusetts? And what do you enjoy most about being involved in it?
Debra: Our roots are in Western Mass where the band was born. We have incredibly talented musical mentors there such as Mark Mulcahy, the Winterpills, Robin Lane, Heather Maloney, Erin McKeown, Kris Delmhorst and Jeffrey Foucault. It is a rich community of players who offer support to one another. It’s not uncommon to find all these talents playing together in one venue to raise funds for a cause or local organization a musician friend is supporting. Or they will turn up at your gig to simply be a fan, bop their head, smile and listen.
We recently moved to the Southcoast of Massachusetts to enjoy the inspiration of the sea and be a little closer to the Boston scene. We find ourselves criss-crossing the Mass Pike quite often.
Debra, how would you say your start of songwriting in group therapy affects your songwriting currently? What has that musical journey been like for you?
I started writing at a program in Western MA for women healing from trauma. I had never written a song before nor did I think it was possible. The facilitator, Robin Lane (from Robin Lane and The Chartbusters) and the other participants gave me the confidence to try. Writing about my own experiences and giving it voice through song set me on a path of healing and expression that I had never experienced. It set me on this journey of writing, not just for my own healing, but with a hope for healing others. It changed the trajectory of my life.
Dave, how did your musical experience with the band Fancy Trash affect and influence your musicianship currently?
In Fancy Trash, I am a front man of an alternative, acoustic rock trio that has worked pretty hard for twenty years. The Fancy Trash has made 7 records and I have learned a lot through my experiences. Musically, now with my wife Debra writing the lyrics and melody in Opal Canyon, I can focus on the music and harmonies. My role is team player now, having a producer, writer and a band with my partner makes music a little more relaxing and free.
I was hoping you could discuss your upcoming single, “Come Ashore.” Can you talk about the influences and inspiration behind the song?
Debra: “Come Ashore” was the first song I wrote for the record. It ignited the album. It was written in the midst of Covid, short days, cold nights, sad news brought on a heaviness that seemed to be never ending. On my way to work as a front line care provider, I would look to the sea for beauty and sustenance. One day when the heaviness felt like too much, I looked at the horizon and told myself that there is always hope; hope was right there, out on the ocean. We can always have it in our hearts, if we choose it. And if we choose it, we can hold hope for others. “Hope lives out on the ocean, sometimes it comes to shore. Like the spotlight on the singer and a lover through the door.”
What’s bittersweet is that the writing of the song marked a time and a place during the dark days of Covid yet, we find ourselves here again as we launch the single. The song’s relevance hits home. We need the light and hope now more than ever. “Let me be the light, let me be the oar, let me be the calm in the storm. Be the light.”
I see that you’ve got an album dropping in April as well. What can you tell us about that?
Debra: The album is titled, “Tomorrow to the Sea”, and we were honored to work with producer Jon Evans (Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, Ben Folds). We were led to Jon by my friend and mentor, Tanya Donelly (Belly, Throwing Muses) and were excited about his sensibility in working with female vocalists and his multi-instrumentalist abilities.
The record is definitely a thematic and musical journey that reflects the times. The first 3 songs are very internal; a talking through of challenges, a processing of deep seeded emotions that are easier to say and hear when written in song; “The Invisible”, “Crickets and Stars” and “Come Ashore.” Musically, they are sparse, moody, layered. By songs 4 and 5, “Worried Bird” and “Last Hurrah,” the shift begins. I was feeling able and safe enough to start looking up and looking around. The sounds get brighter and joyful. The last half of the record looks outward and beyond with a driving, melodic sound. The first half is an inhale; the last half a long exhale that ends with a full sense of release. And letting loose!
Are there tentative plans to tour/play regional shows in support of the album come spring/summer, or is it more of a wait and see?
Debra: We have an album release booked courtesy of our friends at Signature Sounds. We will be at their venue, The Parlor Room, in Northampton, MA, April 9th.
We will also be playing at Stone Church in Newmarket, NH, April 13, and be showcasing at the National Folk Alliance conference in Kansas City (May 18-22). Beyond that our hope is to book more shows as our radio presence blossoms and venues are more reliably open. We also are looking to book House Concert tours in the Northeast and West Coast for the summer.
What messages and feelings do you hope listeners take away from this single and the upcoming album as a whole?
Debra: The message is that you need to walk through the tough stuff to get to the other side. If you hold on to hope and trust the journey, you will come out stronger and lighter.
What does success as songwriters and musicians mean to you both?
Debra: Success to me is when a listener connects with the message and the music. My writing comes from my personal experiences but many of the ideas expressed are universal. They are about being human and how we can hold opposing forces and how we can transcend. As a performer, there is nothing more gratifying than seeing an audience member smile and sing along. You know you’ve made that heart connection.
Dave: Playing with my wife and my heroes. The fact we get to experience the gifts of music together is very special. For that I am grateful.