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Take A Trip To Fourth Born’s “Heartbreak Retreat”

James Stephens, also known as Fourth Born, is an alternative folk artist from Wasaga Beach, Ontario. His songwriting journey began at 14, leading to a performance career around Greater Toronto.

In 2020, as the pandemic caused a shift in his musical journey, James sought financial stability in the forestry industry of British Columbia. Living amidst Canada's wilderness ignited a spark of inspiration in him, guiding his sound toward a folk-like sound.

Beyond singing and songwriting, Stephens' skills extend to mixing and music production. His latest 8-track album, "Heartbreak Retreat," harnesses the aura of a cedarwood cabin near Nelson, BC. This body of work signifies a debut into an alternative folk era for Fourth Born — and it's one you won't want to miss.

"Heartbreak Retreat" is an auditory journey of introspection, reflecting Fourth Born's life experiences and his bond with nature. The album beautifully captures the authentic folk essence from Stephens' introspection within South Eastern BC's quiet, deep woods.

The opening track, "My Soul," graces the soundscape with its acoustic guitar melody, followed by subtle banjo strumming. With a rich tone, he sings the lyrics, "Your soul is young and alive, and mine's like the radio," - It captures a duality of yearning and acceptance, setting the stage for this intimate journey.

The fifth track, "Future Plans," introduces an uplifting guitar melody that crescendos into James' evocative lyrics: "Even though I'm strong, there are still some things that I need- like food or sleep," and "when you'd run your hands through mine, and talk of future plans for life."

This song encapsulates the complexities of grief — the strength to endure and a yearning for previously shared aspirations in a past connection. Through this melodic storytelling, Fourth Born shines a light on this bitter-sweet reminiscing often associated with Heartbreak.

Welcome to BuzzMusic, James, and congratulations on your latest release, "Heartbreak Retreat." How has transitioning to a more secluded lifestyle affected your approach to songwriting?

I would say the lifestyle change has influenced my approach to writing significantly. I started out writing as a young teen - Maybe 14 years old. I remember constantly feeling at a loss when it came to writing topics. I could carry a tune and had good friends in a band. But no life experience.

My first album was based entirely on a fictional character. Which, of course, has been taken off the shelf a long while ago (I was just learning how to mix music)

Last Cigarette and Masters of Disguise are both songs of irony based on toxic relationships. And The Snow EP is a collective of songs I had written as a teen, with some newer songs in there as well. The snow ep is definitely closer to something personal. But there's definitely some fictitious overlap in the writing (based on the character I started developing in my first album). Anyway, when I sat down alone in the cabin - after just living my life and taking some exciting risks. The only topic I could think of was me. Who am I? What am I feeling? Why am I feeling it? Moving out on my own and in such a nomadic way has developed a lot of character in me. And so now I have my own life to write about. This album is just who I am and what I was going through in 2022. And I plan to write like that moving forward. Writing has never come so easily to me. There's still much to work on as a writer regarding vulnerability and tightening my new approach. But I'm thrilled to have gotten to a place where I write about my life in a literal sense.

What's the significance of the title "Heartbreak Retreat?"

I would say the significance of the title "Heartbreak Retreat" is just how literal it is. I went through a breakup, broke my heart, and then retreated to the mountains of BC, over 4500 km away. I started renting out a cabin to seclude and work on myself so I could figure out my life. I was meditating heavily and put myself to work in the West Canadian forestry industry.

Walk us through your process when creating "Heartbreak Retreat." Did the album begin with a central concept, or did it unfold organically as each song was produced?

The process of this album began as soon as the break up was coming to fruition back in January 2022. I was driving from Ontario to my and my previous partner's apartment in Quebec when "My Soul" butted its way into my head repeatedly. The breakup happened so fast, and we had such a lovely relationship. I abruptly moved out west afterward, and I then spent six months working super hard and not writing at all until I got back to the cabin I had picked up in November. That's when I started writing the remainder of this album's songs. The songs are pretty much in the exact order I wrote them in. It felt less like creative songwriting and more like writing in a journal this time. It truly is just an album outlining my journey through processing heartbreak. I think the simplicity in that hits home for me. I can listen back and appreciate and now feel thankful for what I went through.

Which of the eight tracks in "Heartbreak Retreat" would you consider your favorite?

My favorite track is probably "Who," which is track number 2 and the first song I wrote in the cabin. The reason I love this track is because it's just so honest. I mean, I like to think all my writing is honest. But "Who" really just nails it for me in terms of describing what it feels like to feel heartbroken. We all want connection, to feel loved, and to love someone. One of the biggest universal questions we all bear in our psyches is: Who?

Do you see yourself continuing down this path of alternative folk music, or do you plan to experiment with other genres?

Yes, I think the alt-folk genre is an excellent platform for me to be more vulnerable with my songwriting. This isn't a very commercial release; most of my stuff isn't. But it helped me personally to be able to put my thoughts and feelings into song. Regardless of the success of this music, writing, and recording, it has done more for me than I could have ever asked for. As for other genres, of course. Last Cigarette is my most successful track, and people still praise it when complimenting my music.

I already have some songs in the works that emulate Last Cigarette's sound. I also write instrumental tracks for sync licensing opportunities. Cinematic, corporate, commercial jingle kind of stuff. There really is no limit to what I'll take a crack at. I've cultivated the skills and equipment throughout my twenties toward being surrounded by the options to create. If I can land in a market, then that's awesome. If not, I'm still super happy to be able to do what I do when I can find the time in my off-seasons.


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