Originally from St. Albert, Alta., Tchir was surrounded by his father's Ukrainian-Canadian family, many of whom were singers and musicians who played in regional barn dances and family celebrations.
A student of piano and guitar, it was in Alberta where he experienced three defining moments that inspired him to pursue music.
First, he experienced a concert watching the prairie guitar great Jack Semple at the Edmonton landmark, Sidetrack Café.
Shortly after that concert, Tchir was given a family friend’s vinyl collection that included albums by Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zant, Leonard Cohen and others.
Finally, he began to take guitar lessons with Canadian folk icon Bill Bourne.
“He's a Canadian treasure. I first saw him play at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival … I was blown away by his engaging physical and spiritual presence, unique voice, virtuoso guitar fingerpicking, and sense of rhythm.”
Tchir took guitar lessons from Bourne over the course of two summers.
Using the musical skills he was developing, Tchir began performing himself, often with his younger brother.
At seventeen, Tchir moved to Ottawa to study political science and work in the House of Commons as a page.
It was in Ottawa, that Tchir really began to hone his musical craft playing some of the community’s best-known music venues and eventually releasing three albums.
In 2005, Tchir returned to Alberta with his wife, poet Kristy McKay.
Living in Edmonton, Tchir gigged regularly, toured the country and released another album.
After 10 years in Edmonton, completing a PhD in Political Philosophy at the University of Alberta, Tchir and McKay moved their young family to Sault Ste. Marie to take a position at Algoma University as a professor of Canadian politics and political philosophy.
Tchir’s connection to the Sault, pre-dated his accepting the position at the local university.
“My wife has a lot of family here,” says Tchir.
“We were married in the Sault. So, it has been a homecoming for her and we love raising our kids here. We would come here to visit every few years, from Ottawa and then Edmonton, even before we ever imagined living here.”
Back in 2006, Tchir actually played a show at Loplops Gallery-Lounge when he was touring across Canada.
“I was postering for [the show] on Queen Street when I noticed they were just about to tear down the old Memorial Gardens. That inspired the song Tearing Down The Gardens from Sky Locked Land (2009).”
Tchir performed that song at the Arts Wells Festival in B.C., at a hockey song workshop with Dave Bidini of Rheostatics.
At the same workshop, Tchir supported Bidini enthusiastically on the Rheostatics song, The Ballad of Wendel Clark.
The Sault also figures in his song Wildmere, also from Sky Locked Land.
“It’s about my wife's uncle who left the Sault to make a life in the oil patch out west.”
The song includes the opening line, 'So long to the Sault, and all the things I used to do, and mother, don't worry anymore'.
Tchir’s songs fit into a long tradition of Canadian singers who write about real Canadian places.
“I try to bring songs from North of the border to the world of Americana music. While many of my live shows are just solo acoustic guitar and vocals, with my recordings I love to involve my musical friends from across Canada, and a lot of songs are flavoured with violin, mandolin, dobro, electric guitar, organ, pedal steel, the tasty ingredients of North Atlantic and North American folk music.”
Stories and lyrics play a fundamental role in Tchir’s songs.
“I love so many tunes that aren't about anything, but I am so inspired when a song not only sounds like an earworm, staying with me for years, but when it has a line or a few lines that are just so resonant, either in what they say, or how they sound,” he says.
Tchir cites The Tragically Hip's song Bobcaygeon with the line, ‘Could have been the Willie Nelson, could have been the wine’ as an example.
“[It’s a] great line, and immediately recognizable to so many people in Canada,” he says.
“I'm always gunning for turns of phrases, internal rhymes, rhythmic patterns that catch the ear. And I try to write about particular Canadian places because I think we need more of our own songs to sing, but that point to universal feelings or experiences, so that listeners and singers in other places could enjoy them, too. I've never been to Graceland, but I dig the song, after all.”
For his new album, entitled Sun & Moon, Tchir enlisted some local musicians to help develop the songs.
“I met Frank Deresti [bass] through Algoma University, and playing some same local live venues. I met Mike Kienhofer [dobro] at the bluegrass concerts held at Verdi Hall. I met Sheldon Jaaskelainen [violin] and Mark Gough [drums] through mutual friends. Keiko Larocque [vocals] is an Algoma University music program alumna and she connected us with her friend Nancy Sylvestre, another amazing local vocalist.”
Tchir describes the local artists as “generous” and “professional.”
“We all worked together to combine their creativity with my own overall vision of each song … [they were] a huge pleasure to work with each one.”
In his official biography on his website, Tchir describes the themes of songs on his new album as “midlife experiences.”
“A lot has happened in my life that's common for many people,” says Tchir.
“I've grieved the loss of my father. I've become a father to two great kids. I've spent years pursuing a career and avocation during and after the big economic meltdown, and that struggle to carve out some stability for my family was a struggle, as it is for many … I've learned about what it's like to be a citizen in a country that's called democratic, but where so much power is in fact focused at the top. I've been in a relationship for over twenty years with my wife, ‘the poet’ [in the song] Poet and the Poorboy through good and bad."
He also notes that his audience, dating back to his first release in 1999, has also grown up.
Most of Sun & Moon was recorded locally with sound engineer Michael John DiSanto, who is also an English professor at Algoma University.
“His musical sensibility and attention to detail was huge for this project, and I had so much fun working with him,” says Tchir.
“I got serious about recording this one when I felt I had written enough strong songs to put together another collection, but also because Michael had approached me about the idea of doing some recording together. I'm so glad he did.”
Half of the album was done by the time the pandemic hit.
“We had to do the rest remotely, with musicians in Ottawa, Edmonton, and Zurich recording their own parts, with help of local engineers, and then sending us the tracks … it was something fun to look forward to during the long lockdowns.”
In addition to local talent, this album includes performances from former bandmates from his days in Ottawa and Edmonton.
Not being able to perform live to an audience wasn’t a deterrent while making this album.
“We will put together a larger release concert, with many of the featured local musicians, when things open up a bit more,” he says.
“This summer, I look forward to getting the album into people's hands and ears, and playing a bunch of small open-air backyard concerts, following the rules and guidelines. Those kinds of shows are great fun.”
The opening track on Sun & Moon is called Batchawana Bay.
“My family spends a lot of time there,” he says.
“Really, that song's setting in my mind's eye is a melding of different places near water where we like to spend time together … My friend told me that the song sounds like I'm grieving for the loss of a time that hasn't even passed yet and I think they are bang on. I'm just really trying to appreciate my time with my family right now, while we have this moment.”
The album cover features a picture of Tchir’s children.
“Ultimately, this LP is dedicated to my two children. That's why their silhouettes are on the front cover at Batchawana Bay and why they each have a song on the record that is about them in some way. [It’s also] why it's called Sun & Moon.”
With seven years in the Sault, it sounds like Tchir is comfortable here.
“It was tough leaving behind my old network in Alberta, like I had done 10 years previous in leaving Ottawa. So, I had to live in the Sault a while first before putting out an album from here. But that's how it should be. If I'm going to put out an LP with Batchawana Bay on the front cover and as the lead track, it has to come from my heart and my own life and it does.”
Sun & Moon, as well as his back catalogue, is available in digital and on CD or vinyl at online.