“But maybe when the morning comes, I’ll find that all the hurting’s done.” Justin Hines, a 31-year-old singer-songwriter in the melodic tradition of James Taylor and Cat Stevens, suffers from Larsen syndrome, a rare genetic joint condition. The recording of his new album How We Fly was severely complicated due to medical issues. From his home in Newmarket, Ont., Hines speaks on journeys, relativity and finding his voice again.
A lot has happened since the release of your last album, 2011’s Days to Recall. You lost the ability to sing for a period of time, is that right?
One of the, I’ll say “features,” of my condition is that I have scoliosis, which is a curvature of the spine. In the last year and a half, that has progressed, which affected my breathing. It was hard to get oxygen to my vocal cords. The effect was a new voice. There was a lot of therapy involved. In many ways, I was relearning how to sing.
Are you addressing that complication in the song If We’re Wrong?
I wrote that in a period of questioning, I wasn’t sure I wanted to bring that song to the people I work with. It’s probably a scary thought to them as well, that this might be it. It’s a frightening song in that respect. To be honest, I can’t really listen to it often. It’s too fresh.
The first song on the album, Maybe When the Morning Comes, is a new sound for you. The chord progression in the verse is different, your voice is a little raspier than before, and the mood feels darker than what we expect from you.
It was a challenging period. But, it’s always been a misconception that I don’t acknowledge the difficulties I’ve endured. It’s not really the case. We all have challenges. This was one of the rougher times I’ve had on this little journey of mine. It would have been hard not to reflect that in the writing and the singing.
How do you feel when an indie musician cries poor? Such as Amanda Palmer, who expected local string ensembles to play with her for free on her tour stops, because she supposedly couldn’t afford them. In comparison to your condition, aren’t such complaints pretty weak?
I do believe challenges and problems are relative to our individual lives. Yes, you can analyze it in a global perspective, and say this is worse than that. But in our brains, it’s relative. I’ve never thought of myself as an unwell guy. I don’t get sick that often. The last year and a half has been a bit of a humbling experience in that sense. But for me to say that it’s worse than anybody else’s issue, I can’t say that.
I was quite taken by the cover art of the album, where you’ve left the wheelchair behind and are walking. What was the inspiration for that?
I think it was time to put out something that visually wasn’t a traditional portrait of how someone in a wheelchair is portrayed. It symbolizes the idea that our logistics or our quote-unquote “challenges” are not necessarily defining when it comes to who we are as human beings. It’s about minorities not being categorized, and that there is more to all of us than what can be seen.
Let’s talk about your logistics. This charity tour you are about to embark upon is different than what you’ve done previously. Will playing in offbeat venues pose a problem?
It will likely be quite challenging. I have absolutely no idea what to expect. It’s a bit scary. But we’ve been through this kind of thing before. Ultimately things have a way of working themselves out.
An example of that is the van you’ve received by donation, right?
Yes. We’d been trying to figure out how to tour, grassroots-style, without blowing the bank. To get a customized tour bus was out of the question. Bur we ended up stumbling upon a couple in Brockville, Ont., who had this vehicle. I thought we’d be renting it, but when we got into the RV to check it out, they said they were actually donating it to us. They actually modified it to accommodate my chair. The people with me had known about the donation. They pulled a fast one on me.
It’s like your song, when the morning comes the problem is resolved. Maybe it’s a sign that the tour is going to work out.
Exactly. How could you not be doing something good, from something starting from such a good place?
This interview has been condensed and edited.