A Newfoundland and Labrador musician is gaining fans around the world for his unique musical project, and he's doing it all without even leaving the island.
Since 2012, Aaron Powell's Fog Lake project has commanded respect and attention from thousands of fans around the world.
Powell's songs have been played on podcasts made by strangers in far-off places like Australia and the United Kingdom, he's received handwritten letters from fans around the world, and his albums are routinely listed on top-ten lists from publications and blogs around the world.
Fog Lake is a success story that wouldn't really have been possible without the internet, and a case study in how hard work and hunkering down can get you noticed regardless of if you live in the biggest city in the world, or in a town of approximately 2,000 people located on an island in the North Atlantic.
Powell's story begins back when he was in high school and living in Glovertown.
He first thought he might have an inkling that he enjoyed making music while working on film projects with his friends.
While he enjoyed putting the films together, he said he quickly became fascinated with how the images moved when they were scored to sound, and decided to start trying his hand at scoring the films himself.
"Music kind of came about to me when I was working on a lot of film projects, and I kind of got into the world of making my own music for the movies, and eventually that kind of just took hold," said Powell.
As his interest deepened, he began to make music that would stand on its own.
"No one even really knew that I was spending all day in my basement writing songs and singing songs and trying to learn guitar and messing around with loops and pedals all day."
Over the next few years, he slowly began to work on ambient music, inspired by some of his musical heroes like Elliot Smith, Deerhunter, Cat Power and Sparklehorse.
When he finished his first collection of songs, he decided to upload the project to the popular music sharing website BandCamp, and called it Fog Lake.
Something about the music, lo-fi as it was, connected with people.
"I put my first record online, and I was kind of surprised to see it already gathering a bit of blog attention," he said.
"It gave me a bit of motivation, I guess, and a little boost of confidence to keep going with it, and push it further."
The album was picked up by some influential music blogs, and before he knew it, he was getting notes from people from all around the world about his music.
Music inspires deep connection
On Fog Lake's Bandcamp page, for Powell's 2013 release Further Reaches, a user named Tim MS from Kassel, Germany writes, "You helped me through very hard weeks and helped me to stay afloat. thx! <3"
The message contains a sentiment that is common among fans of Powell's music — there's an intangible quality to it that pierces right through and forms a connection with listeners.
"I've always tried to make music that can heal. I believe that there's like a healing quality in music that's kind of medicinal," said Powell.
"I think if you can create a feeling that someone else feels, you can kind of almost cancel it out."
It's not hard to imagine fans listening to Powell's music and thinking, as he sings about heartbreak, anxiety, and loneliness, that they're not the only one going through these things.
"I get messages and letters on like, a weekly basis, from people all over the world," said Powell.
"A lot of people will just send me a message and just say like 'I've just had like the worst two months of my life and your music has kind of kept me afloat.'"
He even recalled one instance where a fan sent him a letter from Europe.
"It was from this guy in the Netherlands and he claimed he was working at a gas station, and he was just really sick of it, and he said that he would just play my music on loop all night in the gas station and that would kind of like help his days go by a little quicker. "
"He said people would always walk in the gas station and be like 'what is this', and he'd just be like 'some guy from Newfoundland.' "
Internet success story
If Powell's music had been created as early as 20 years ago, it's very likely that it wouldn't have made it off the island, but the internet has revolutionized the way that music can travel across borders and throughout the world.
"I probably would have been making music, but it wouldn't be able to get as far spread," he said.
"With the internet and Bandcamp, which is a real big thing, it's easy for people to search out hidden gems in the independent music world."
When Powell was in high school, he met other like minded music fans on a message board for one of his favourite bands Deerhunter.
It was there that he developed a friendship with Ontario native Warren Hildebrand, who now releases music as Foxes in Fiction.
Together they shared samples of what they were working on, and when Powell finally released his Fog Lake project, it was a natural fit for him to join Hildebrand's Brooklyn-based music label Orchid Tapes.
According to Hildebrand, music is becoming post-geographic, and Fog Lake reflects that.
"It doesn't really matter where people are from and people aren't really defined by kind of a regional sound or anything like that," he said.
"It's kind of a testament to the power of the internet and how things can get spread around."
New album coming
Powell is currently touring with Fog Lake across Eastern Canada, and he'll make stops in places ranging from Halifax to Toronto in the coming weeks.
A new Fog Lake album will be released later this year, but after that Powell said the future of his project is up in the air.
The album's first single Rattlesnake was released earlier this week.
"Back in the day when I first started making music, it was kind of an adventure, to see what I could do, considering that I didn't really know what I was doing… there was a magic in that," he said.
Although Fog Lake found an audience all over the world from Newfoundland and Labrador, Powell said he may be ready to branch out and move to a more populous city like Montreal or Vancouver.
"I feel like my days in Newfoundland are a bit numbered," he said.
"I'd like to explore a different kind of music scene and start with a clean slate, especially if Fog Lake is going to be nearing its close... I wouldn't mind starting a new thing somewhere else."