Indigenous Artist Spotlight: Adrian Sutherland

Started in 2018, the Indigenous Artist Spotlight series is intended to foster greater awareness and understanding of the strength and diversity of Indigenous art available in Ontario and beyond. Find all of our past Spotlight interviews here. This month, we spoke with Adrian Sutherland.

Born and raised in Canada’s Far North, Adrian Sutherland is a roots-rocker-with-heart from Attawapiskat First Nation. His melding of rock, roots, folk and blues draws inspiration from his life, the land, and his Cree culture, with songs that ripple far beyond stages. There’s no one quite like him, or music quite like his.

“Precious Diamonds,” Adrian’s highly anticipated second solo album, will be released on March 15, 2024. It was produced in Nashville by former GRAMMY winner Colin Linden, and mastered in New Jersey by Greg Calbi and Steve Fallone (Sterling Sound). Lead single Notawe (Father) is one of two all-Cree songs on the album, marking the first time Adrian is making music in his first language. Notawe was added to more than 100 radio stations in North America, made an appearance on Triple A charts, reached #1 on the internationally recognized Indigenous Music Countdown, and was named one of the ‘Top Songs of 2023’ by CBC Music.

Adrian and Colin first worked together remotely in 2021. Cut off from the rest of the world during the pandemic, Adrian constructed a recording studio inside a shipping container to record his debut solo album. Released to critical acclaim, “When The Magic Hits” earned Adrian first-ever nominations at the JUNO Awards (2022) and Canadian Folk Music Awards (2023). Title track Magic Hits won Best Music Video from San Francisco’s 47th American Indian Film Festival, while Scared reached #1 on the internationally-recognized Indigenous Music Countdown.

In addition to being a recording artist and songwriter, Adrian is a respected cultural leader and traditional knowledge keeper who is fluent in Omushkegowuk Cree. He is writing a book for Penguin Random House Canada about being born and raised in Attawapiskat, where he still resides today.

Adrian cares deeply about many causes, with authentic and insightful first-hand perspective on important issues like contaminated water, food insecurity, housing shortages, and mental health. At this time of reconciliation, Adrian is hopeful for Canadians to walk together in love and respect.

Please take a moment to introduce yourself to our audience for those who may not know you.

 Hi, my name is Adrian Sutherland. I’m a First Nation (Cree) artist from Canada’s far north. I was raised in Attawapiskat, and still live there. Hunting and music have always been a big part of my life. I’m fluent in Omushkegowuk Cree, and recently released my first song in my language. It’s called Notawe (Father) and it means a lot to me to be able to share my language through music.

In 2021, you recorded your debut album “When the Magic Hits” from inside a recording studio you built in a shipping container. Could you expand a bit about that project? What inspired you to take that on and how did it change or influence your work? 

 In the fall of 2020, our small team decided we needed to construct a recording studio because it was really the only way for me to continue creating and recording music during the pandemic. We had big plans that year which all fell through due to the worldwide scare that COVID brought upon us. We were very fortunate to be in a financial position that allowed the studio build to happen. It was constructed inside a shipping container that was in my yard and being used for storage. It was a very challenging process but we were able to pull it all together. The studio was completed in early 2021, and then I was able to work in there remotely to record my debut solo album, When The Magic Hits, with producers in Nashville (Colin Linden) and Toronto (Tim Vesely). We released the album in September of 2021, and it earned a JUNO Awards nomination in 2022, and a Canadian Folk Music Awards nomination in 2023.

You showcased “When the Magic Hits” at Ontario Presents’ virtual Contact ONTour in 2021. Could you tell us a bit about that experience and anything that you feel you gained from participating in that program?

 Participation in Ontario Presents (virtual) was a different experience because it was in front of my computer screen which I wasn’t quite use to at the time. I’m glad I did it because we were able to do a run of theatre shows a few years later as a result. Overall it was a positive experience and it helped me to gain some good exposure among Ontario presenters. 

Your sophomore album “Precious Diamonds” releases on March 15th, 2024. Could you tell us about what we can expect from this album? What were some of the inspirations for this album? How does it differ from your debut? 

My new album “Precious Diamonds” was inspired by the people who have touched my life. It was important to me to tell some of the stories about where I come from. Most importantly it allowed me to make music that I really enjoy. There’s something on the album for everyone, and the songs always touch on universal themes. One thing the stands out is that I decided to record two songs in my language which is Cree. Those songs are beautiful and dear to my heart. The first one – Notawe (Father) – was released in August as the album’s first single, and has been very well received by English radio across North America, and also French radio in Quebec, Canada, and Europe. Notawe reached #1 on the Indigenous Music Countdown. I was also happy to learn that CBC Music included it on their year-end list of the “Top 100 Songs of 2023.”

Which song that you’ve released is your favourite? Which would you recommend first time listeners check out?

 I’d say that the song My Rebel Spirit is up there as one of my favourites so far. We just released it at the end of January, and it’s a song for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider. The message is that it’s okay if you don’t fit in to certain crowds, and that being yourself is more important than anything. Something else I really like about My Rebel Spirit is that Mickey Raphael was a guest artist who plays harmonica on the track. Mickey is a Nashville legend who has worked with Willie Nelson for 50 years, and it was a real honour to have him perform on my new album.

Is there anything else that you would like to share? Do you have any upcoming work that we should look out for?

 I’m excited about the release of “Precious Diamonds” and look forward  to sharing the new music when the album comes out on March 15. I recently released a fun music video for the album’s second single, Precious. We have a few more music videos in the works, too, which will be released in coming months. I’m currently working on my first book that will be published by Penguin Random House Canada about my life growing up in Attawapiskat. I also have another song and video to release after my album comes out, which is an international collaboration of one of my previous songs. I’m excited to be releasing this soon as well.


Keep up with Adrian Sutherland