Thomas Kjorven’s 24 Weeks

I’m sitting, freezing, in my office upstairs at Habitat with friend and local musician Thomas Kjorven. Thomas is wearing a toque and neither of us take our jackets off – I’ve gotten used to wearing mine throughout the work day. We only just got an HVAC installed (it’s not turned on yet) and we have no insulation. In the Winter it regularly hovers around 0º; in the Summer it can get up to the mid 30’s. It’s hard to say which is worse and I’m reminded of Robert Frost’s poem Fire & Ice. We huddle around the space heater I keep under my desk. It’s working as hard as it can to heat us up, though my office is one of three without a true ceiling so much of the heat dissipates into the building. I like to pretend we’re around a campfire; one hand is clutching Kjorven’s latest EP, 24 weeks, the other pouring us each a mug of Chai Baba‘s Candied Almond Tea.

24weeks

I’m trying to remember the last time Thomas and I chatted. We crossed paths at a concert a couple weeks ago but it’s probably been since Keloha in July since we actually discussed anything in-depth. Today’s topic is his very personal EP and the journey his family has been on since we last spoke. Incidentally it was around late-June that Thomas’ last album came out. It wasn’t uncommon for him to be constantly releasing new material so, to me at least, it feels like it’s been a lot longer since then. Sometimes it just takes that kind of inspiration you can’t ignore. Since he turned his garage into a studio, Thomas finds he’s always working on stuff, especially recently.

“My wife had our first son, extremely premature at 24 weeks,” Kjorven explains, “they say the chance of life is very slim, and some doctors won’t even ethically resuscitate a baby before then. So we were 24 and 6 days, that’s how close we were.” It only took 5 minutes from when they realized his wife Shar was going into labour before their son Ruel popped out, weighing only 1.5 lbs. For those unfamiliar with the process of birthing, I took 23 1/2 hours of labour and weighed 7 lbs 11 oz. Granted I took a little longer than most babies and tried to kill both my mom and me in the process — a fact she’s keen to remind me of whenever I act like an ass — but that still gives you a point of reference.

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Thomas continues, “The BC Children’s team came down immediately from Vancouver and flew him in an incubator down to the children’s hospital. It was a really scary time, we didn’t know what was going to happen but we knew we were on a road.” Thomas’ voice begins to tremble slightly. I can see it in his eyes, how fresh all of this is still in his mind and it’s not surprising really. I followed the progress on Facebook, but hearing it in real life it’s more poignant. My eyes water throughout the interview.

“Every day was a battle. Every day you’d come into the INCU and it looks like some sorta sci-fi movie. There’s rows and rows of incubators of all these little babies, and each incubator has assigned a nurse that’s on it 24 hours. It’s incredible what they do there.” Kjorven goes on to describe all the tubes, ventilators and IVs attached to his tiny baby boy. Often days would be one step forward, two steps back. “We were just so amazed with the BC Children’s team… …the decisions they have to make on a daily basis.”

Baby Ruel is now home after 150 days in the hospital. All the while Ruel and Shar were in Vancouver, Thomas was commuting back and forth on a weekly basis. He would come home every Sunday night, work during the week, drive back to Van every Friday. It was during these week nights that Thomas was writing and recording 24 weeks, perhaps hoping to bring about a catharsis. “I would be home alone, kind of trying to work through this in my mind, waiting on the phone calls. The only way I know how to like, get my emotions out there was to write. So I’d go into the studio with my headphones on and that would be my therapy.”

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This album was a very different exploration for Kjorven who normally likes to keep his lyrics open-concept, allowing multiple interpretations to each song, making each song personal for who was listening to it. With 24 weeks, Thomas bares his heart and soul on each track, but also found new inspiration to draw parallels and paint metaphors in a way he never had before. What we get out of it is an intimate, chronological play-by-play of the Kjorven’s journey.

The first track, ‘Change,’ was written when Thomas and Shar first discovered she was pregnant. The song chronicles the shift in his psyche, realizing he’s about to become a father and all that comes with it. ‘Fast Forward’ is when Ruel was admitted to the hospital shortly after birth. ‘Beautiful Hell’ weaves between the day-to-day highs and lows. Daily setbacks interspersed with forward momentum created a bittersweet dichotomy for Kjorven. ‘Orange’ conveys a level of impatience with the process. Driving between Kelowna and Vancouver, Thomas watched the leaves closely. “I knew this wouldn’t be all resolved until at least Winter time. So I’d be looking in the green trees. I’d be looking for signs of fall, little bits of orange and yellow.” ‘Breathe’ is a man’s plea with machines hooked up to his only child’s lungs (Ruel spent most of his time with machines breathing for him) while ‘Look How Far You’ve Come’ is a celebration, bringing the whole family home for the first time.

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It was during this process that I learned something new about Thomas. He hated being away from his boy so he would find himself sitting next the incubator for hours at a time. It was during this that Thomas started sketching again for the first time in years, making a hobby out of little Monster-of-the-Day portraits. At the time, these scenes were merely a way to pass the time but eventually Kjorven found great reception when posting them on Facebook and is looking to transfer some to posters, canvas and tee shirts. “Me and my wife really want to give back to BC Children’s. They really saved our boy’s life and we feel so in debt to them.”

Rather than simply write a check to the hospital, Thomas wants to take his platform as an artist to raise awareness around these real-life heroes. 24 weeks is available online on Thomas’s website as choose-your-price, with full proceeds going to the BC Children’s Hospital, same goes for the hard copy of the album, and all the prints of the monsters he will be making.

You can grab a Monster-of-the-Day print and/or a hard copy of 24 Weeks on March 16th when Thomas Kjorven performs at the Jail Bird Art Show 3, a night of local art at Habitat. Along with copies of his album and Monster-of-the-Day prints, you will be able to make a donation to the BC Children’s hospital. There will also be artwork for sale by Alexandra Tremblay, Habitat’s current artist in residence. Come out to support a great cause and get to know Thomas a little bit more.


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