In June of this year, Derek Kehler and his girlfriend, Helena Curic, were found in a makeshift cabin in Australia, northwest of Sydney. They had been poisoned in their sleep by carbon monoxide as a woodchip fire burnt through the night.
Kehler, a Manitoba native who lived in Vancouver and had recently relocated to Australia, was an aspiring country singer who performed under the name Steel Audrey. Talented, sincere, and loved by all that knew him, his tragic end was felt deeply throughout Vancouver’s music community. Now, his friends and colleagues have banded together to posthumously release his last album, From Which I Came, in honour of Kehler and the music he put so much of his soul into.
“On the one hand, it’s a pretty amazing tribute to be able to give a lost friend; to be able to share their songs and especially Derek’s songs, which were so about him and his character,” says Adrian Glynn, longtime friend and frequent collaborator of Kehler’s. “His grit and his wisdom and his way of looking at life were all in his songs, and that’s a wonderful memory and a wonderful way to grieve. But, it’s also hard to listen to his songs and sing them because there’s so much of him in them. It makes it that much harder because he’s so present… It just makes you miss him all the more.”
Raised in a religious farming community in southern Manitoba, Kehler grew up listening to classic country music. He experimented playing various genres, dabbling in rock bands out of high school, but soon realized that what his heart truly bled for was what he was raised on: Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and George Jones. From Which I Came became a love letter penned to his roots, one influenced by his upbringing and the stories that shaped his childhood.
“Just that great songwriting, which just has so much honesty — unabashed honesty — to it,” Glynn adds. “And that’s what Derek was like. He was just himself. Whatever situation, he was just unapologetically himself.”
Kehler met Glynn at a songwriter’s circle shortly after moving to Vancouver and the two quickly became close. “Derek was, in a lot of ways, a go-to friend for me because he was spontaneous and he would be up for anything,” Glynn says. “Derek was the kind of guy I could just call at one in the morning and be like, ‘okay, we’re going swimming in the ocean.’ He’d be like, ‘I’m there.’ He wouldn’t even hesitate. He’d be like, ‘Okay, we’re going.’ No — actually, all he would say was ‘mkay.’ He would just go for it and so that was great in terms of fun, dumb things like midnight swimming, but also more serious things. If you needed someone to have a drink with because you were having a rough time, then he’d give you the ‘mkay’ and he’d be right there.”
The posthumous release party for From Which I Came will take place at St. James Hall on October 18. But make no mistake — this is a celebration, not a mourning. The party will be just that, a party, with the intention of bringing Kehler’s music to people who may have not had the chance to hear it before.
“This isn’t a funeral, it’s a show,” Glynn insists. “It’s a show of awesome country music, which is what Derek wrote. This is just a chance to share his amazing songwriting with a broader audience in Vancouver.”
An extraordinary group of local artists, including Glynn, Nat Jay, SAVVIE, Matt Ellis, The Lion The Bear The Fox, and members of The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer (all of whom were either friends or collaborators of Kehler), will be performing songs off of From Which I Came, alongside backing instrumentation from the band who played on the record itself. And as Kehler had only done a soft release online before he passed, Glynn and his team organized a GoFundMe campaign to help get physical copies pressed. After generous donations from friends, fans, and family (from both Manitoba and Vancouver), enough money was collected to finally manufacture the album. From Which I Came, in many ways both an introduction and a farewell, will be available for purchase at the event.