Growing up at Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway, Dori Braun didn’t get into songwriting until her 30s, but once she did, she was hooked.
The former B.C. Peace resident landed the opening track on the Alaska Highway Songs: Road Songs for the 75th Anniversary of the Alaska Highway, and, like many, followed a long and winding road to get there.
“I was mostly playing other people’s music, cover tunes and things like that and it was a big leap for me to write,” she said.
Braun grew up in Dawson Creek, and went up and down the highway between there and Fort Nelson many times. But it wasn’t until she sat down to write her song, Alaska Highway, with her daughter, Samantha Scott, that she really learned about the road.
“It happens a lot when you live somewhere,” she said. “You’re not a tourist, you’re not paying attention, all those Americans come up and take the highway because it connects to them. But because we live there, you sort of take things for granted.”
Braun and Scott wrote the song over the course of a weekend in Prince George, focused on nailing down the melody and the lyrics they were determined to get right.
Her song tells the story of the soldiers that were sent to build the highway. They worked together, froze together, and eventually completed the road together.
“It’s influenced so many parts of everybody’s life I couldn’t just let it pass and not write a song about it,” she said. “I write songs about things that matter to me and the Alaska Highway is such a lifeline for so many people.”
Now living in Beaverlodge, she takes a more laid back stance on songwriting, but in her earlier writing days she took workshops to hone her skills, including a workshop with Chilliwack lead singer Bill Henderson.
“It just inspired me so much to carry on,” she said. “There’s such a process, and it’s not just poetry set to music, which is what a lot of people think.
She described reading The Craft of Songwriting and not being able to write anything for six months because she couldn’t silence the inner critic in her mind.
“Now I just write how I feel and I don’t stress about all the shoulds and woulds and coulds,” she said. “I could be a more crafted songwriter, but that’s not what it’s about for me—it’s about expressing, it’s a therapy.”
Braun was one of the co-founders of the Peace Region Songwriters Association and while she’s not involved anymore, the group is still going strong 20 years later.
“I’ve seen lots of musicians come through there and long term friendship and relationships through that as well,” she said.
Alaska Highway Songs: Road Songs for the 75th Anniversary of the Alaska Highway is currently available at local museums, art shops, and cafes in Fort St. John and Fort Nelson.