On a cold December day in Winnipeg (it's -30 degrees C), Joseph Visser stays warm in the cafe where he has worked on and off for the past five years. He took the unreliable, cold, and crowded Winnipeg bus (the only public transit available) and now sits in the Thom Bargen cafe in West Broadway to talk on the phone. He has just returned from a European tour with his younger brother's music project, Boniface. Now that he's back, he's shifting focus to his own project, Strawberry 25.
His latest self-released single "Black Orchid Eyes" is an intimate, starstruck snapshot of a perfect night in Toronto with his current partner. The song was born from that certain glow you feel after seeing an incredible live set (the couple had just seen Lucy Dacus) with someone you really like; the lyrics share the experience of walking home after this dreamlike night, where everything feels beautiful, supernatural, and just right.
Visser made his debut as Strawberry 25 in November with folk-pop fusion "Shoulder Season." He wrote it over the course of last summer, and it was one of the few that he took his time on. "It was written over the course of basically meeting my current partner. It is an absolutely wild thing to share really vulnerable things with someone who is basically a stranger. There's a lot of trust involved in that or hope involved in that. It's often times very scary because you're just constantly stepping off a cliff. I think the main message of that song is just kind of leaning into that fear and leaning into how good it feels and leaning into all that you don't know yet," Visser shares. "For me, 'Shoulder Season' is that transition period into deciding that you're going to be vulnerable and have the shit scared out of you. I wrote it almost to try to inspire myself to lean right in."
The common thread between "Black Orchid Eyes" and "Shoulder Season" is Visser's ability to capture the feeling of a moment. "I can't really write about other people, I'm not a storyteller necessarily," he says. "I basically just try to describe really visceral emotions that I feel are kind of rare for anyone to feel. I'm just trying to remember that and preserve those really intense emotional moments that kind of shape the direction of your life, you know? Where you live and who you're around."
Visser plans to stay in Winnipeg for about the next month, but doesn't plan on staying for long. Touring with Boniface has him constantly on the road. I ask him if he has a love-hate relationship with his hometown. He replies over the chatter of the coffee shop, "It's probably 80% hate, 20% love."
The hate? There are only 700,000 people living there. Visser tells me it's in the top five coldest cities with a population of over half a million. It's the kind of city that's ruthless. It's isolated and brutally cold. Many who grow up there choose not to stick around. "The funny thing is when I'm on tour with Boniface, I talk about Winnipeg all the time because people want to know where I'm from and our accents are different. I always talk about Winnipeg and I talk about it so much that it stops feeling real necessarily. Like it's just this fake place where I grew up," he says.
The love? Winnipeg's summers. Specifically, the Winnipeg Folk Festival. That was Visser's biggest musical inspiration growing up. The festival itself is a jumble of Canadian bands of varying genres but mostly folk and indie. Tegan and Sara played there one year before they got big.
Visser attended the festival as a young teenager but made a triumphant return as a performer with Boniface two summers ago. "When I was growing up, my only goal in music was to play in the Winnipeg Folk Festival and so when we got booked to do it, it was just like a dream come true," recalls Visser. "That's still like top 5 of my favorite shows I've ever played. It was just so fun. Hopefully we'll get to play it again some time."
Immersed in folk music, Visser's younger brother Micah picked up the fiddle and Visser learned the banjo. Years later, they would branch off to write their own music and create their own sounds under whole new names.
Visser stumbled upon his artist's name at a low-budget, beach hotel in Belize. Strawberry 25 was the hotel's wifi password. Visser wrote the name down and found later that it was perfectly suited to his's mission as an artist.
"I think the internet is cool right now in that you can find bands and discover bands. I grew up in the early days of MySpace. That's how I discovered all these bands that I liked. I remember chatting with musicians I liked on MySpace when I was like 14 or 15 and just thinking that was the coolest thing," explains Visser. "The internet and music have always been so linked for me and I think part of choosing Strawberry 25 was just because it's almost more like a handle, it's like a username almost. I think for my project I just want it to be some sort of stamp on the internet."
Thanks to the immediacy of the internet, we can expect more from Visser soon. "Black Orchid Eyes" was released as a demo on YouTube a couple weeks before it was available on streaming platforms. Whether from snowy Winnipeg or sunny Belize, Strawberry 25 will be logging his most visceral moments on the web for all corners of the globe to hear.