A $50,000 contest win could hardly be defined as a mixed blessing for any young singer-songwriter.It’s helpful. Full stop.But Calgary-based, Edmonton-born artist Ken Stead admits his third-place triumph in 2016’s inaugural Project WILD, a professional development program for up-and-coming Alberta artists funded by Calgary’s country station WILD 95.3, gave him a bit of an identity crisis moving forward.“The money that was won was used for this album,” says Stead about his sophomore record, Civil War. “It’s been almost three years since then. I was getting booked for things like main stage at the (Big Valley Jamboree). If you listen to the record, sure there’s some country elements to it. But we’re really not a commercial country band. For me, I just wanted to stay true to myself and the sounds I want to create and to be as innovative as I can within that. When people ask ‘What genre is this now?’ The best way I can describe it is roots-rock.”It’s a description that offers wide enough parameters to include first single, Trouble, which recalls the Jim Cuddy-penned rockers from Blue Rodeo; to soulful Why You Afraid of the Dark, country-blues of I Don’t Wanna Be That Man and the torchy ballad Hold On, which taps into classic singer-songwriter fare similar to the work of Ron Sexsmith.Some of Stead’s ease in genre-hopping has to do with his growing confidence as a vocalist, even if the new-found smokiness of his soulful timbre was achieved in a somewhat ill-advised manner.“I started smoking, to be honest,” he says. “So that soul grit was there. I started exploring my voice a lot more and that’s what came out of these songs. It’s just being able to take a melody and stretch it and find the heart of what the song is.”He also credits his four-piece backing band to expanding his sound. They will be joining him on June 1 at the King Eddy for his Calgary CD launch.A romantic breakup precipitated Stead’s move from Edmonton to Calgary nearly two years ago. The band will follow its Canadian shows with his first European tour in the fall.“My life is a little bit transient right now,” he says.The flux in his personal life may have affected the lyrics on the record. Civil War is not only a reference to the genre identity crisis he went through after releasing his first record, Fear Has No Place Here, three years ago.“I didn’t want to be super strategic about it,” he says. “I just wanted to express what I wanted to. When it came to what the theme of the album, what’s actually coming out the songs, it’s a bit of my journey of the past two years. It’s that inner turmoil. That’s why I called it Civil War. I wanted to take it in two directions because civil war is something within yourself. At the same time, there’s a lot going on in our society going on now. A war is not always with other countries now, our wars are within our own societies, within our own culture. Those are the things I wanted to shine a light on.”Which is not to say the album addresses politics outright. But Stead says he wanted it to reflect some of the anxieties, interior and exterior, that lead to metaphorical or cultural civil wars. While first single Trouble is actually about his own romance with a woman, he cast the video as a same-sex romance. Some of the response he got was depressing.“Even in the teaser clips that I was releasing I was getting messages saying ‘You can’t use two women, it’s not right,’” he says. “This is exactly why I wanted to do it. I want people to be asking questions and having these conversations. It’s still a thing, especially in Alberta.”Ken Stead will perform at the King Eddy on June 1.