LONDON, Ont. (CUP) &- Melissa McClelland is polite, pretty and saccharine-voiced, but that won’t stop her from singing about cocaine and fighting.
“As a kid I was really kind of drawn to music that had a dark undercurrent, or you know, it almost sounds kind of bubblegum on the surface and then you actually hear what they’re singing about,” McClelland said from her hotel room in Calgary. Born in Chicago, her family moved to the Greater Toronto Area when she was three, the area she still calls home.
“Darkness for the sake of darkness is kind of lame.” McClelland said. “When you inject some kind of humour into it, or some prettiness, whether that’s through my voice or instrumentation, that contrast really brings the emotion of the song to the surface.”
This is something that McClelland has become known for, amidst her dabblings in country, folk, blues, and pop music. Having such a wide appeal has made her a musical chameleon of sorts; she has opened for acts as diverse as Blue Rodeo and Matthew Good. Her genre shifting comes from her personal philosophy to take influence from everything around her. She even admitted to harboring some hip-hop roots.
“I can’t believe I was a fan of NWA as a teenager,” laughs McClelland. “But I grew up listening to so many different styles of music and truly loving so much. Everything from classical to hip hop to folk music to punk rock. Not that I express all those things in my music, but I’m definitely open to trying anything, really.”
For someone raised as a Canadian, there is an undeniable fascination with Americana that comes out in her music.
“I think it started out as just being drawn to that tradition. I was born in the States and most of my relatives live [there], but honestly… as soon as I started singing something with a little more blues or country flavour, I think it really opened up my voice in a new way and I just felt so much more passionate singing that.” she explains.
McClelland’s exploration of southern music led her to trace her family lineage through the U.S., “You can date it back as far as the Mayflower.” she said.
A road trip with friends and family along Route 66 inspired several songs for her latest album Victoria Day, produced by her husband, singer-songwriter Luke Doucet.
“A lot of my songs either have to do with my travels, different places I’ve been to, or they have to do with home. You can hear that on any record I’ve done,” she says. However, it was the idea itself of the May two-four weekend that inspired the album’s title.
“I like the idea of Victoria Day. It’s kind of a weird holiday. We’re celebrating the Queen’s birthday, which is an odd thing, but it’s also this great celebration. And for Canadians, we spend half the year shivering, and to come out on Victoria Day and have barbecues and fireworks, that was kind of the basis of [it], for me.”
The eclecticism of McClelland’s record is also a product of her Canadian roots, a metaphor for the diversity of our country’s culture. In such a broad-spanning land, McClelland has found her way into a tight-knit group of singer-songwriters, friends and family.
“I lived in Nashville with my husband for six months and we met some wonderful people and heard some great music, but what it really did was put it into perspective how special the Canadian music scene is. Nashville is known as “Music City’ and we did see a lot of good stuff. But everybody’s just trying to “Make it! Make it! Make it!’ and when we came back to Canada it was so refreshing because you don’t get so much of that attitude.”
“People want to be successful, but it’s not this desperate road to fame that they’re on.” she said. “Here people are making music trying to impress their other musician friends, and that usually makes for good music.”