Anna Justen takes a step in the right direction with Saintclaire

Meet Anna Justen, a third-year Concordia student fresh off the release of her first EP, Saintclaire.

Anna Justen moved to Montreal two weeks before turning 19 to study journalism at Concordia. Having been born and raised in Seattle, Washington, it was quite the shock for her to leave the family’s nest. She’s since embraced this change and is making waves in the Indie/Folk genre with her new EP Saintclaire already released. Even while having lived her entire life at the same house, she was ready to face her new reality, living in Montreal.

“It’s awesome being in a big city with other people my age and Seattle is not a lot like that and I really loved it,” said Justen.

The musician’s parents aren’t musicians, but they did a great job of integrating her into the music world, by listening to a ton of music and forcing her to pick up an instrument at a young age. Even with a love for singing, she began her musical career by playing trombone for four years in elementary school, (which she admits she hated), then went on to learn instruments she found more interesting.

“I eventually decided that I didn’t want to play trombone anymore, so I taught myself piano, and then I was like, I can’t transport this anywhere, I can’t play it anywhere so I taught myself guitar instead like a couple months later,” she said.

Coming from the United States, Justen had always been busy with sports throughout her life — and since enrolling in university, she has not been a part of any sports teams. This afforded her more time to work on her craft, and she capitalized on this opportunity. “Since coming to university I have written so many, so many songs and I can’t stop. It’s like all my energy goes here,” she said.

When it comes to her sound, Justen blends elements of indie and folk, with a slight touch of pop music. Certain names in the music industry come to mind when listening to her work. She shares similar qualities with artists such as Phoebe Bridgers or even the band Big Thief. In recent years, her biggest musical influences have been largely from bands from the indie scene such as Slow Pulp and Soccer Mommy, who have really helped the young artist refine a sound and style that is true to her. Some of her other influences include the 2000s underground scene and the 90s Seattle grunge scene.

Justen had only released two songs when she decided to work on dropping an EP. She herself played most of the instruments on the project, and teamed up with producer Ash Always to work on it. After months of hard work, Saintclaire is finally out. It is an intimate experience that presents a subtle vibe instead of an in-your-face one, but is still hard-hitting and appealing like any high quality project. Justen’s vocal quality, where she will fade some words in order to prioritize how they sound, results in hauntingly beautiful vocals that deliver a profound sense of melancholy. From the pop-influenced and lighthearted “Centralia,” to the emotionally charged “Buckman,” the EP’s five tracks all bring something different to the table.

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“Once I released my first single, I knew I wanted to do three songs and then release an EP and I knew generally what songs were gonna be on it. When I wrote each song, I knew immediately that it was meant to be on the EP like each song individually came together for me in that way. I have a lot of different versions like the order of the songs and I had different ideas for each of them,” she said.

The track “Buckman,” is a highlight in Justen’s catalogue (and also happens to be her favorite track off the EP) because of the message behind it. This song talks about childhood memories, and is dedicated to her late cousin, David, and her late aunt, Jane. In the middle of the track, we can hear a vocal message of Jane speaking at her son David’s funeral before passing away. This track is super meaningful and a strong feeling of nostalgia is present all over the song. The meaning behind it is embellished with gentle acoustic guitar, added rain sounds and gorgeous vocals which all build on the song’s beauty.

“My aunt Jane is a twin and her twin Julie is alive and listened to the song and cried and told me she loved it. My whole family is listening to that sobbing,” she said.

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Anna has the talent to become a known name in the Montreal scene –– all she needs is more visibility. Her debut effort proves that she has the capacity to break out someday.


Photo by Gabe Sands


Punisher: helplessness in the face of the apocalypse

On Phoebe Bridgers’ sophomore album, she predicts her version of the end of the world and the dissociation of self that comes with it

Some of 2020’s best albums have eerily reflected just how dark and miserable the year has been so far. Some, like Taylor Swift’s Folklore, sound desolate by design, as the pop singer crafted her latest full-length project during her time in isolation. Others, like Oddisee’s ODD CURE, are the result of a massive studio session crammed into just a few weeks. Then, there’s Phoebe Bridgers’ devastating sophomore record, Punisher.

Punisher is the type of album you put on either after lighting a joint at the end of a long day or while driving late at night. It’s the type of album that carries a lot of weight throughout the bulk of its 11-track run. The themes Bridgers sings about aren’t uncommon. Depression, dissociation, and anxiety drive the album, but the Los Angeles-born singer also tackles the reality and seriousness of imposter syndrome.

In short, imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which the person who has it will constantly feel like they don’t deserve to be in the position they are; they believe they’re going to be exposed as a fraud. In a press release following the announcement of Punisher in April, she explained that the song “Kyoto” was about imposter syndrome and “about being in Japan for the first time, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go, and playing my music to people who want to hear it, feeling like I’m living someone else’s life.”

Bridgers’ desire to dissociate becomes even more apparent on “Halloween,” where she sings “Baby, it’s Halloween / And we can be anything” on the chorus. Though this song is about a couple hiding their issues by dressing up as different people, it only enforces her continued longing to be someone else.

These moments of dissociation culminate in the closing track “I Know the End,” a sombre and creepily foreboding track about Bridgers’ prediction that the end of the world is approaching. In the third verse, she begins to list the things she sees while “driving into the sun” as the apocalypse begins to set in. Much of what’s on her list can be associated with modern conspiracy theories like a UFO sighting, the fear of God, and of course, subtle shade thrown at Donald Trump’s United States of America.

Clearly, like the rest of us, Bridgers isn’t optimistic about the rest of 2020.  With a potentially game-changing election looming at the beginning of November, she knows that the future of her current home is in peril. While being pessimistic about the remainder of the year doesn’t take rocket science to understand, Bridgers’ helplessness is intrinsically linked to her own experience with imposter syndrome.

Bridgers certainly isn’t the first artist to sing about these topics on an album, but the timing of Punisher’s release date paired with the introspective songs and macabre predictions of the near-future makes this album a definitive reflection of what is probably the worst year in a long time.

In the span of eight months, nearly a million people have died from COVID-19, we lost Kobe Bryant, riots are breaking out over blatant and systemic racism, and a revolution seems to be on the horizon in the U.S. — among countless other tragedies that would take far too long to list. It’s certainly easy to feel the same helplessness that Bridgers does.

But what can we do?

We do our best to educate ourselves and others. We make lists of resources that we can use to make life a little easier for everyone. But we can only do so much before we need help to change things. Yes, we can vote, yes we can vocalize the criticisms of our society with little to no negative consequences. But, still, it doesn’t feel like enough.

And yet, Punisher feels like one of the only albums that encapsulate the helplessness of 2020 in a brief 40-minute run. On “I Know the End,” Bridgers doesn’t seem to have any answers to her troubles, though she sings without any sign of anxiety. In fact, she sounds at peace. Maybe she’s onto something. Maybe she’s just completely dissociated. Maybe we’ve all gone mad. All we can do is ride it out and hope for the best.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam


Mother Mother dances and cries

Vancouver indie-pop outfit reaches out to L’Astral’s crowd

A familiar riff breaks the chatter at L’Astral in the fourth quarter of Mother Mother’s set. The crowd roars like they hadn’t before on this Friday night; there was a noticeable jolt in the energy of the room. It was the opening of “Hayloft,” the single that defined the band’s presence as an alt-rock Vancouver heavyweight a decade ago.

Molly Guldemond and Jasmin Parkin, the two supporting vocalists, began the electric hook: “My daddy’s got a gun, you better run.” The tune that tells the story of two lovers evading a crazed, armed father leverages it’s vivid simplicity and effervescent melody. There was a gripping imminence in the lyrics thoroughly encapsulated in the breakneck riffs which the frontman Ryan Guldemond, Molly’s brother, handled easily.

The song was released on Mother Mother’s 2008 album, O My Heart, to critical acclaim. While floating in pop-rock waters, the tape was anchored in Ryan’s incendiary confidence and unique melodies that landed the Vancouver band in a saltwater limelight. The lyrics were playful but vivid, the instrumentation was tight and textured. On the following album, Eureka, Mother Mother posted their portion of the pop-rock patch, with Ryan’s voice coating the project in a signature gloss. You could find them at the fringe of pop, tip-toeing between heaviness and more tender moments.

As Mother Mother progressed however, their tonal range became more restricted, moving their voice closer to the indie-pop centre. The band lost some of its shimmer in what could only have been a grasp at a wider audience, sacrificing their charming verses and hooks for lyrical platitudes.

Mother Mother opened with “I Must Cry Out Loud,” the first track on their newest record Dance and Cry, after which this tour is titled. Unfortunately, this album doesn’t travel into much deeper thematic waters than dancing and crying. Ryan traded the hoarse, unhingedness of “Hayloft” for a safer, more anthemic chant borrowing from the trite indie-pop formula epitomized by The Lumineers’s 2012 burden of a chart-topper, “Ho Hey.”

If they opened with the ‘cry,’ they followed up with the ‘dance,’ playing the title track on which the hook starts with “Dance, dance, dance / While you cry / Dance, dance, dance / As you try,” and ends with a repetition of the album’s title. The song has an Apple-commercial cleanliness that is as present in its sound as its lyrics. Not that there isn’t a relatable core to the cathartic idea of dancing while you cry, it would just be nice if the reason for it went further than an escape from a vague “valley of darkness.” “Bottom is a Rock” was a highlight from the new album, taking up the Sisyphytic cycle of life’s highs and lows. The melodies were similarly safe, but the rhythm and chords were satisfyingly heavy.

Sanitary lyrics fortunately came with crisp, rich sounds as the whole band was undeniably sharp. They meshed synths with tight basslines and strong lead guitar in a way that left no frequency unaccounted for. This was especially apparent when they covered “Creep” by Radiohead, with Molly delivering an excellent v

ocal performance. The band’s movement was comparably tight, Ryan’s super saiyan-esque spiked blonde hair and intense features had the audience captivated. During faster songs, they head-bopped, bounced and yelled the words in a way that was oh-so-respectful of me and my camera gear.

Mother Mother was very gracious with the audience, involving them in a way that showed their humility. “This shit is the best form of group therapy there is,” said Ryan. He went on to say how he wished he could sit down with the crowd and pass around a talking stick. Drummer Ali Siadat gave a speech in broken French about the band’s love for Montreal.

Mother Mother’s set was frustrating in its safeness, but seeing hardcore fans getting red in the face going word for word with Ryan, I knew those shoutouts were for them. The band connected with the captivated audience, despite their music becoming harder to spot in a crowd. Still, no moment that night came close to when “Hayloft” dropped, and L’Astral turned into Vancouver in 2008.

Music Quickspins

Shannon Lay – Living Water

Shannon Lay – Living Water (2017, Woodsist/Mare)

Continuing the tradition of post-hippie era folkies, who scrapped the free love sentiment of the 60s for a more pastoral and sentimental sound, L.A-based Shannon Lay can be spoken about in the same breath as icons of the genre. Her newest record, Living Water, is a testament to this sound. Brimming with gentle nostalgia and heartbreak, Living Water is tenderly personal and possesses an unimaginable beauty. The wispy vocals, gently fingerpicked guitar and occasional waves of violin come together serenely to paint the blue and green of the American West Coast, a picturesque region near and dear to the orange-haired Lay. Her use of strange, abstract lyrics adds an extra layer of mysticism to her already otherworldly music, rendering it effortlessly timeless. This LP will surely cement her in folklore alongside the likes of Sibylle Baier and Vashti Bunyan.


Trial Track: “The Moons Detriment”


The energetic dark-folk of Common Holly

We talked to her about playing live and the joys of botany

I arrived at Quai des Brumes and pulled out my notebook. I didn’t know what to expect. The bar was relatively small, leaving little room between the performer and the audience. Montrealer Brigitte Naggar, also known as Common Holly, had just set up with her band and started to play.

In that small room, Common Holly managed to produce a sprawling and dynamic sound. Smooth and clean guitars complemented the drum and synth textures. Their sound floated somewhere between gentle and raucous, sometimes coalescing when the whole band joined in. Naggar’s vocals, along with the backing vocals, tied the whole sound together.

The performance was great. It had an intimate but huge energy. A few days later, I spoke with Naggar.

Q: First of all, it was a great show Thursday. How do you feel about that performance?

Photo by Mackenzie Lad

A: Yeah, I feel good about it. I think the audience’s response was really nice, and the band sounded good. Actually, we

had played the night before as well, in the same venue, and I got acquainted with the sound guy. He brought a special mic for me the next night for extra clarity, so that was very nice.

Q: One of the things I noticed about the way you played is that, even though it was a small space, it was kind of a large sound. Is that the sound you were going for?

A: I mean, it kind of fluctuates a little bit because I do perform solo and duo as well, so when we have all five people there, it’s definitely a big sound. I think that, in part, reflects some elements of the record that is coming out, because it’s quite produced and there’s a lot going on and there are arrangements and drums.

Q: Now let’s do a little history about you. When did you start playing music?

A: I played piano as a kid for like nine years or so. That was my first foray into music. Then my dad gave me my first guitar lessons when I was 13. I got my first guitar when I was 16. It was supposed to be a surprise, but then [my dad’s] girlfriend at the time called me to say: “So did you get the guitar?” and I was like: “Um, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” [Laughs].

Q: What type of guitar was it?

A: It was acoustic. I actually only started playing electric about a year ago, so I feel pretty new to it still. I’ll occasionally go back to acoustic and be like: “Oh God, I’m so much better at this!” [Laughs]. But I really love playing electric. I think it gives it a bit of that hard edge that I’m looking for.

Photo by Mackenzie Lad

Q: And what music did you start playing? Did you do covers or did you just play around?

A: I started with covers for sure. I was very much like a 16-year-old doing Elliott Smith and Postal Service and Emily Haines covers, that sort of thing. And then I started to write my own music and some really terrible songs on Myspace, and it was very much in my bedroom for myself, super quiet. I think that’s also how I developed a really quiet sound. It was not that I never wanted to be heard at all. I, you know, slowly started to emerge more and more, as people were showing signs of wanting to hear my music. I kind of got over my fear of being heard a little bit.

Q: Were you always comfortable with your voice? Did you just want to sing for yourself?

A: It wasn’t necessarily that I was afraid that my voice wasn’t good enough, but it’s more an aspect of my personality. I have never been a very external kind of person, and it’s something I had to learn to do. And I do quite enjoy it, now that it’s something I do. I do really like it and it continues to be a challenge for me to get out there and perform and be expressive, because I definitely feel introverted.

Q: Are you anxious before a performance?

A: Less so these days. I think it’s because it’s becoming more habitual, but I just get a little nervous stomach, a little stomach ache. [Laughs].

Photo by Mackenzie Lad

Q: So, how did you get your stage name, Common Holly?

A: I started in a brainstorm circle with a group of my friends. We were looking for imagery that reflected the sound of the music, and we decided that plants and botanical imagery suited it best. So I did some research into plants. When I came upon common holly, I really liked the idea of this very understated, general plant. But it’s also a plant that blooms in the winter, and it has these lovely red berries. It’s a plant that has cultural and religious significance as well, which I liked—I studied religion at McGill, so it’s always been something that has been fascinating for me. And also a plant with dark, spiky leaves, so I think I liked that juxtaposition of pretty and understated, but also with a stark undercurrent, a little bit sharp.

Q: Are you touring to promote your new album?

A: I have a couple of tours in the works, nothing officially announced yet. I know I’ll be touring the first week of November, and I’ll be doing a little bit at the end of October.

Common Holly’s first album, Playing House, was released Sept. 25.

Photos by Mackenzie Lad


The Great Novel’s road to rock

Montreal folk-rock band explores American literature through their lyrics

“You’ve got to shed your skin on the road of existence,” is The Great Novel’s mantra of their new album, Skins. The Montreal folk-rock band released the record on March 3 at La Sala Rossa. The lineup consists of Endrick Tremblay on lead vocals, guitar and harmonica, Marc Olivier Tremblay Drapeau on double bass and vocals, and Gabrièle Côté on vocals and percussion. The album explores new tones and narrative styles in the songs, breaking free from country/folk tracks and entering the realm of rock and roll. Skins has a vintage Americana feel to it—it’s the ideal soundtrack for an escapade to California’s Big Sur.

It’s been four years since the band’s inception, and The Great Novel is continuously jamming, performing and touring together. Originally, Tremblay began this band with a solo project in mind. “At first I wanted to write songs on my own,” he said. “The idea was to have a backup band, then it became a collaborative project where everyone gives their ideas.I’ve been a musician for a long time, mostly doing covers, bluesy stuff. At that time, I was obsessed with Robert Plant’s album, Raising Sand. It’s a folk album that has a rock vibe—I love how that sounds together,” Tremblay said.

Then Tremblay met Côté. “She had a good voice, so we tried to make some songs together,” he said. Drapeau eventually joined the picture alongside their former drummer, Tristan Forget. According to Tremblay, initially, there were no drums and their music was much more smooth. “We then decided to add drums. Turned out the drummer was so good that we asked him to join the band,” he said.The band then started to write more music together. “I chose these members because I was looking for that type of instrumentation,” Tremblay said. The band then traded their upright bass and acoustic guitar for the electric bass. “That’s when we became more rock. Our tones are much more classic rock than in our first album,” Tremblay said.

According to Tremblay, their lyrics are influenced by legendary authors in American literature, such as Mark Twain, Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac and J.D Salinger. “I was at a point of my life where I discovered a passion for books, especially American literature,” he said. As a French-Canadian, he said he didn’t get a chance to read the classics, such as How to Kill a Mockingbird, in elementary or high school. He read them later on in life and was fascinated. “These books have a particular quality about them. Since they are American, the writing has a street style. It has more action and rhythm,” Tremblay said. With his passion for American books and the band searching for an original name, the expression “The great American novel” came to mind. “So why not call us The Great Novel,” said Tremblay.

However, The Great Novel has also been inspired by a Canadian book, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler. It takes place in Montreal in the 1930s.“It’s about a Jewish man who wanted to get rich and would do anything for it,” Tremblay said. “I live a bohemian lifestyle and my life goals aren’t money-oriented. I thought it would be interesting to write in the skin of a character who has different values than myself.” Overall, Skins explores a variety of characters through storytelling. Its lyrics touch subjects of youth, eroticism, hard work and poverty.

Their new record took the band over a year to prepare. “We just wanted to do something unique, to experiment with sound texture and tonality,” Tremblay said. The album was recorded in just 10 days. “Those days were intense emotionally. It was 10 days of us just being together. It was a moment in time that we will never forget,” Tremblay said.

The Great Novel’s music video for their single “Get Me Some Land” explores retro-American cinematography. It feels as if you are watching a short thriller film, and the song just blends in seamlessly with the narrative. “As I described our lyrics to Pablo, our video producer, our song made him think of the American film Barfly, written by Charles Bukowski,” Tremblay said.The main actors of the music video are The Great Novel band members themselves. “I wanted to have that experience of being an actor for fun,” Tremblay said. “It turned out to be an intense and hard experience. They had to change my style. They gave me a moustache.” In the video, Côté plays the bartender and Drapeau plays the man who beats up Tremblay. “My brother played the motorcycle club guy, someone from our hometown passed us his truck—we had a small budget and had to do the whole thing in two nights,” Tremblay said.

The band has been on the road recently touring across Ontario and through the Maritimes. “People love to enjoy and party to our music, especially in the countryside. We were once booked for a one-hour show and ended up playing for four hours,” Tremblay said. The band is curious to see how people will react to their new rock album. They are headed to France in the spring for a European tour.

According to Tremblay, The Great Novel is a band that has family spirit. “We have been through so many things together, personal issues, so many hours on the road, but we are always there for each other. They are going to be part of my life for as long as I live,” Tremblay said.

Music Quickspins

Bon Iver – 22, A Million

Bon Iver – 22, A Million (Jagjaguwar, 2016)

In one word, Bon Iver’s 22, A Million can be described as experimental. It’s a collection of electronic glitches and overly-processed synth-y voices, which are sometimes accompanied by a piano. Frontman and main songwriter, Justin Vernon, completely discards the typical verse-chorus-verse song structure—instead, the melodies are strangely arranged, unpredictable and, at times, borderline chaotic. While 22, A Million is musically distant from their previous release, the folksy For Emma, Forever Ago (2007), the lyrical essence of Bon Iver remains the same—you’ll hear the classic, emotional stories about heartbreak, existentialism and salvation. 22, A Million may sound too unusual the first time around but, with each subsequent listen, it becomes more of an intriguing musical journey you want to continue exploring.

Trial Track: “29 #Strafford APTS”



The Barr Brothers: A Homecoming

The band’s Metropolis show had the audience fall in love with their heart-wrenching songs all over again

It would be an understatement to simply call The Barr Brothers a folk-rock band. With an eclectic sound that utilizes xylophones, a harp, and an African string instrument known as the ngoni, not to mention the various musical influences fusing everything from blues to bluegrass, the band defies categorization.

The Montreal-based group consists of the brothers Barr (Andrew; guitar/lead vocals, Brad; drums, Sarah Pagé; harp, and Andres Vial;keyboards). Halfway through the show, Andrew Barr surveyed the sold-out crowd at the Metropolis, looking notably surprised but grateful by such a large turnout.

Photo by Steve Gerrard.

Opening the show was Bahamas, a Toronto-based band led by the talented guitar-wielding Afie Jurvanen. While they served a dose of hard rock that in line with the headliner of the night, their hour-long set dragged on nearing the end.

Although the Barr Brothers may be known for their beautiful folk arrangements such as “Beggar in the Morning”, this particular night served as a surprising tribute to their heavier tunes, complete with multiple solos (and yes, that includes a harp solo). Songs such as “Half Crazy”, with a blues riff which screams old school cool, was easily among the crowd favourites. However, as evidenced by “How The Heroine Dies”, sometimes the most intimate songs are the best way to energize the crowd. Huddled around a lone mic, with a single spotlight on Andrew Barr and co., the song encapsulated the band’s ‘heart on its sleeves’ sensibilities.

Speaking of lights, a word of advice to the person in charge of lighting effects at the Metropolis: please don’t try to upstage the wonderfully talented band on stage with your near seizure-inducing flashing lights that forced half the crowd to look away during the entirety of a song. Both the fans and the musicians deserve better.

The Barr Brothers’ latest album, Sleeping Operator (Secret City Records), is available in stores and on iTunes


Canadians to nominate 2012 ‘folk-hero’

Michelle Ferguson — The Fulcrum (University of Ottawa)

OTTAWA (CUP) — Innovative folk music may sound like an oxymoron to some, but for Folk Music Canada, it is a reason to celebrate.

In November 2012, the organization will hand out its first ever Innovator Award at the 2012 Canadian Folk Music Awards, to be held in Saint John, N.B. According to organizers, the honour will be given to a pioneer of the folk community.

“The purpose is really to underline things that people are doing that set a new mould in the folk world,” said Tamara Kater, executive director of Folk Music Canada.

While folk music is usually described as traditional, Kater insists that it should not be considered stagnant.

“Even though folk is based on tradition, it’s something that really comes from the people,” she said. “The music of the people never really stands still.”

It’s sort of ironic, then, that the sector of music that’s been given the “traditional” tag would reward innovation, while the majority of the mainstream music industry has fought tirelessly — and often illogically — against it. One might recall earlier this year when the Recording Industry Association of America sued LimeWire for $72 trillion, which is almost all the the money that exists in the world economy.

Ridiculous claims like these are part of major labels’ vehement refusal to adapt to the age of technology and the free culture movement. But over at Folk Music Canada, the kind of innovative thinking that could straighten out the music industry — without trying to force a new generation of consumers to conform to an old school of business — might actually be rightfully rewarded.

Unlike most music awards, the Innovator Award is not centered on the art form or on a musician’s recordings. Instead, Folk Music Canada wishes to focus on the development of the folk community as a whole.

“What we’re looking for is something that is new,” said Kater. “[This] can come from any aspect of the folk community…It could be a festival that found a new way of operating, and who, for example, is not reliant on government grants.”

Ottawa, which just came off its 18th annual Folk Festival, has a thriving folk community. But, as far as innovation goes, it’s hard to tell how the city fares. There are two main institutions that promote and celebrate folk music in Ottawa, other than the Ottawa Folk Festival.

The Ottawa Folklore Centre, founded in 1976, acts as a hub for local talent and developing musicians by selling instruments, hosting events, and providing lessons for an array of unique instruments such as the Sri Lankan drum and the djembe. Spirit of Rasputin’s, an event created in 2009 after a fire burned down the iconic Rasputin Folk Café, also provides opportunities for locals to showcase their talent.

In 2010, these two organizations came together to create a series of “folkcasts” — an online concert series that could be accessed through YouTube or the Ottawa Folklore Centre website.

These “folkcasts” are the kind of effort that could be nominated for the Folk Music Canada Innovator Award. Unfortunately, they stopped being produced in 2011.

Although not the focus of the award, musicians can also be nominated. Artists who have found new ways of approaching the music or who have created a new model for collaboration are examples of potential nominees.

Vancouver-based singer-songwriter Dan Mangan, who played at this year’s Ottawa Folk Festival, is a prime example of a Canadian musician who stands on the fringe of folk. On his third album, Oh Fortune, Mangan truly pushes the envelope by collaborating with many improvisational and experimental musicians to create a refreshing sound.

In many ways, the award itself could be considered innovative; according to Kater, not only is it the first award created by Folk Music Canada, but it’s also the first of its kind.

“There are other like-minded organizations that give out awards as well,” said Kater, “but we don’t really know of anyone who is giving out recognition to a new, cutting-edge, or innovative aspect of the community.”

The nomination process is also different from most awards; nominees are chosen by members of the folk community, in the hopes that this will draw attention to efforts that may otherwise go unnoticed in such a large, decentralized body of fans.

Due to the broad nature of the award, Kater admits that she has no expectations when it comes to the list of nominees.

“It’s the first year that we are opening up to the community to bring in nominations,” she said. “So in many ways, we’re as curious as everyone else to see what is going to come in and we’re asking the community around us to identify things that they see as innovative.”



First Aid Kit deliver feeling and folk

Okay, it’s official; Scandinavian countries kick ass. Sure, they’ve got the whole tuition-free education system thing mapped out, but I’m talking about the music. Somehow their progressive social structures, northern weather and mish-mash influences have fused together to create some of the freshest, most creative and raw music out there. Sweden’s sister-duo First Aid Kit is no exception to the rule.
From YouTube clips and homegrown EPs, to collaborating with some of music’s finest, young vocalists and instrumentalists Johanna and Klara Söderberg have topped Sweden’s charts for weeks now with their latest full-length release, The Lion’s Roar.
“It’s really weird,” eldest sister Johanna tells me over Skype about their newfound fame. “We walk around the streets of Stockholm and I can see people looking at us differently; some even come up and talk to us. I guess sometimes we probably would prefer to just go about our stuff, but I’ve always seen it as something you have to take when you decide to become a musician.”
They will be getting a small break over the next few months, as they tour North America where they can still be considered a fan’s well-kept secret. But given the group’s raw vocals, perfect harmonies, catchy tunes and stunning performances, they won’t be enjoying anonymity here for too long.
People have been trying to peg down First Aid Kit’s genre since the very start.
“That question always trips me up,” Johanna admits, laughing. “Klara and I actually came up with ‘folkal,’ or folk music that focuses on our vocals. I guess that could work, but to be honest, we think it’s kind of cool that everyone has their own way of interpreting what we do. It’s never felt too important for us to fit into any given genre.”
Their sound has also evolved considerably. Their 2008 EP Drunken Trees was a warm, woodsy and stripped-down effort, with their track “Tangerine” featuring laments expected only of women much older than the two sisters, who recorded the album at the tender ages of 15 and 17.
Next came The Big Black and the Blue in 2010, which had them touring extensively across Europe, North America and Australia with a medley of increasingly polished and toe-tapping tracks. It was during one of those shows that they were approached by The White Stripes frontman and music producer, Jack White. They recorded two titles with White, including a cover of Canadian singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Universal Soldier.”
Things kept picking up for the sisters, and in February 2011, they linked up with Bright Eyes for a performance of their track “Lua.” That collaboration would prove defining. Next thing they knew, producer extraordinaire and Bright Eyes multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis was offering to produce their next record.
The result is their most recent effort: a country-tinged album that is by far the band’s most polished and mature.
“Country was a really natural progression for us, and this album has made us much more confident,” Johanna explains. “Working with Mike, which was completely surreal, has also made us want to really live up to the studio’s name and to his expectations. We were definitely much more focused under that kind of pressure than we ever were recording in our room over weekends and holidays. I think that was really good for us.”
The availability of top-of-the-line equipment and a slew of new instruments have also changed the group’s sound—a far cry from their early YouTube debut. In fact, the girls are now the ones being covered.
“[YouTube] has been a really, really good thing for us,” says Johanna. “I guess you could say that we’re not selling as many records, but it’s opened so many doors and provided us with so many opportunities—it’s like a musical revolution, really.”
The girls will be hitting up Montreal on April 3, performing their new stuff at La Sala Rossa. “We’re excited to come back to Montreal with the new album,” says Johanna. “We haven’t properly toured in over a year and the album is really fun for live performances, a lot of singing along and fun, dynamic crowds.”
If previous performances are any indication, expect some soul-wrenching harmonies, quirky sister banter and a powerful dose of Scandinavian creativity.

First Aid Kit play La Sala Rossa (4848 Saint-Laurent Blvd.) on April 3. Tickets are $17 in advance or $20 at the door.

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