What a sad week. The impact of violence, on cities, on people, on women. Yesterday I had to close the computer to stop taking in both the strong (thank you, to those voices, I am listening) and the cruel, in the wake of the Ghomeshi verdict.
For the record, I am a survivor and I believe survivors.
What Miriam Novak has written on this kind of belief is brilliant. I would quote the whole thing, but you can read it here. I appreciate that it prompts us to ask questions of ourselves, not just of others.
In the midst of the helplessness and worry and ache of this week, the contrast of delight and oddity of promo for Long Time Leaving has started. I’ve done the first few interviews, songs are getting their first few spins, and the first reviews are coming in.
I’ve been asked a few times about resilience, and I’ve wondered if people think I’ve a secret, or a trick to it. The trick comes on day two when I can see that I’ve made it 24 hours. And it comes every day after that. One week. One year. Eight years. The trick has been to see the steps I’ve taken so far as the impetus to take one more.
I thought I made an upbeat album that was rooted more in the joy of music than the space for sorrow (considering the space my last few albums held), but it’s been reflected back to me so quickly this week, from the first ears who are hearing it, that the story and space continues. It’s upbeat, but not exactly lighter, as one journalist put it to me. And I see it: sorrow doesn’t change her name, but she does make friends.
My heart was wide open yesterday, for the above and other elsewhere reasons, and I cried an ocean. I am a puffy-eyed Friday morning question and no answers except: put on the kettle, and keep asking.
Christa Couture launches her long awaited new album “Long Time Leaving” from coast to coast! Join Christa for the following intimate, solo performances.
Further details under shows, or join the Facebook event.
04/02 – Barrie, ON @ House Concert
04/07 – Duncan BC @ Duncan Showroom with Chris Ho
04/08 – Victoria BC @ Solstice Cafe with Cluny Macpherson 04/09 – Vancouver BC @ CBC Studio 700 with Sandy Scofield
04/10 – Ymir BC @ The Schoolhouse
04/11 – Calgary AB The Ironwood with I Am The Mountain
04/14 – Winnipeg, MB @ Times Change(d), with Kris Ulrich
04/15 – Stony Mountain MB @ House Concert
04/16 – Onanole MB @ House Concert
04/20 – Saskatoon, SK @ The Bassment with A Voice for Vultures
04/23 – Edmonton AB @ The Blue Chair with Tzedeka
04/24 – Sherwood Park, AB @ R ‘Ouse
04/28 – Toronto, ON @ The Burdock with Corinna Rose
04/29 – Montreal. QC @ Le Cagibi with Marie Claire Durand
05/01 – Ottawa, ON @ Live on Elgin with Goodnight Boy
05/05 – Cole Harbour, NS @ Rose & Kettle
05/06 – St. John, NB @ Homeport Home Stages
05/07 – Fredericton, NB @ Grimross Brewing Co, Presented by Roots & Soul with Caitlin & Calum
Great things can happen in laundry rooms, and I don’t mean just the clean clothes. Today my laundry/storage room was the site of a mini-news conference in which I revealed the album cover for Long Time Leaving:
Album cover REVEAL! Live, from my laundry room: I’m thrilled to tell you Long Time Leaving will be released April 15th on Black Hen Music.The cover: photography by Jen Squires – Photographer, collage by Catherine Mellinger. Layout and handwriting by Joi Arcand.Boom!
Isn’t the cover beautiful? It is the cumulative work of three wonderful artists, and, because it matters to me, those three artists are also three women: Jen Squires (photographer), Catherine Mellinger (collage artist – that image wasn’t photoshopped people, it was actually cut and paste and I am the happy owner of the original pieces!), and Joi Arcand (layout and handwriting, though it’s worth noting she’s also a photographer and all-around visual artist).
With this announcement, I’m also thrilled to share that the album will be released April 15th on Black Hen Music.
Last month was the 10 year anniversary of the release of my first full-length album, Fell Out of Oz. Wowza.
The album came out a year and three months after I had an abortion. In many ways, the album happened because I had an abortion. A half-hour after my injection of methotrexate, I pulled my car to the side of the road, sobbing and overwhelmed by the reality of terminating my pregnancy. I called my friend Aynsley at work.
“Where are you?” she asked.
“Around the corner.”
We met at a nearby park and I talked about the future fantasy that had only appeared the week before that I was now letting go of, the very real and important reasons for doing so (health and safety), and the question I suddenly didn’t know the answer to: if I’m actively choosing not to have a child (this was when I still thought a pregnancy automatically meant a full-term birth, a live birth, or even a healthy baby) what am I choosing to be or do instead?
“Didn’t you want to make an album?”
It was September 2004 and at that point I’d been back in Canada about a year since I spent one year in London, England. Oh, London, where I had my first gig ever, where newness and stubbornness and discovery and difficultly inspired my first good songs and where I wrote many. I’d played a few gigs in Vancouver since I returned to Canada, I was still writing, though less often, and I wasn’t thinking very deliberately about a path as a musician.
“I did. I do.”
What can I give versus what can I give up?
The answer to the former I’m afraid is “not much.”
And as for the latter it’s just a matter of not now.
So, the best thing I can do for you is write this down.
“Who was that guy who produced the Be Good Tanyas album?” Aynsley asked and then suggested I track him, Futcher, down. I think I spent three hours on what would have been a three line email to him; I was so nervous to ask if he would work with me. In what I eventually learned was true taciturn Futcher style, he replied:
thanks for the kind words.
And we began. I applied for my first FACTOR and Canada Council for the Arts grants and, not surprisingly for a beginner, didn’t get them (I did, in collecting letters of support for the applications, obtain a prized possession: an utterly charming and encouraging letter from Bill Richardson). Remarkably, a friend stepped in and lent me the $20,000 I would need to make the album. As I write that now it seems even more incredible than it did at the time. Nicky, THANK YOU.
It was just five months after that pivotal September day that Futcher, the band we pulled together (guitarist/atmospheric master Murray Atkinson, who had been my first and only guitar teacher whom I found via an ad in the back pages of the Georgia Straight, and who helped produced my EP Starter; drummer Niko Friesen, who Futcher had met as the boyfriend of a women he recorded some background vocals with; and bassist Michael-Owen Liston who I had seen and met one night at the Backstage Lounge when he was playing with Mark Berube), and I piled into the now-gone Smiling Buddha Enjoyment Complex studio and recorded the 13 songs that make up Fell Out of Oz. The title track was actually a late comer as we had planned to record only 12.
The 12 were selected from 18 demos I sent to Futcher who then picked his favourites based on his first impressions. He always trusted his gut reaction to a first listen, though he’d later love to tell the story of how he poopooed Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day” when he heard it in studio being recorded, thus tainting his confidence in the strength of his first impulse. But a couple of days into our studio time, he came in saying he’d listened to the demos again and had a new liking for “Fell Out of Oz,”adding that “it also gives you a way better album title.” He disliked the working title Other Side Down and he was right to. Ultimately, the album became a reflection on coming-of-age with “Fell Out of Oz” a near thesis statement.
We recorded live off the floor, largely due to the fact that I was incapable of recording to a click track (and, to be honest, that hasn’t improved much over the years). That it was off the floor means you can occasionally hear my chair squeak in our unedited, simultaneous performances, and Brad Wheeler of The Globe and Mail might have nailed it when he described the album, that rawness, as “intimate enough that whiffs of Couture’s organic soap are caught.”
Though that scent could have more likely been due to Michael-Owen drying his laundry one day while we recorded:
Nota bene: the album artwork lists 11 tracks, not 13. But there are 13. Upon completion of recording, Futch and I had (though later rescinded when it was too late to change our minds) doubts about the strength of “Other Side Down.” So we added it as a hidden track at the end of “Habitual” to downplay it. And then, with too much cleverness for our own good, Futch and I hid another track, “What Peace Is,” at the beginning of the album. That is to say, on a CD player (we were so forward thinking), if you let a bit of the first song play and then pressed and held the rewind button you would find that the time started to dip backwards into negative minutes all the way to -02:30. To tip-off anyone paying enough/extra attention to the existence of this Easter egg, I included the lyrics as track 00 in the liner notes. I don’t know if anyone ever found it. You can get it here though.
We spent a leisurely 9 days in a row recording that album – days that ended up being more time than we needed – and added the extras of harmonies, percussion, banjo, accordion, and cello after capturing the core four of us together. It was such a lovely experience, and I have loved the making of each of my other albums since, very much, but there was something special with those people, that February. Maybe because it was my first, and you don’t forget your first, but more than that…very dear friendships came from the strangers gathered there, long term working relationships, too, and in that gathering I felt so much that we were all in it.
Ten months after those studio days, the album was released on Maximum Music with a kick-off at The Railway Club: appropriate considering the bar’s inclusion in the song “Jennifer Grey.” In a music industry/act of good faith fail, the label, Maximum, and I hadn’t yet signed an agreement. In fact, they handed paperwork to me that night at the venue and I spilled beer on it, later bringing that stained copy to my lawyer to review. The album was already in stores, at listening posts (remember those?); the label had already been promoting it, reviews were coming in, and…no signed deal in place.
As we negotiated the terms, I had my first tour to promote the album. My experience with the label during those months unfolded negatively. I couldn’t get reporting from them, the financial terms (according to my lawyer then, though these years later I too could call it at a glance) were crap, communication was poor, and they lost their distribution with Universal. “Walk away,” was my lawyer’s advice and I struggled with it as the label had invested time and money, and despite the frustrations, I felt responsible to them. I made a decision and I don’t know how they saw the end when it came: I sent a “cease and desist” letter and we didn’t speak again.
The album was mine. All mine. A few hundred copies of it were sitting in a Universal warehouse somewhere and I couldn’t get them. I got a new run of the CDs manufactured and updated the artwork to my own label: One Foot Tapping Records. I’d release my next two albums independently in the same way.
Shortly after the album came out, I got pregnant again. Unplanned, again. I let the momentum the album was building slow on the side of the road as I stopped to consider a path of parenting for the second time. I was struck by the fact that I made the album in response to ending my first pregnancy, and there, with the album in my hands, felt I’d barely had time to follow through before having to make a decision about the subject again. I wasn’t ready, but I chose to carry that little one, my son Emmett, and wondered how music would stay in my life.
It turned out that it was Emmett who didn’t stay in my life and my second and third albums, since, have been full of loss.
In revisiting Fell Out of Oz on its ten year anniversary, I’m noticing that it held a lot of loss, too. It’s the album that holds stories not just of the abortion, but of having had cancer, of the childhood friends who didn’t survive the disease, of losing my leg, of living with disability. It holds the stories of my first heartaches of my twenties and while those hardly hurt now compared to what I’ve experienced since, I listen to “I Will” and “Habitual” and I stand by them still. The album grieves a loss of innocence, but seeing my young(er) self in these songs now I also notice a lot of hope. In remembering the recording, the joy and the promise I felt, the label mess, the shifting gears and making big choices, it’s good to remember that hope, to hold up what I felt ten years ago to what I feel now, and to look at my baby-face cover art photo and think: “You don’t know what’s coming, but you’re right to hold on.”
On New Year’s Eve day I sat at my keyboard and wrote this little song for us. As I mention in the video, it’s a “not-that-happy yet ‘happy new year!'” song. Which is to say it’s for all the mess and beauty and pain and joy we’re all tied up in and surrounded by. It’s my second HNY song and this time I managed to not make it date specific… : )
Having just written it, the performance is a little rough around the edges, but it is with all my heart: happy new year.
Oh, our human ways that we tally up the days
We fold the corner of the page to keep our spot
And then we act amazed to see a number change
Like it’s us that’s rearranged when it’s not
I’m not one to tell you, hon, “it’ll be alright”
Of course it might be, but here’s the rub: not tonight
So happy new year to choices, to losses, and divorces
To all the best intent that missed the mark
Happy new year to brilliance, to stillness, and to sickness
To that which didn’t kill us that made us hard
No I’m not one to tell you, hon, “we’re in the clear”
Of course we might be, but here’s the rub:
Probably not this year
So happy new year to resentment, to enjoyment, disappointment
To all the best laid plans we won’t pull off
Happy new year to the weary, to fury, and recovery
To that which doesn’t kill us that makes us soft
Yes, to that which doesn’t kill us that makes us soft
I’m not one to tell you, hon, “don’t give up”
But if you don’t you’ll get the joke that is yet to come
I’ve never been very open to co-witing songs. The thing is, for me, song-writing is deeply personal. When other musicians off-handedly remark, “Hey, we should hang out and do some co-writes” I’m stunned, thinking, “YOU MEAN BASICALLY GET NAKED TOGETHER?” I can jam into the wee hours of the morning with others — there are many ways, of course, that music is playful and spontaneous in my life — but song-writing is messy and divine. Song-writing comes with tears and shouting and sighs, and is part of a tenuous relationship with the muse that I have often felt I couldn’t risk adding anyone else to.
I did, a few years ago, have a good run of co-writes with Don Harrison (two of those songs appeared on my EP Lost: “The Most Lovely” and “Let it Go”) but the key was that he gave me recorded instrumental tracks and then, alone in my apartment, away from any watchful eyes, I’d sing along and later get back to him with the result. Song-writing, at its best, for me, is that: I just start to sing a song, like it’s been on the tip of my tongue and I’ve suddenly remembered it.
But to remember it I have to be alone.
I always felt a little jealous of those that had the comfort level, the lack of self-consciousness, to write with others. What have I been missing out on? Am I just taking it all too seriously?
In February this year I participated in the Aboriginal Music Program’s week long Market Builder Residency, with huge thanks to Manitoba Music and Canada Council for the Arts. When the opportunity came up the participants were encouraged to pursue creative development, not just professional. I decided to take the co-writing plunge and asked the fabulous Coco Love Alcorn, experienced co-writer extraordinaire, if she’d spend a couple afternoons with me and be my in-person co-writing first. Coco and I have toured numerous times over the years, she probably has seen me naked at least a few times, and I felt safe enough with her to let my guard down and be open to other ways of writing.
We laughed a lot. She encouraged me to simplify. We distilled ideas. I was grateful to be pushed out of my comfort zone. And we wrote a couple songs! Alan Greyeyes filmed this one in its complete newness, inside the Coalition Music chapel. Half of the chorus came from an already in-progress song of mine that I may still return to one day — it has rather sadder undertones than this (I will always like sad songs) — and the rest came from the two of us together, talking about home, anchors, and family.
I’m moving. It’s a difficult move. It has an unexpected shape and fitting the contents from the back of the closet into it is clumsy, daunting. I’m writing “change of plans” down the side of boxes, instead of “kitchen.”
I’ve moved a lot over the years and my go-to for empty boxes is McDonald’s. I don’t eat at the place, mind you, but their boxes are strong, a just-right medium size, fit perfectly amongst themselves, and are always in supply.
Twice this month I’ve ridden my trike to the McDonald’s at Gerrard and Pape in Toronto and twice I’ve encountered Amanda who works there. Twice I’ve approached her in my current, somewhat raw state — I’m coming to most interactions lately with my guard down, with a “window in your heart,” as Paul Simon nails it — and asked her for boxes.
The first time, I was still outside when I saw her and asked. She, without a trace of annoyance — I did interrupt her task at hand, after all — announced happily “Wait here!” and made three trips (the second and third prompted by her, “Need more than that?” and my sheepish, hopeful “Yes, if you have them.”) from inside back out to me, her arms full.
The second time I swung by she looked up, “I remember you! Do you need more boxes?” and it took her longer than the last time as they were not readily available. She marched off and took the time to find and collapse another stack for me.
Both times she was so friendly, so quick to be helpful, it almost caught me off guard. I imagined a young woman who inherently considers kindness the default. I hoped she never thinks of it as exceptional. Both times I almost teared up — “everybody sees you’re blown apart.” I’m telling you — because her bit of easy-going assistance felt humane and near tender. I’m not without support during these days of Big Things — I have a few wise, wonderful friends, who are catching and covering me while I push through — but this Little Thing touched my heart.
Amanda shrugged off my thank yous and went back to work, so here is another thank you for her, stuck to this page.
I’m a huge CBC Radio fan. Any time I’m on tour and I get to stop at a new station in another Canadian town I get a thrill just posing in front of the large, requisite logo that adorns every CBC entrance. Over the years I’ve slowly been able to meet my favourite broadcasters – from Bill Richardson, Shelagh Rogers, to Sook Yin Lee.
And as you know, I love to tell stories. This one started in February when DNTO producer Andrew Friesen sent me an email asking if I had any story to tell for an upcoming “objects of affection” episode. Our conversation lead to me sharing my recent essay for Room Magazine, Wallflower, Late Bloomer, and, once we dialled it down – with extra help from and big thanks to another DNTO producer Kaj Hasselriis – we settled it: my object of affection was my new leg.
For those of you following along, I made my last album, The Living Record, in 2012 with Steve at the Henhouse when both were based in Vancouver.
But the man and family since moved their home and business south and so I pointed myself in that direction to work with him again.
This album, Zookeeper, Lovely Like You, Normal Heartache, Midnight Friends,title-to-be-revealed-below, will be my fourth full-length and it has felt a long time coming.
That said, there are a few parts left for Steve to record and then it will be mixed in April. I don’t know yet when I’ll have it mastered, much less released, and so it has a way to come yet.
I don’t want to rush it.
But it is moving along.
I went into recording this album neither more nor less prepared than I have been before, but less certain. I was still finding/waiting on some lyrics until a few days before heading into the studio. A few of the songs were only written a couple months ago, instead of my having a tidy, complete set, months in advance, road-tested and raring to go.
For the meandering pieces that were falling into place, I didn’t feel entirely sure how they’d fit together.
Other than that I made them.
And by working with Steve, with Gary Craig on drums, and John Dymond on bass, that they would be a whole, shaped by our working together.
I have always loved these Ani Difranco words:
“People used to make a record
as in a record of an event
the event of people making music in a room”
The music that I love most sounds like people made it. Skilled, creative, collaborative, present, masterful, imperfect, breathing humans. I love that sound.
With a different band, on a different day, the songs would sound quite different. But for three days, the four of us recorded 12 songs, capturing them like photographs specific to our thoughts and hands in that time frame. The likes of Gary, Steve, and Craig get to dabble in that kind of magic all the time. But at the rate of making an album every 2-4 years, and not being a side player otherwise (save for the occasional bgs session – and I’m always available for bg sessions, note!), it’s a lucky, special few days for me, every time.
Here we are figuring out the intro to “The Slaughter:”
Those three days of getting “the beds” avec band were a relaxed – despite being jam-packed – fun, and exciting time. Holy smokes I’m just about the luckiest and most grateful wee singer-songwriter around for the experience of working with these fellas. John and Gary have a seeming psychic link, thanks to their years of working together, and it was a delight to see it, moreso to have it, and their talents, on my songs. In addition to being super profesh with mad skills, Gary was also a maker of excellent juices and fresh ginger fueled our days. Working with Steve remains a pleasure – the man is a master – and in our tight time line, he captained us smoothly on track.
Listening back to drums and bass on “Separation/Agreement” with Steve at the helm and engineer Shannon Swords nodding along.
It was a mighty fine time, I tell you.
After that followed my overdubbing piano, guitar, vocals, and harmonies, which just Steve and I did together, up until the final moments before I had to load up the car and leave town. Whewf!
This is a bit of what I look like while recording harmonies (well, here, I’m doubling a line in “That Little Part of My Heart”):
I’m a hand-talker.
And here’s Steve and me, happy record makers, on my way out the door on our last day:
While I was feeling some uncertainty going into the studio, now I’m so excited about what we made. It’s different than what I’ve made before, sonically, emotionally. It’s something I didn’t expect. I can’t wait to share the finished album, and I can’t wait to play the songs live (most of them only a handful of people have heard).
It may be a long time coming but I can tell you now it’s named:
Long Time Leaving
Coming to ears and hearts near you soon(ish).
p.s. Thank you Michael for filming the studio stuff.
Every autumn for the past four years I’ve been on tour. We (in the biz, you know) talk about fall and spring as the best, sometimes only, times to tour – the roads are safe, people aren’t too hot or too cold to venture out of their homes and/or into a venue, and generally audiences and media aren’t on holiday.
It’s a good time to do it, for those reasons, but also, as far as Eastern Canada goes, for the views, all reds and oranges and yellows, changing as we watch it seems. My tour mates Hilary Grist and Mike Southworth were a dream to travel with. Nothing broke or got lost, we laughed a lot and I loved getting to hear Hil’s songs each night (singing along on a couple, too.)
Hil and I, roadside, in small town Ontario.
We officially dubbed our tour “The Battle of the Ballads” as Hils and I each have numerous ballads, but unofficially it was called the “Shouting From the Backseat” tour as I, for the first time ever, was not one of the drivers and often offered my thoughts, and snacks, from my domain in the back of the Chevy Malibu.
It felt to me like the last tour for The Living Record. It’s been two years since that came out and I was able to tour it in a way I hadn’t with any previous album – tirelessly – and in a way I’d always wanted to. But now with the next album being recorded in January (yee!) I’m ready to have new conversations, to tell new stories.
I’m at the bend in the album-cycle road where I’m not sure exactly what’s going to happen next. I’m not entirely sure which combination of songs the new album will carry (note to self: decide!) or just what we’ll cook up in the studio.
Oh, by the way, I’m THRILLED to be making the album with Steve Dawson. I’ll be heading to the new Henhouse Studio in Nashville and carting John Dymond and Gary Craig down from Toronto to form the band (squee!). So whatever we DO get up to is going to sound great with these lads.
On this tour I played a couple of the new songs – Lovely Like You and Alone in This – prefacing them with an intro that this new record is set to be my country album. We WILL be recording in Nashville after all, and a number of the songs stem from separation, which is highly conducive to the genre of course. I’m still crooning over my piano like I’m spot-lit on a cabaret corner stage somewhere, so these things are relative and we’ll see how country I get.
And that’s the point – we’ll see. I learned a lot putting The Living Record out into the world and I hope this new record will continue to take me out on the road and into your ears and hearts as ever. But until it’s done, I’m going to step back from touring, get myself a sense of the big picture, and plan my next bold move.
Moi at Musideum, Toronto. Photo by Susan Kendal-Urbach.
Maps. Charts. Schedules. Spreadsheets. Now’s the time for plotting and creating.
I’m so grateful I’ve been able to play as many shows as I have these past two years and this last batch seem almost dreamlike these couple weeks later. But to each of the towns, cities, we played in, let me tell you this:
Sudbury, you were the first feel of plastic keys and disbelieved you could ever adjust (ah, but you did!).
Utopia, you conjured old Friday night dances and sent us home with leftovers.
Chatham, you were a wiry, patchy, friendly cat and a need to buy winter gloves.
Ingersoll, your incredibly warm faces were a reminder of how good it can get.
Barrie, you landed on hard anniversaries but crossed paths with a piano man who you couldn’t help but follow.
Owen Sound, you were an old friend and a really good juice bar to battle a cold.
Peterborough, you were unexpectedly perfect with your sing-alongs and uke-instrumentals.
Kemptville, you were 95% familiar faces, a lucky, lucky stat.
Montreal, you were the best croissants and need be nothing more.
Ottawa, your heart couldn’t get bigger.
Moncton, you were dance classes down the hall and refuge from cold, dark rain.
St. John, you were spiral staircases and cloud-like pillows.
Fredericton, you almost didn’t make it but I’m so glad we all rallied to pull it off. I like you a lot.
Bedford, you were top notch and topped that off with cranberry liqueur (Ironworks Distillery from Lunenberg, Nova Scotia – a delightful discovery.)
Halifax, we laughed a little too hard but we were just so tired.
Toronto, you were home and I was so glad to come back to you.
The fishy street lamp art of Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, where we wandered happily on a day off.
And now back to it. Back to culling this long list of songs, finishing the ones I can, leaving behind the ones I can’t force, keeping my hands and my voice in shape, sleeping, eating, doodling and noodling.
The working title for the new album is Zookeeper. I must tend to the beasts.