I have said on occasion that I don’t write songs, I just sing them. Which is to say that when the muse comes, when together we are at our best, that’s what it feels like – like a song I suddenly remembered, and maybe always knew.

I was standing at a bus stop in Berlin, in Charlottenberg, when I first sang the first verse to “Parasite.” I quickly and quietly recorded it into my phone (trying to look like I was just talking)  and when I played it back months later, was reminded of that favourite city of mine as a German ambulance siren rings through the voice memo in the background.

Those months later I was at The Hill House in Michigan during a residency I pursued with the interest of sorting through the songs that would become “The Living Record.”  It was just two verses that had come at the Berlin bus stop and there in the upper penninsula where the rest of the song made itself known.

When I played it for my partner he pointed out the inaccuracy of the word “parasite” and I had my own mini Alanis “ironic” moment in defending my artistic licence. For the months until we recorded it, I kept in the back of my mind the thought of replacing the word, but another never came. Indeed in this song, what plauges me (er, the protaganist) has not convinced the host of its own interests, it is rather a fight against the thoughts that won’t let up, the fight against the impossible question “what if.”

But the word stayed.

What didn’t stay was the original tempo. When composed it was much slower, in mind I imagined the final product would be darker, heavier. When Steve Dawson and I were in pre-production for the album his imagination led elsewhere and I followed – the outcome of which is the much more uptempo version on the album.

I love how it turned out.

Often people have said of that album, “The Living Record,” that for lyrics and themes that are darker, heavier, it is musically remarkably upbeat. Well, yes. I don’t think these ideas need to be hammered too hard, I think that a lot of the experiences chronicled on that album are complex – and the contrast reflects that – and I think stories in songs are worth digging for.

When it came to making the video I was lucky to be part of APTN’s First Tracks program which has, for the past few years, employed Big Soul Productions to produce five music videos per year for Indigenous artists. They brought director Adam Garnet Jones on board and over lunch I got to hear the visual ideas the song inspired in him. It always feels a kind of gift to have another artist create work sparked from your own.

(here’s Adam and I on set in what I liked to call our “mad Cowichan disease” matching-ness):

cowichan

Finding beauty in struggle became the theme and let me tell you, singing that song in double time (due to filming 48fps) while inhaling the bits of feather-down being blown in my face did not feel beautiful at the time. But all in a day’s work.

We filmed the video in November 2012, through the night in the cold, cavernous space belonging to the Toronto School of Circus Arts, beginning with the aerialists’ set up:

christa couture parasite video aerialists

Meanwhile, the lovely and talented Rachelle Whitewind attended to my hair and make up:

christa couture parasite make up by Rachelle Whitewind

In an ochre dress my dear friend Susan Kendal-Urbach MADE for the shoot.  It was handy that my bosom buddy was hired as cosutme designer – I couldn’t have trusted many other people to hold the tulle skirt in place, so as to avoid flashing the crew, when fans whipped up the “falling”:

Photo 2014-05-06, 12 47 25 AM

(and I got to keep the sweet belt she found at Anthropologie. Score.)

Fans played a major part in all the scenes – most of the time to blow sundry items at my face while I lip-synced. The bubbles were easy. The feathers, as mentioned, went up my nose.

christa couture parasite feathers

And the amazing art crew had to sweep it all up between takes to blow across the frame once more:

paraste christa couture

They were a killer crew.

Adam and editor Jay Brant got to work and in March 2013 it was locked and ready. And then we waited. And waited.

APTN had legal dibs on broadcast – other than when I worked with a label on my first album in 2005 it was the first time I’ve not completely owned the rights to something connected to my work. Indeed I left the label for many reasons – that I like being in control of such things being one of them.

But First Tracks – which I think is an awesome series and has made a handful of wicked videos – is what “Parasite” belonged to and we were at the mercy of their scheduling. Except the scheduling never came and eventually APTN decided not to broadcast any of this particular batch of First Tracks videos.

Which is too bad.

But it meant that finally I could share this with everyone. Like you.

And so, from a bus stop in Berlin, to circus school rafters in Toronto, “Parasite”, the official video:

“Michigan” has been, through the recording process, the short hand for my song “You Were Here in Michigan” which will be the first single – coming in one week! – from my new album – coming in September! – “The Living Record”.

A savvy and smart friend of mine commented not too long ago “it seems ‘Lost in the City’ would be a better title” and he’s right in some ways. Lost in the city is the lyrical hook of the song and a less cumbersome, ie catchier name than “You Were Here in Michigan”. I’ve been told my specificity in songwriting has narrowed my potential fanbase (pft) and something like the difference between “You Were Here in Michigan” and “Lost in the City” is a good example of my not-broad-enough leanings…

But “You Were Here in Michigan” it is. JUST ‘CAUSE. Acutally, for many reasons, but I’ll spare you them.

Of course, as we know, “Romeo would, were he not Romeo called, retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title” and with that in mind, let me tell you more about this song that I am soon to unleash on the world.

I hadn’t actually expected to keep this song. I write many songs in passing that get thrown out, forgotten or ignored. As it should be. Somebody stop me if I ever start to carefully preserve and tend to every little thing I write. I wrote/sang this song to myself as I drove north from Flint to the ISLAND Hill House last fall, it kept me company and described the view. The next day I decided to record it and put it up on YouTube.

This is that rough, early rendition of “Michigan”:

I hadn’t planned to work on it again, but over the weeks that followed it kept popping into my mind, a pest really, demanding my attention.

One evening, not long before we went into the studio, in some late, fertile hour of the night, I gave in to its persistence, wrote a bridge, changed the ending and voilà, it was complete.

Once in the studio and in the shared hands of Steve and the band, it grew bigger and stronger and it has come a long way since that recording above! I can’t wait to share it with you.

In one week.

xoc

 

In honour of the season, I present to you, just in time for the last few holiday bashes, How to Have a Hootenanny.

WARNING: Contains folk music humour.

You may recall from my video diary Hootenanny for One (for those who don’t, watch it below), that one of my favourite albums during my time at the ISLAND Hill House artist residency was HOOTE NANNY! pictured here:

The back of which included instructions on “how to enjoy this classic past time” that I, in my folk-nerdiness, was rather amused by.

I transcribed it and have saved these instructions through the autumn months – but with the advent of Solstice and the holiday season in full swing, the time has come to share them with you. Enjoy.

The name of the game is “hootenanny.” It’s as old as your grandmother – and twice as much fun. In fact, folks have been playing “hootenanny” in one form or another ever since the Welshe started whooping it up at their first annual eisteddfod. And that, my friends, was back in the Twelfth Century.

For those of you who have never enjoyed this classic pastime, there’s no better time than the present. The rules of the game will be easily grasped by anyone who has already mastered the ins and outs of Monopoly. They go something like this:

PRE-GAME STRATEGY:

1. Pick your place. Suggested “hootenanny” sites are backyards or front parlors. Study hall or Carnegie Hall. A coffee house or somebody else’s house (not your own, for reasons which will soon be apparent).

2. Pick your players. Actually, any number can play. We have found, however, that “hootenanny” is most successful played (as what game isn’t?) by an even number of representatives from both sexes.

3. Pick your songs. At this juncture, we must note tht the game may be played in either two variations.

A. The Classic (or Short) Game of Hootenanny. In this version, all songs must br genuine “folk songs”: i.e., proved to have been written before 1879 by an authentic Union Pacific tie-layer, and duly registered with the Library of Congress.

B. The Whole Hog (or Anything Goes) Hootenanny. This version, as the name implies, allow the introduction of all “folk songs” – meaning anything from Gallagher and Sheen to Rodgers and Hammerstein, who were, after all, “just folks”.

HOW TO KEEP SCORE

Give 5 points to anyone who remembers all 112 verses of John Henry (there’s one in every crowd).

Give 8 points for each song in a foreign language with the following exceptions:

Swahili, Tagalog and Bosnian: 12 points each

Upper Baluchistani: 52 points and your choice of the prettiest girl in the room.

Deduct 50 points from anyone found singing in tune.

ORDER OF PLAY

Player “A” opens the game by belting out the first song that comes into his head. He continues until interrupted by Player “B”, who now belts out the first song that comes into his head until interrupted by Player “C”. The game continues in this manner until all players are arrested by exhaustion and/or the cop on the beat for maintaining a public nuisance.

OBJECT OF THE GAME: having fun.

So now, ladies and gentlemen, you know al there is to know about the ancient and honorable game of “hootenanny.”

Notes by ANNIE HOOTEN.

Watch Hill House Diary #07: Hootenanny for One

An unexpected thing occurred during my artist residency at the ISLAND Hill House (and a funny thing on the way to the forum) – I made my first video blog. Artists do it all the time, I watch them all the time, and I carry my little flip video camera every where I go. But I’d never been compelled to use it in that way.

Something about being alone in the woods, something about finding a way to still connect with the world, something about having lots of time to think – and once I got started, I really liked it.

Which is to say I think I may be a budding video blogger. I may also be a budding nudist. Here are the nine video diaries in a row:

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