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.)

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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 think.

I hope?

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.

Christa Couture Musideum Toronto
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.

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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.

xoc

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Fave new t-shirt.

There are tour things I could tell you, and probably will, from the magical shows, to odd exchanges, to the new songs that found me on American highways, to having just two Canadian dates left before heading across the Atlantic for the wee string of them there.

But that can wait. Today — a day off in Ottawa, spent catching up on emails and paperwork and running errands (read: giggling my way through shops with my very dear friend Christine) — I am full of love for my friends.

There were shifts in September and I find myself out in the world now without my usual lighthouse to look to, nor my usual port to eventually steer towards. The metaphor could extend that I’m at risk of being lost at sea, but the reality is less melodramatic and the truth has more to do with charting new territory than getting lost.

That said the shift has been hard. But I have been amazed at my few nearest and dearest friends who have swept in to catch me before I could ever really feel like I’m falling, and at how quickly they’ve extended to bridge any gap I’m adjusting to. Being on the road can feel without landmarks of “real” life at the best of times, but I feel like I’ve had familiar beacons no matter my location thanks to Skype and (hands-free I promise) highway driving phone calls..

And especially thanks to mail. Physical, tangible, postmarked, travelled and handled snail mail.

My dear ladies of the infamous “Veggie Vag” collective — i.e. Lindsay and Susan — mailed me, prior to my Vancouver departure, a package containing one envelope for me to open on every day of my tour, plus two bonus envelopes (they truly are mad geniuses). From the backseat of my car, friends couches, hotel rooms, I have had the incredible delight of opening mail every day on the road. THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER.

The dated envelopes have thus far included:

mailbocks

  • road trip mix CD.
  • a Susan-made car air freshener.
  • chocolate.
  • a love letter.
  • sequins.
  • heart festooned bobby pins.
  • a letter on writing.
  • a brand new sharpie zipped in the sweetest bag.
  • cross stitch kit.
  • photo boothed Lindsay.
  • moustaches.
  • Cherry Bomb postcard.
  • print of Whoopi in “Chop Wood and Carry Martinis” (my one-day bio-pic).
  • print of Lindsay and I on the phone, as played by Cate and Whoopi. Plus a gin gin.
  • “I have loved you for so long” with teenage throwback photo of Susan and I.
  • blogbroidery by Lindsay.
  • astronaut straw.

 

AMAZING right? And upon my arrival in Ottawa I discovered THERE’S MORE. Round two for the European tour dates.

photo

And so, a toast: to these two fierce and wildly wonderful gals of mine and their pile of mail, to the one whose kind ears and kinder words of “anytime” while I cried into my pillow made it possible to sleep, to the one who ran down the steps to pull me in her arms before I was barely out of the car, and to the ones who know the difference a duvet makes, I LOVE YOU. You’re saving my life out here and I couldn’t be more grateful.

And for those coming to the shows and carrying on through these nights of music with me with abandon and verve, I LOVE YOU TOO.

xoc

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Ever since Spring arrived in Bremen – and she was very late – in the mornings when I wake up in the Bremen flat (and the Bremen flat has been the centre point of most of the last three week’s shows), I wander into the kitchen, put the kettle on for coffee, and swing the window open wide. There’s a small park below and, in my weeks here, an already familiar cast of local characters. I love to look out that window, and most recently, to sit on the sill, my back to the green below, the sun above, and the breeze around, and write in my notebook.

My walking route to the nearest main street has changed from the easiest (right and then right) to the prettiest (left, left, right, left-ish) and I like noticing the small routines that form in short periods of time.

The better route includes walking past these knits.

It’s hard to believe it’s down to one remaining performance here in Germany. I’ve had 28 gigs in the last 24 days, which has made for a kind of busy blur with scattered moments of clarity and warmth. So many of the shows have been so lovely, and beyond my expectations – though I had few for my first time here – and just when I think the sweetest, warmest moment has taken place, another one finds me.

I otherwise feel rather out of touch with the world and I have no idea of what’s happening with anyone other than me. It’s is an odd sensation, and boring in ways, but the focus of each day of getting to the venue and doing my job, all the while navigating through foreign landscapes and language, has gobbled me up.

The immersion, despite the blurred edges, has been interesting, and I’m grateful to report that since I last wrote there have been fewer hurdles and greater joys.

There is rather a lot of talking to be done while on tour, but almost entirely is that talking always with someone new. Every day there are so many new connections and small conversations.  I really noticed this on the last two long tours I’ve done, that I have a lot of conversations with new people, which I enjoy, but that I don’t get nearly enough talking in with my “old”, with my nearest and dearest, my closest knits – time zones and timing being the biggest challenge to making that happen. I start to feel it, a kind of backlog of thoughts and feelings, a collection of the little daily stories piling up and getting tangled, a lack of feeling known.

Many people here speak at least a little English. I’ve collected a handful of German phrases but have basically been a fixed post as far as communicating here goes – people have been so generous in moving towards me, when I can’t even meet them halfway. It has impacted telling stories, and really made me think about my stories too. As anyone who’s seen me perform knows, I like to talk about these songs of mine, but here that talking has changed. I speak slower, I tell fewer stories, try to be more succinct, to boil it down. I’ve started to hear my songs more as sounds than words – an entirely new experience since the words have always been the entry point for me – which just makes me think of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZXcRqFmFa8. What am I like, if you can’t understand what I’m saying? I’ve liked considering this shift. I like being sounds, smiles and gestures.

And I’ve loved getting to hear Robert Carl Blank on so many nights – he’s a fantastic player and is still, after so many shows together, pulling out songs I haven’t heard yet. Amazing. This past week’s joyful moments have been largely impacted by my friend Diederik van Dijk joining Robert and I here in Bremen.

Diederik and Robert at Kito.

After playing solo so much these past few months, it was SO wonderful to have Diederik on cello for a few songs, goodness me, and also to hear his songs again. It’s been 8 years since we last played together and he is one of the “old” – I’m glad for a few days of finding ground in conversation with someone who knows me. I needed it.

And need it still. But I fly home on Monday, just two sleeps and one gig away, and so very soon I will fall back into the warmth and comfort of familiar. I love the newness of touring, I’ve definitely loved this tour in particular, for all its ups and downs, but just thinking of my own bed now is going to bring me sweet dreams here tonight.

And tomorrow morning, one more perch on the kitchen window sill, one more chorus of Bremen birds to write by.

Last night in Hengelo we played two shows, the second of which was short, spontaneous and sweet. After a cosy and lovely afternoon gig at De Nul we found ourselves at Lambooijhuis and I couldn’t resist the piano in the corner. Most of the shows on this tour I’m only playing guitar – logistically bringing a keyboard along just didn’t work and my hands, my body, misses playing keys.

After I played, an older man came up to me with tears saying “you made my day.” I’m always interested and amazed by what lyrics people hear, connect with – “I too have been ‘a witness of catastrophe’” he continued, “and I hope you will someday be a witness of happiness.” What followed was a conversation, a string of stories from his life, and it was touching and funny and beautiful and sweet and sad, and the whole time Rammstein was blaring over the sound system, an asynchronous soundtrack…

Robert Carl Blank knocking socks of at Lambooijhuis.

A little “Pussycat Pussycat” at De Nul, thanks to Slightly-Tilted.

On Saturday in Osnabruck, the first gig of the many I’m doing with Robert Carl Blank as part of a Songs & Whispers circuit, we had a fine time playing for the crowd at Big Buttinsky’s. It was, happily, another place that happened to have a piano, a beautiful old upright.

Another show was happening across the hall, the Erik Truffaz quartet featuring Anna Aaron. We were invited to sneak in to catch the last of it, and shuffled ourselves quietly into the back row. It was transportive. I get to hear a lot of live music, and am moved often by it all, but this was exceptional and I hadn’t felt lifted like that in a while. Above all else it felt lucky to be there…

The day before that I had been sobbing on the train. After a series of unfortunate events I was finally pointed in the right direction, but felt almost entirely beaten by Things Going Wrong. I have been, on this tour, particularly faced with the limits of my disability – something, admittedly, I prefer to deny. And a harsh reality check in that department mixed in with the usual confusion of navigating through a foreign language, plus last minute cancellations and miscommunications, made for a few harrowing moments of despair.

But I texted Lindsay, because I knew she would be awake in Toronto, and she pep-talked-via-SMS me while I tried to take in views of the German countryside through tears. Namely she convinced me to take deep breaths and blaze on, worry later. It got me to Bremen, but my makeup was a mess…

Later that night, after a shot set in nearby Hude, we drove back to town under sheets of lightning and my falling asleep was to the soothing wash of pouring rain on window panes. Have I ever been so shifted, moment to moment, with such frequency?

A week earlier, Lindsay had similarly saved me via text message on another day of Things Going Wrong when I travelled from London to Frankfurt. I don’t know if I’ve loved my cell phone more.

The week in England was full of love. Touring is only ever made possible by the generosity of others – places to stay, food to eat, open hearts and ears to collect the music I’m here to deliver – and my time there was entirely supported by my dears Lynn and Marcus. I’m not sure how I thought I would get myself, and all my crap, around the country on my own, but I didn’t have to face the task as they picked me up and chauffeured me with panache. London and Liverpool, the week’s bookends, moved me especially and I will write at some point of a delightful shift from noun to verb I’ve been inspired to make, thanks to one Liverpudlian in particular…

Clock birds of Liverpool.

Tonight in Bremen I played for the best open hearts and ears one can hope for and the encore and standing O swept me off my feet, *thank you*. The gig was in a church – ah, what acoustics! –and beforehand having a beer “backstage” I asked the organizer if it was okay to take the drink on “stage”, what with it being flanked by religious paraphernalia and me being rather unfamiliar with such settings. He paused and answered “God loves every kind of person,” which was an unexpected way of saying yes and onwards into song I went, avec beer…

I’m two weeks into this tour of five, and have been feeling deeply the highs and lows. The highs, oh they’ve been magical, and the lows have at least been a learning curve, albeit circuitous and steep.

In those curves, Brandi Carlile’s “Bear Creek” has been a kind of saving grace – I’m so in love with that record lately I’m about ready to switch my act to a Brandi cover-band, out of pure devotion.

And so now I will drift off, so sweetly sated by tonight’s show, with a Carlile lullaby humming in mind, all in a moment, all in a sound, all in a day’s work, we’re tumbling down…

I’ve missed writing here. I’m not lacking the ideas or impulse of course, but I haven’t made the time. The longer breaks between posts, the more clogged and messy the ideas get and I start to wonder what I might find when I reach in my hand to pull one out.

The first handful of the tangle is tasks, mighty To Do’s associated with being on tour now. From there many of the tethered strings have to do with events around the corner, events that take months of planning to launch. An April tour in British Columbia is getting its finishing touches, April 29th is poised to be the UK/EU release of The Living Record, and May will take me to England, and then Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany, to sing the ol’ songs in person. I’m going to try and release a music video in April too.

Much of that is very exciting news. The details of it all are dull.

And I’ve been busy with the details. Before that were the holidays, for which I kept my head down both to get my job done, and to escape what aches at that time of year.

I’ve also been busy, recently, having fun on the road – from the mayhem, magic and madness of attending the Folk Alliance International conference, to bounding around southern Ontario and into Quebec. I like this part of the world very much, and some of my favourite people are here.

But I don’t mean for this to be a summary – goodness knows there’s enough “sorry I haven’t written I’ve just been So Busy” blogs out there. I mean for this to untie my tongue. I’ve been tripping on my words before I can get them out lately. Truly. In conversation where I might have been grounded and clear before I’m stuttering, hm-ing, unsure of how to piece it together, succumbing to a clamour of drunken monkeys, in the Buddhist sense of such a scene.

I went through a phase when I was a kid of loving monkeys. L O V I N G, in that fanatic and seeking to establish individuality kind of way. It was, for a time, My Thing.  Other than reading key articles in my Ranger Rick magazines, thinking that Project X was one of cinema’s most moving achievements, and being star struck by the gorillas at the San Diego zoo, I had various memorabilia, from a small chimpanzee figurine (named Monkoo) to a life sized stuffed Orangutan (Renzo). It was a modest collection, but my feelings for the objects were big.

I’ve been struggling to articulate lately partly because I’ve been so deeply involved in the business side of my job these past few months that I started to feel very far from the creative spark, but also partly because of big feelings, like the yes-I-desperately-need-to-laminate-the-floor-to-ceiling-poster-of-the-gorillas-in-order-to-preserve-it-better kind of big feelings (though at age 12 when they had to cut the poster in half in order to laminate it, I no longer wanted it, a thing being ruined by being cut in half and pieced together of course).

These days the feelings that overwhelm have little to do with material items, but still to do with a sense of ruin. Beauty too. I’ve been in a heart-on-sleeve kind of way, crying during every episode of My So Called Life that I’ve been re-watching while on the road, and feeling all sorts of sadness, tenderness, and having no words to describe it. It feels like a zillion stories and memories are being pulled up and flung across the room, like every dresser drawer of anecdotes has been dumped on my bedroom floor and I’m digging through them trying to find SOMETHING.

I know it’s here somewhere/it’s nowhere to be found.

But I digress.

Monkeys. Big feelings. Blogging. Back to work.

I am glad to be back on the road. Being able to share my songs, in person, with other people, holy crap I’d missed it during the winter months. It means the world to me to be able to do it.

It’s a kind of fuel that I can’t find anywhere else, and when it’s poured on the fire even the drunken monkeys stop to take in the glow. When I’ve got their attention, I don’t mind so much the mess they’ve made in the meantime.

So maybe that’s where I’m at – working on enjoying the moments of clarity when they come, not minding the noise in the meantime, and aiming to put some of it into words when I can.

xoc

Late night glow at my home away from home in Toronto.

 

And with that (Saturday night at the Toronto Free Gallery), my last gig of 2012. It’s strange to think of it as the last of anything, when I am so very much in the middle of things, but it’s amazing to think of a year ago. A year ago I hadn’t recorded The Living Record yet but it was newly fully funded and the plans were in place. A year ago I was just dusting off my performing self, putting her back together, and trying my hand once more at being on stage. A year ago I was taking steps I wasn’t ready for, but took them for the need of SOMETHING to happen. A year ago I didn’t know where I would be now. A year ago I was saying a few of the same things.

A year ago I may well have been on a plane like this one. Packed, cramped, and catching up on movies I wanted to see but couldn’t admit to wanting to see. A woman just walked by in a black t-shirt with the big white words of “it’s okay to cry” and I’m reminded of something I read a few days ago (where?) saying that we’re more apt to crying on airplanes. Something about the altitude affecting our emotions. I suspect the strain of travel, small spaces, time zones, hellos and goodbyes, also place us susceptible to tears mid-flight, but I’ll take the t-shirt slogan to heart because Robert Deniro in that hospital bed scene definitely got to me.

And with that, a stinking head cold. I don’t mind really. It’s the chance for me to hear myself talk like I’m underwater without getting wet. Mostly I’m grateful that my body waited and waded through the last three months of the CD release, Canadian tour and music video shoot before catching anything. Way to hang in there little one!

Yes! A music video! This past week in Toronto I filmed a music video for the song Parasite with Big Soul Productions and director Adam Garnet Jones thanks to APTN First Tracks. It’s going to be a couple months before the finished product is shared with the world, but I’m really, really excited about it. It was fun, and challenging, and the crew was fantastic. Here’s Adam and I in dueling cowichan sweaters (to which I couldn’t help but describe as mad cowichan disease) because, note, there is no heat at the Toronto Circus School (brr!):

Here I am braving a storm of bubbles:

And later, the crew resets for another shot of the confetti storm:

You’ll get it when you see it. Oh I can’t wait for you to see it!

I’m grateful for all the gigs I’ve had in 2012 and glad even that the last one of the year was in Toronto, my favourite hard place to be. A few of my first 2013 gigs in February will be back in TO actually, and if it’s going to be as cold then as it was this past week, I’m going to need to pack the parka!

xoc

 

One of my favourite Ian Sherwood songs is “Here I Go”. During our wee tour last month I got to sing along with it every night! One morning, while still waking up and about to hit the road, we recorded this in a friend’s backyard…

I love how the sun comes out during the bridge – well played sunshine, well played.

Watch: Ian Sherwood w/Christa Couture – “Here I Go”

I did an interview with Songs and Sonics not so long ago in which one of the questions J-bot posed was “what’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you”? I answered:

I love you.

But that was a cop out, an easy answer. Of course when someone tells you they love you, and they mean it, it is very, very nice. Hopefully you’ve all been told many, many times “I love you” from the moment your parents first laid eyes on you to today. What I actually first thought of when I read the question was:

I’m not uncomfortable.

It didn’t seem like there was the space or time to explain that so I went with the easy answer. I’ll tell you now.

I was on a plane from Winnipeg to Vancouver after three days of Aboriginal Music Week, exhausted, in need of a shower, a little hungover and very much looking forward to getting home after an intense, heartening and bewildering (yet all things considered fantastic) time. The plane was packed and I was stuck in a middle seat. Often the coping strategy in such situations – crammed, tired ones – is to ignore the people around you. But in the exchange of hellos with the man headed for the window seat as he climbed over me and Mr. Aisle became a flight-long conversation, the kind of honest conversation that seems destined for strangers stuck in places. The kind of unexpected, funny, moving exchange that makes me love people, and being surprised by them.

I had told him about my biggest heartbreak. We talked. I told him that it wasn’t the first heartbreak of its kind, 2006, 2010… He slumped in his chair saying “ooooooooh!” to which I quickly offered, out of (the oft described as Canadian) habit ,”I’m sorry!”.

“Why are you sorry?”

“Because that story makes people uncomfortable.” And it does. For the most part people are made awkward, nervous, scared, or apologetic themselves (and all of the above are at best) when I tell them that story. It makes it very hard for me to be honest, most of the time.

“I’m not uncomfortable” he replied.

And he meant it. And it warmed my heart to no end to hear it, like I’d been waiting for someone to say that for months. For someone to just be okay with the truth. It was the nicest thing anyone had said to me in awhile.

If you asked me today “what’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you?” I would answer:

I’m in no rush.

Recently, while talking to a friend, I was flustered, distracted, and keeping them waiting. It was another occasion that I said “sorry!”, worried that they would be frustrated or disappointed in my lacking attention, focus.

“I’m in no rush” they replied.

And they meant it. And it warmed my heart.

I’ve been very busy lately, working like mad, and will continue to be so and do so for the next six months. Often hurried, sometimes losing the plot with too many balls in the air – even, at times, mixing metaphors when I’m really showing signs of overwhelmed ; ) – and trying very hard to be mindful of other people’s time. To not be late, to not ask for too much. To not keep them waiting…

I feel I’ve a zillion deadlines and I’m anxious that I’ll only meet half of them, but more than half seem Oh So Important, and maybe a few of them even truly are Rather Important as far as matters of work and art are concerned. Releasing a new album that I care deeply about is exciting, but terrifying too. I’m trying to pull a lot off within my resources of time and money, and friends, so the idea of don’t worry, take your time, I’ll still be here was a reassuring one to say the least.

It’s a busy busy world and our days are buzzing with things to do. What’s the nicest thing someone could say to you now? Tell me, but take your time – I’m in no rush.