Musicians Say The Strangest Things: Portraits and quotes from our favourite artists

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Musicians being human generally comprises the best rock writing

Having worked as a freelance music journalist for nearly a decade, I’ve managed to compile a novel’s worth of material from a variety of musicians and artists.

A lot of it is really boring.

Musicians love to talk about the new album – and why wouldn’t they? But sometimes, if you can get them talking like they would to their friends or their enemies or their lovers it can make for a great read. Musicians being human generally comprises the best rock writing.

Here are nine quotes, along with illustrated portraits, of some of my favourite interview moments from the past few years.

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David Francey

“I was reading the newspaper and the headlines and everything seemed so important. And the next morning I’m getting rid of it all. It never stops and it just keeps rolling on by. I guess something that seems so important today is just yesterday’s news by tomorrow. I think it’s the same in your own life – once you’ve been left behind by somebody you are surely yesterday’s news. And you aren’t coming back.”

I’ve been conducting interviews for over a decade and this might be one of my favourite quotes I’ve ever been given. It’s hard not to listen to Francey’s “Over You” and not feel something.

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Cris Derksen

“Because I come from a classical background, I bring those traditional elements in addition to the more western contemporary elements as well as bits from the past of my Aboriginal history. Not so much from my Mennonite side, because that music doesn’t really speak to me. But in terms of mixing contemporary and traditional music, I think it’s exciting in that it’s happening in all genres right now. I’ve been listening to a lot of Buffy Sainte-Marie right now and she’s been incorporating these elements into her music since the very beginning so it’s not really a new thing. I think we are maybe just using new tools to make music with this idea of combining the traditional and contemporary. There is always going to be the traditional form. That won’t ever change.”

Cellist Cris Derksen and guitarist Kristi Lane Sinclair first toured together across western Canada five years ago, starting on the west coast and playing shows up to Winnipeg before turning back. From those modest beginnings, the two musicians turned their annual co-touring trip into the Red Ride Tour, a series of shows designed to showcase aboriginal musicians.

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Dallas Good – The Sadies

“The direction we’re focusing on is one people seem to be embracing, which is great for us — because I don’t know what we would do otherwise. Bands are always saying that their eighth record is their best album to date, and that’s always bullshit, because it’s always a terrible record, and you wish they still sounded like they did on their first three records. But in our case, I guess it was our first three records that sucked, so we’re finally getting there and coming into our own sound.”

The critical praise isn’t surprising — The Sadies write excellent music, and undertake cross-Canada tours every year featuring packed clubs, sweat-drenched audiences and epic, three-hour-long sets. Yet somehow, even with years of success behind them, The Sadies still seem to be entirely absent on commercial radio and more or less ignored by mainstream press.

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Darcy Hancock – Ladyhawk

“It’s crazy that we’ve kept going, considering how unsuccessful we were for the first few years. Unfortunately, right when our hard work was starting to pay off we were all burnt out on it, so it’s hard to think of any particular great moments or terrible moments.”

Ladyhawk celebrated their 10th anniversary last year with a series of shows across Canada. It was really, really good to have them back, but I kind of miss those disastery first few shows where jocks would show up and stand there awkwardly.

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Shane Ghostkeeper – Ghostkeeper

“It’s about representing, glorifying and romanticizing the modern northern Métis way of living. We’re just sharing our experiences, which are pretty unique – we live in Calgary now – but we are originally from a community 12 hours north of here. In our songs we are dedicated to representing the people that live there. I grew up watching people play guitar and perform at house parties, which were always very animated. Sharon had an uncle that was an amazing singer/songwriter from up north and I was lucky enough to watch him play a handful of times before he passed away. He played in those party atmospheres and it was always amazing. There was always a lot of playing and sharing around campfires with elders and middle-aged folk and it was a big part of my musical education.”

Formed by Shane Ghostkeeper (vocals, guitar) and Sarah Houle (drums, vocals), Ghostkeeper the band play wickedly devious psych-folk with playful splashes of prog thrown in for good measure. Their latest album, Horse Chief! War Thief! is excellent, but since some members started a family the band rarely tours – go see them if you ever get the chance.

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Ian Campeau – A Tribe Called Red

“We put out an electronic album that is supposed to make you dance no matter where you are. It was a different type of album in that it was taking traditional powwow music and mashing it with electronic music, which makes it tough to categorize. We are moving towards more of an actual live show rather than us just DJing live. I mean, there is certainly an element of performance – we aren’t just pressing playing and dancing around. We are mixing the songs together. But with the new album I think we are going to incorporate live drumming and building the beat that way rather than just having the tracks made. It’s definitely going to change our live performances.”

Formed in 2008, A Tribe Called Red inadvertently sparked a new sub-genre of music called “powwow step”, which fused traditional music with hip-hop, dancehall, and electronica. The group’s albums have been given a collective thumbs up from music critics and fans, which includes a nod from The Polaris Prize while their most recent work Nation II Nation similarly won Best Album from the Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards.

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Julie Doiron

“On this tour we’re playing in a venue in Saskatchewan that has a capacity of 21 people. I’ve played in front of 20 people before but that was in a venue that was meant for 200.”

The venue Doiron references is All Citizens, a tiny venue – now defunct – located in the town of Bruno. After playing there, Doiron was presented with a bench named in her honour by the Mayor of Bruno. The Mayor’s husband Gilbert, an accordionist, also served as the opening act for Julie. Incidentally, June 7 is known as Julie Doiron Day in Bruno.

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Mish Way – White Lung

“Without getting too deep into my own personal issues, I’ve always been a person who gets frustrated easily with emotional situations and usually needs to get it out physically. Being in this band and performing is cathartic for me. I mean, sometimes it’s not as intense, but I never phone it in because that would be pathetic.”

White Lung’s most recent album, Deep Fantasy, is good, but Mish Way’s written pieces, found in Vice and the National Post, are punk rock ethos etched into print. I hope they come back to Saskatoon someday.

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Tanya Tagaq

“With my music I want to break down society to its lowest common denominator. I want to connect with things that everybody feels and take them out of the box they live in. What do people all love? They love to eat, they need to love and hate, they get scared and they get horny. These are things every single person feels and I’m trying to reach people on this level. And this is just the unintentional direction that my music went in. People that are looking for something different will find that in my music. But I’m always surprised that people are that interested in what I do because it is obscure. I have been exceptionally lucky.”

Tanya Tagaq was the well-deserved winner of the 2014 Polaris Prize. Highlighting a little-heard Canadian cultural sub-genre of music, it’s probably the best thing that award has ever done. Similarly, Tagaq is playing at the Broadway Theatre in February. You should probably go.

– Want more? For 10 more portraits and quotes CLICK HERE.

– All illustrations by Chris Morin. Special thanks to Kimiwan, who originally published Tanya Tagaq, Shane Ghostkeeper, Cris Derksen and Ian Campeau.