MEGAPHONO organizers will be unveiling a trove of musical treasure this week, starting Wednesday and wrapping up in the wee hours of Saturday. So it’s high time to hash a plan, defy the cold and hit the streets. Since the festival aims to give visiting industry folks an insider’s look at the local scene, it’s a great way to play tourist and re-discover the city yourself.
Admittedly, it’s a challenge to recommend just one show but once you hear Her Harbour I think you’ll understand.
On Friday February 3, Her Harbour will release a gorgeous sophomore album, Go Gently Into the Night, at the Gallery Recording Studio in a special showcase presented by Arboretum and E-Tron Records. Sharing the bill are Amanda Lowe and Claude Munson – two artists whose gentle folk always rewards open ears and intimate spaces.
Her Harbour is the name for Gabrielle Giguere’s dream folk project. Giguere did not set out to be a singer-songwriter. After years of playing in different projects she started writing her own music quite innocently, never thinking it would see the light of day. Giguere self-recorded her first album Winter’s Ghosts, layering the songs into ambient soundscapes of vocals, autoharp and an array of other instruments.
Her Harbour’s music leaves the impression of something rare, drawn from a deep well. The songs possess an energy that is at once compelling and unsettling. There’s something about the quiet strength of the vocals, the poetry in the lyrics and the finely textured arrangements that casts a spell on listeners. It sort of feels like walking in the woods on a foggy evening, coming across a new path and following that to wherever it leads.
Giguere explains that the new record was written at a time “where death felt omnipresent.” She goes on to say, “making the record wasn’t so much inspired by one loss. It was cumulative period where it felt a little bit haunting but making the record really helped me at least be more comfortable with the idea of death. It was pretty cathartic I guess you could say.”
Though the themes are heavy and the album’s title gives a nod to Dylan Thomas, it’s somehow never a downer. However the mood is at times solemn, dark and mysterious. Giguere’s haunting vocals are front and centre on long, liquid melodic lines. The record is awash in overtone-rich ambient textures – but never overdone. Though the arrangements are sparse the instrumental colours are weighty and with the absence of drums there’s more play with the tempo and space.
As Giguere says, “In my writing the silences and pauses between words or chords are really important. A lot of the emotion is in those pauses.” These songs quietly demand that you lean in and pay attention so to appreciate how they reveal themselves in layers. It might take some settling into, the pace, the lighting, the language. Altogether it’s a strange and beautiful journey through loss.
I had the chance to chat with Gabrielle about making the new record, dealing with darkness, and her Megaphono picks. Here is an excerpt from our conversation, edited for clarity and length.
Apt613: I was struck by the otherworldly feel of the record. Did you do anything to get in the headspace to record the songs?
Gabrielle Giguere: Well you know, I do most of my work alone as far as writing goes and some of those songs were pretty vulnerable to play, especially the beginning. Even in the recording process Dave [Draves] was super perceptive and helpful. I lived a few blocks from his studio and so he was kind enough to lent me the studio at night to get used to the space and practice on the piano because it’s a different beast and it’s nice to get to know it, just getting more intimate with the environment. When we were actually recording the album there’s a couple songs where Dave actually left the room to let me be alone with the songs so that probably helped contribute to the feel
You’re almost playing the room as much as an instrument.
Yeah, especially, in Dave’s studio because he’s got such wonderful tools, a bunch of analog equipment from the sixties including these really neat plate and spring reverbs. All of that reverb that you hear, that’s the reverb I sang into so it’s not like often with digital work you’re adding the reverb after as a treatment. I was really getting to push the notes into the space which helps with the detail you hear in the vocals.
Were there things you were listening to or reading to at the time of writing the record that figured in?
I think that I’m often influenced by other art forms. Sylvia Plath has been a huge influence on my writing, her comfort with darkness and the way she finds beauty in darkness was really inspiring on this record. Throughout the process of writing I was thinking about how can I present this dark subject in a constructive way and in a concise way, in a way that wasn’t self indulgent so I went to some writers to see how they did it.
And I think you got there. Even though these are heavy themes it’s never depressing. Was that an effort?
I think so. In my efforts of making the record and becoming comfortable with the subject of death I wanted to convey the peace that I found as well in the songs or at least in the way they were presented.
There’s plenty of reference to the natural world on the album. Were those chosen because of the symbolism or were you spending more time in nature at the time?
I did really turn towards it on a personal level and the extension of that into my writing because I find a lot of comfort in it. I touched on that a little bit in “Chime and Knell.” That song in particular was about the juxtaposition of life and death in the spring. I spent a lot of time watching the landscape. The loss is really important to the life and the landscape’s renewal and so that for example, was a tremendous source of comfort and purpose for me. Noticing death everywhere sort of made more sense understanding the renewal. I leaned on that for comfort and inspiration.
Has your relationship with music changed at all since releasing your first record?
This really was the first record where I knew I’d be sharing it because I got some grants to make a record and I felt excited about doing so but it did come with some challenges. It was difficult to write because once you know there’s a good chance someone might listen to what you doing after that it becomes an exercise to not let that influence the writing. I did get a lot of anxiety about that but I feel more peace with it now because I have learnt to compartmentalize that. Also, once you start writing you realize well, there are songs that don’t necessarily make it out to the public and that’s a good thing for both parties.
Even though you share so much you can still have secrets as an artist.
That’s really important. This writing’s so personal. Writing’s been my lifeline, my anchor forever. I think for me, it’s one of the most important relationships I have so I’m always trying to honour that and protect it.
Are there any Megaphono shows you’re particularly looking forward to?
I’m really looking forward to the Scattered Clouds show. They’re another band on my label and they’re playing a special set where they’re going to have double drummers. Which they did on some out of town gigs but I don’t think they’ve done it here yet. I’m also very much looking forward to Bry Webb at St. Alban’s. I’m hoping I can make it between soundcheck and that. And Mike Dubue’s Chamber Feast, also at St. Alban’s. There’s just so much going on.
Her Harbour play at Gallery Recording Studio (2 Monk Ave) on Friday February 3 at 10:15pm Tickets are $13 available at www.megaphono.tv and at the door. Festivals Passes are available for $60.