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Photo: Pedro Domingos/Apt613.

Interview: Jasmine Trails sings celebration songs of what she has overcome

By David Currie on February 11, 2020

Apt613 spoke with singer-songwriter Jasmine Trails aka Allie O’Manique a few days before her show at Club SAW, February 8th. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Apt613: This is a massive EP, it’s beautiful and at times ethereal, it’s grounded in lo-fi techniques that grab listeners by the hand and guide them encouragingly through a dark woods at night. Your use of synth is really beautiful, and your experimentation with clarity and opaqueness and the sound of your voice is absolutely magical. What art do you sit with to find with to find inspiration?

Jasmine Trails: In terms of artists, I am deeply inspired by the etherealness of Julee Cruise. I only discovered her music a few years ago. The music always came out the way it had to. I never really put any thought into how it came out, the way it came out was always just the way it had to exist. But when I heard I heard Julee Cruise’s music it was the first time I thought “wow I want to make music that lives in the same world as that.”

I feel like most of the music I listen to isn’t the way I want to sound. I’m a firm believer in the idea that if I put my heart into a song, when it comes to studio time—everything will come together to express the attitude of the song in the way it naturally has to.

Photo: Pedro Domingos/Apt613.

This next question is slightly personal for both of us. Survivor art has likely always been around, but in 2020 artists like you, like me, many others are trying to find ways to take up space and tell their stories. How do you approach your art and your trauma? When did you start unwrapping it in your music for audiences to experience?

I think honestly, that’s something I’ve learned a lot about recently. Before I was using writing and singing as almost a coping mechanism for things that I have gone through. At the time when I was younger, that was the thing that worked for me.

I wrote this EP years ago, these songs are quite old but now I’m at the point where I don’t want what I’ve gone through to be my identity. I’ve learned from it, I’ve grown from it, and I’ve expressed myself through art. Now I want my singing and my art to be a celebration of the things I’ve overcome, the things that are good now. I don’t want to exist in the past, I don’t want to mourn anymore. I want to celebrate all the things I’m grateful for now in my life.

I don’t want what I’ve gone through to be my identity. I’ve learned from it, I’ve grown from it, and I’ve expressed myself through art. Now I want my singing and my art to be a celebration of the things I’ve overcome, the things that are good now.

Before I was using my story for people to connect with but I think now that I’m a bit older I don’t want that to be my identity. It’s not who I am, I want my art to be a celebration.

“Dream Girl” feels like a song in slow motion, yet you go to great lengths to stretch out your vocal so that it isn’t just a declaration of “this is what I’m saying.” It’s ethereal and somehow untouchable. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone play like that before, that’s praise. You transported me somewhere and then let me dig to find meaning. How did you approach the first track?

That song came from a place of anger, I never write that way. That song had a clear message in my heart. People want to put out these songs that are catchy and have a catchy chorus and get people moving. But there are also songs that are there to express a meaning. I just wanted to sing that song the way it made me feel, and that was like sludgy; angry, and an endless cycle of deep anger pulling yourself through a swamp of aggression. It was a good exercise for me to get through some anger.

Originally the song was supposed to be higher but we brought it down to my deepest voice. It may not be the easiest song to listen to, it’s very heavy and loud. It’s there to convey a message, it’s not there to lean back and drift off like some of my other songs.

That goes nicely into my next question which is, “Candles” is wonderful… It seems to take control of your sexuality, and flirtation. In the lyrics you appear to set boundaries, work within them, and then celebrate those boundaries. Live music audiences still, in 2020, have the reputation of being places where perverts, creeps, and worse go. Women on stage are particularly susceptible to harassment. How do you establish boundaries in your song writing and performance? How do you maintain them, and are you comfortable with sharing what they are?

I don’t know, that’s such a funny question, I’ve never really thought of it. I like sharing details of intimacy in my music. It’s such a beautiful thing, I think it should be celebrated. I don’t think it should be taboo.

For a long time I was afraid of writing about more intimate things because I am a private person in a lot of ways. But things like the touch between two people should be celebrated, it’s such a healing thing. I want to share that in my music but maybe more in subtle ways like in the song “Candles.” It’s about my appetite, but I close it off by saying I rub your back for an hour. There’s subtle details of intimacy.

I think there’s something powerful about being a sex symbol, it’s just not for me.

I don’t want to be a sex symbol, I don’t want my music to be overseen by my sexuality. I don’t want to be an artist who is paid attention to because of sexuality rather than art. I want to be able to express these things without it being entirely my persona. I don’t want to be over sexualized. I feel as a young female artist it’s easy to fall into that. I think there’s something powerful about being a sex symbol, it’s just not for me.

I can’t get over how much of a journey every one of your songs feels like, you are a visceral song writer… your lyrics and your music blend so beautifully together to take us someone somewhere—and nowhere is that better understood than in “Mourning.” So I guess my question is where are you taking us and what will it be like when we get there? I’m speaking both about mourning but also of the whole EP as a piece of art?

I think the entire EP is a journey through love and through the opposite of love; through mental illness, metamorphosis, strength and graciousness and growth. Especially through “Mourning,” it talks about issues I had with my mind and through this philosophical confusion that I was going through. Losing touch with reality, but in the end it’s expressing how you can heal.

There’s a line “you close your eyes to relearn to see.” Just to be more aware of the miracles around me. I think it’s a journey of not seeing anything in reality and then breaking through that and then realizing that everything around you is a miracle. You can plant your feet into the ground. It’s a story of the process of healing. My music will continue to explore that because I don’t think I’ll be grounded for a long time… but this EP is an exploration of youth and my healing through out it.

Ok, so. The Rideau River, you grew up on it. I live in an apartment on the river right now. I’m actually looking at it right now. How did your environment, the capital E environment, nature—how did your environment shape you; where do you find it in your work?

I feel like growing up, in a more natural environment, is easier to see these immense godly miracles around you when you’re in the natural world. These big beautiful trees with these big roots, and the moss and how everything is so alive and how everything smells different in each season and the water and it’s movement. It’s all very inspiring, I think it really shaped my knowledge of miracles and gratefulness.

Now that I live in the city, it’s harder to see. You’re surrounded by big manmade things. I think it’s important to see miracles in those things too. In terms of my music there’s such beautiful imagery in the natural world around us. A lot of times sunrises/sunsets, the tide coming out, the wind in the trees can be an excellent metaphor for things going on in your personal life. That was really important for my idea of songwriting. I was able to symbolize things through the natural world, the cyclicality. The way the natural world heals itself, and grows towards the sun.

Photo: Pedro Domingos/Apt613.

The three beat in “Alive and Well” is a technique audience will be familiar with, but what elevates it is the instrumentation. How do you play around with instrumentation?

The words express the feeling of the song, but the instrumentation supports and creates a soundtrack of what I want to get across. For me, it’s all about feeling and energy. I’m not a very technical musician, it’s all about feeling. It’s instinctual. Luckily I work with musicians who feel that way as well and they are so brilliantly talented. For “Alive and Well” I wanted it to feel like a dream, floating up in a pink sky. It was all about that feeling I wanted and I was so lucky having people who recognized that feeling I wanted and who could help me get there,

What do you want Ottawa audiences to find in your show?

I would love some familiarity. I haven’t played Ottawa in a long time but I used to play so many solo shows there. So I hope they come feeling nostalgic. I have grown and changed so much even though I’ve lived in Montreal for just over a year. I want them to come and see how much time has passed since I played there. I want them to reflect on themselves and see how much they’ve grown as well. We’re playing a classy to the point set, and I hope people can drift away. Connect to the things I’m singing about and just groove with the music without being self conscious. I hope people aren’t on their phones too much as well.

Stream Jasmine Trails’ new record on Bandcamp and Spotify.