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Photo by by Foxx Foto, courtesy of Rae Spoon.

Rae Spoon on self-care, mentorship, and touring while trans

By Lee Pepper on February 19, 2016



Rae Spoon’s new album, Armour, comes out today.  Their cross-Canada tour in support of it will be coming to Ottawa on Friday, February 26th.  We chatted with them by phone about the album, the tour, and Ottawa.

armourRae Spoon has released 8 albums, two books, and an autobiographical documentary, and their work often reflects intensely personal experiences of trauma, family, reckoning with gender identity and sexuality, and surviving in the music business and in the world as a queer and trans person.  In their new album, they grapple with the consequences of having shared so much of themself so publicly.

In an interview with CBC Music, Spoon wrote, “Armour, for me, symbolizes a negotiation of how much protection you need for yourself in different arenas.”  The album focuses on the ways we care for ourselves and one other.

You can hear all of Armour and read track-by-track commentary from Spoon, on CBC Music.

Apt613: Your tour hasn’t yet started– do you have things you do to prepare for going on tour?

Rae Spoon: Practicing the new songs!  And also lifting weights, trying to get my immune system ready for tour.

You produced the new record yourself. How was that, and do you think you will be doing more producing?

I wanted to start producing for other people, so I started with myself. A producer’s role is making the calls, making decisions about what sounds good and being sure of yourself. So it’s a matter of exercising that, deciding whether something is good or not. It’s hard to have the final say. But it was really great, and in the end I really enjoyed it.

You’ve mentioned elsewhere that one of the themes of Armour is that “there is no instruction manual for healthy adulthood”. With that being said, what are some forms of armour or self-preservation skills that have been helpful to you?

There’s no amount of damage
that we can’t withstand.
We are not made to be broken
even by our own hands.

– Rae Spoon, in the title track to Armour.

There especially isn’t an instruction manual for musicians, it’s such an extreme lifestyle! I have a music life, and then I have a home life.  I’m always scrambling to do those things, like eat vegetables, and sleep, go to the gym, all the things you’re supposed to do. And then on tour, that all just goes away, and I’m just going.  So for me, it’s about being home enough to balance that out. A lot of people who are artists ask me about quitting their jobs to be an artist, and I always say it’s good to do both. You still need the balance.

How have you been able to keep your regular life and your music life separate?

I’ve been home more than I used to be. I used to play like 250 shows a year, and I don’t do that anymore. Taking breaks, I don’t go across Canada and then fly to Europe from there. It’s just a matter of being home more than half the time.

What advice would you have for other trans or gender-nonconforming folks who play music or tour?

Like for establishing a music career?

Photo by JJ Levine, from Rae Spoon's website.

Photo by JJ Levine, from Rae Spoon’s website.

Or just because, playing music and touring is stressful at the best of time, and when you’re negotiating people’s assumptions, and mistakes, it’s even more stressful.

Oh shoot, I forgot about that, goddamn it!


I guess I have to leave my house!

I think the main thing, when you’re touring, is to try and have friends in every town who do know your pronouns. You can find people through reaching out to friends of friends, and they don’t necessarily have to be queer to get your pronoun right. For me, I do have good friends in every city, so you have people around who know your pronoun.  Also, if you seek out people who are at least friends with other gender-nonconforming bands, that can always work too.

And you can choose who you play with, a lot of the time, so you can choose acts who you know and who are more likely to be respectful. But that’s really hard at first, I think at first you kind of have to play anywhere, and I definitely went through that myself. Gendering is so common.  I think having breaks and being at home, in your house, where you’re not worrying about it, are important.

A friend of mine mentioned that you’d been a guest speaker at Camp Ten Oaks for kids in LGBTQ communities.  What was that like?

It was really cool. Ten Oaks is cool because it’s the children of LGBTQ folks, and I think it’s an important camp, because not all the children of LGBTQ folks are LGBTQ themselves, but they share so much in the culture of LGBTQ [communities].  I think having a specific camp is really important.  For me it was really great: growing up, I didn’t know a lot of out LGBTQ people.  And there’s youth from all over that go there, maybe a kid with two gay dads, who lives in Thunder Bay. And ultimately they don’t talk all day about how they have LGBTQ parents, they just have fun together. I think it removes that as a thing they’d have to be worried about.  It was good to see them so relaxed.

Do you do a lot of mentor-ish stuff?

Last year, I was in Calgary at Camp Fyrefly, the arts residence. I do speaking engagements more often now.  I’m speaking in Edmonton at the ??? Pride Centre, I’m speaking at York in Toronto, I have a discussion at UQAM in Montreal, all during this tour, it just weaves its way into the music tour. People are just like, come talk about bodies, or gender, and I’ll try to write something. It’s really interesting, and an unexpected benefit of writing books.

9781551525372_GenderFailureI actually just gave my copy of Gender Failure [a 2014 book of autobiographical essays co-written by Spoon and writer Ivan E. Coyote about trying, and failing, to fit into the gender binary]  to my dad to read.

Sweet. It has a really good track record with parents, although I don’t market it that way.

You should!

Have you spent much time here in Ottawa, and do you have any favourite spots in the city?

I lived in Montreal for six years, so I’ve been playing in Ottawa since 2003, so I’ve been around there, and in places like Wakefield.  I really like the House of Targ, the pinball place with the perogies, that’s where I like to hang out.

Is there any new music or other art that you’re especially excited about lately and would like to mention?

I have a band releasing a record on my label on April 29th: they’re from Toronto, and they’re calledLAL. They’ve been around for years, it’s electronic music, and they’re really really good!  I’ve been working on their tour right now, so that’s the music I’m really excited about.  They will be coming to play in Ottawa, in May at Pressed.

I’m excited about playing with Glenn Nuotio, he’s awesome.

I had a little bit of an “ear break”, lately, after my record came out, and then I was co-producing another record this week, for Kris Demeanour, he’s an Alberta artist.  He wanted to make an electronic album, so we were doing that.

I was listening to the new Rihanna album.  And I should be listening to that new Beyonce song, I should be doing that. I mostly listen to pop music, for better or worse.

This interview has been edited.

Rae Spoon will be playing at Pressed on Friday, January 26th, at 7 pm.  Glenn Nuotio is opening.  The show is now sold out. For more information, see the Facebook event. You can hear all ofArmour on CBC Music, or buy it on Bandcamp.  You can learn more about Rae Spoon on their website, or find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.