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Debut album from Calgary's Hermitess a bewitching blend

Jennifer Crighton has been a busy member of the Calgary music scene for the past decade, having played in such psych-indie rock bands as Deadhorse, Devonian Gardens and The Consonant C.

The singer, songwriter and harpist recently released her debut album under the moniker, Hermitess. Ethereal and melancholic, Hermitess is a bewitching blend of ancient folk chants, new age melodies and modern indie pop sensibilities.

Most of the album’s tracks were written in the winter of 2015 during a two-week stay at the Hill House Artist Residency Program in northern Michigan, where Crighton spent much of her time in solitude.

“I wanted to go somewhere to write, somewhere that would present a significant change of scenery and the chance to really focus on this one thing,” says Crighton, who is also a visual artist and experimental filmmaker.

Hermitess’s official album launch show takes place Friday at the Sunalta Hall, 1627  10th Ave. S.W., with guests Kenna Burima and Dark Time.

Postmedia spoke with Crighton about the album and fighting against harp stereotypes:

Q: When did the idea for Hermitess first present itself?

A: The name is just the right description for where I am and what I needed to say with this project.

When the name came to me, it was as if it had always been there waiting for me to claim it. The Hermitess archetype highlights who I am in many ways, and also acts as a guiding tone for the project overall. The seed came at the end of a period of intense collaboration that left me feeling overextended and drained. At the time a friend of mine made the astute observation that I might be doing all of the over-collaborating to keep me from being alone with my own work, and that hit me pretty hard.

Q: In what ways did you and your music benefit most from the two-week residency in northern Michigan?

A: I headed out there in the dead of winter, early January, and there was a lot of snow.

All the airports were in chaos with a storm hitting the northeastern United States at the time. It was quite the quest to get there. And other than a few drop-offs of supplies and one night where I went into town with some staff from the organization for a beer, I was completely alone for two weeks.

I had not been writing songs regularly, nor had I written with the idea of having myself and the harp at the centre of a record.

To safeguard against procrastination and self-doubt, I made a rule for myself that I had to write one song a day. It didn’t need to be a keeper, I just had to get it done. As someone who places emotional timbre and mood in high regard, a big revelation for me was that I could write like this. (I needed to) clear the decks and ask the muses to meet me there to get the work done. In my experience the single biggest threat to creativity is a lack of time and space for uninterrupted focus. Make those two things priority and most artists will find inspiration flows.

Q: The album is very moody and hypnotic, do you feel there is an expectation to create that same atmosphere live? How do you do that?

The songs on this record all have repetitive drone elements. I think of them as having things in common with incantations, prayers and spells. I’m not overly concerned about reproducing what’s on the album for live shows however, and I don’t want a show to be the same thing as the album is. I play with a call list group at the moment, so who joins me for a given show and how we interpret the songs changes from show to show depending on who is there, and where we are performing.

Q: The harp stereotype is dreamy Celtic folk or the classical ‘heavenly harp.’ How do you push past those boundaries and are people surprised when they hear your work?

A: You hit the nail on the head. It’s impossible to play this instrument and not be referred to at some point as angelic. I have struggled with the cliche that comes with playing the harp, and those archetypes have often annoyed me. I’ve also exploited it. I used to play a lot for weddings and fancy hotels, often dressed in long flowing gowns. And I paid for a road trip down to California by busking in a fancy dress on Victoria’s Inner Harbour. I also had a regular gig performing in a mini medieval castle for intimate candlelit dinners. Those were things that helped me move forward and continue working as an artist.

Harp music that differs from the Celtic/ classical cliche exists all around the world if you look for it. There have been amazing jazz harpists, Japanese Koto players and African Kora music. South America has a totally macho harp culture where cowboys play harps in Mariachi bands, and those are just a few examples.

The other thing is that I’m not against making something that is beautiful, and I don’t think doing so is the antithesis of being impactful, serious and complex.

There is definitely a gendered angle to it. I see a lot of people, especially female-identified musicians, who play hard, noisy music maybe as a rebellion against being typecast as feminine. I’m not in any way against anyone finding their voice that way – I’ve been in noisy rock bands – but I also I don’t feel I need to do that with Hermitess.

The threat presented by the Sirens, who were often depicted as playing a harp, was a sound so beautiful sailors threw themselves with reckless abandon into a rocky sea. I should be so lucky.

Q: You were drawn to the harp thanks to seeing (Canadian composer and musician) Loreena McKennitt perform when you were young. What was the appeal for you?

A: My first instrument is the voice. When I was trying to find the right instrument to play, I wanted it to be able to sing with whatever I chose. My mom took me to see Loreena play, and apparently I slept through most of the concert but came out wanting to play the harp.

Loreena was a good storyteller and I remember the concert having big candelabras on stage and being really magical. Since then, I’ve had periods where I’ve feared sounding like Loreena or Enya and the like. But now I understand it was likely a bias informed by how society branded those women at the time. Really what am I afraid of? Both are skilled, hard-working musicians who have had enviable careers.

Q: How does visual art factor into what you do as a musician?

A: They are different facets of the same creative process. Words, images and sound are almost always combined in my work in some fashion, although this might be the first time I’ve really presented them cohesively under the same project title.

I’ve found that division between artistic genres is usually on the audience and venue side rather than with the artists when it comes to performance. I’ve presented the same kinds of work at dance and theatre venues, in art galleries and in music clubs. Each space accommodates a slightly different kind of reception.

 

 

FUENTE:

http://calgaryherald.com/entertainment/music/debut-album-from-calgarys-hermitess-a-bewitching-blend