The Tempest of Gabrielle Papillon is a gothic-folk wonderland

Photo by Courtney Lee Yip

by Carey Rutherford

Sorry, sorry sorry!! Missed Gabrielle Papillon’s first few shows in her current tour from the West Coast inward, but nobody’s perfect, are they?

So she’s been in Victoria; she’s been in Vancouver, and soon, after a detour to Edmonton, she’ll be here (September 16th) in Calgary’s Festival Hall: take note!

“I take aim with every phrase . . . “ she notes on her brightly dark folk-bluesy, echoey woods album of stories told poetically. Which seems like a good time to ask about presenting such musics when touring solo In Canada:

“I frequently tour with a band in the regional context. I am based in Halifax, (and the format when I go to the) West Coast really depends on the nature of the gig. This tour I’m doing as an opening slot (for Lisa LeBlanc), so it’s not really feasible (because of the divided profits and resources) to bring a band.

“The truth of the matter is that when I write it’s just me and a guitar. I’m very wordy, and the words and the melody are fundamentally the core of the song.”

Gabrielle mentions that she’s toured solo for 4 or 5 years, the new album alone has a lot of material on it (13 tracks!), and finally breaks with modesty and reveals “I do a pretty good live show,” which is not surprising from hearing the depth and textures on this new release: someone’s been messing with the folk themes and backgrounds. But the fact that she equipped herself with an MA in History feeds into the folk-music agenda:

“Yeah, to some extent the breadth of what I’m writing about is wider than love songs, but if we’re talking categories, I like to call it ‘orchestral folk’, or ‘indie-pop folk’, because for me, the truth is that my influences lie between Radiohead and Bjork and Tori Amos, which is all big orchestral stuff, and The Band and the McGarrigle Sisters and The Beatles, which my parents listened to a lot of.. . . .So there’s a confluence of things in some songs: ‘Preach Love’ is not a very folkie song, but the words are to some extent.

“But I think sometimes we do a disservice to pop music, when we assume that it’s got to be about one topic only. There are some AMAZING pop songs that have lyrics that are complex and about a lot of different things.”

Now comes the ‘do yourself a favour’ section of the concert promo: “Well Beneath”, the last track on the album, is a remarkable minimalist example of what she has just said, however . . .

“It’s virtually impossible to play live; I knew it when I wrote it.. . . . I have 5 guitars just lying around the house (and) I was playing around with open D tunings, and (this) guitar is really old, and resonates really well. And I was just shifting on the couch, and my knee knocked it, and it resonated . . . this beautiful chord. (It became) about the theme and the mood and the layers and how big I wanted it to be at the end.”

It’s a REMARKABLE song, so someone should ask her to do it . . . live. We then compare this imagined pop intimacy with a lot of the rest of the album, which doesn’t even mention ‘I’ or ‘you’ or ‘me’. Instead, more like traditional folk, it engages large themes, larger groups of people and their issues: things ‘we’ do, It seems.

“I was reading a lot of newspapers,” she laughs. “When I’m on the road . . . I tend to be pretty oblivious to the world. (So I was at home) and suddenly I was reading and writing all day long. And frankly the news is not always positive stuff, and I was pretty mad half of the time, and frustrated, and also just moved, by what I was reading.”

And when you go to hear her play, (which you WILL, right), you will be moved as well.