Rae Spoon: From Beyond The Armour
By Mark Anthony Brennan
Veteran singer-songwriter Rae Spoon’s music has undergone some shifts in style since they started out as a country/roots performer. Electronics seeped into their repertoire with 2008’s Superioryouareinferior and became more of a fixture on subsequent albums.
“I guess the three albums before [My Prairie Home] I was more into the electronics,” says Spoon. “Not like EDM – it’s still singer-songwriter based. It’s not the structure of what dance music is.”
The electronic influence came from working with musician Alexandre Decoupigny, whom they met in Berlin while on tour through Europe. Decoupigny taught Spoon how to create music on a computer, something that influenced their musical approach. That is, until it came to 2013’s My Prairie Home.
“The last album I made had a lot of the folk stuff on it again,” they say, “but that was because it was about growing up in Alberta. I ended up revisiting gospel music and country, but also grunge.”
The making of My Prairie Home was a different experience for Spoon, and not only because of their return to more rootsy music. The album was actually the soundtrack to the documentary movie directed by Chelsea McMullan. It featured both musical performances and interviews with Spoon regarding their troubled childhood and experiences with gender confusion. In making the documentary Spoon had to come to terms with opening up to the public, but they also learnt what to keep hidden.
“I think most people can probably relate to that on some level – choosing where their vulnerabilities are. In relationships as well. At the same time that I was doing this very public thing I had my spouse with me. So while we were touring the world with this film we were learning about different levels of vulnerability at the same time.”
That experience was the inspiration for the song “Armour” from their new album of the same name. Overall, Armour does not feature any particular motif in terms of its subject matter, which is an approach that Spoon found somewhat novel given that their other albums have been themed. The title track, however, does relate back their experiences with the previous album.
“The song “Armour” is a something I wrote while I was touring with the film. So the song came from that negotiating in public the personal. Addressing where those boundaries are. So the song is about tying that all together.”
After their experience with My Prairie Home, Spoon found it a welcome change to simply write about whatever came into their head. The new album also gave them the opportunity to get back to the electronic style they had been exploring previously.
“I guess I was trying to get back to that kind of sound but also incorporating a live drum kit, electric bass and a bunch of organic instruments. Kind of blend them all together with the electronic stuff so that it’s hard to tell what’s what. I feel they can’t exist without one another. It’s hard to make electronic music that sounds emotional, so there is always an element of bringing in organic instruments to tie it back in to what I’m doing. Something between my voice and all of the electronic stuff.”
Including live drums, bass and other instruments necessitated the use of other musicians. Despite being a solo act, working with collaborators is nothing new for Spoon.
“I usually get a bass player to play the bass lines. I do think the sound of other people adds to the music. [Laughs]. Probably why people play music together. Alex [Decoupigny] and I had a lot of the tracks lined up and then I went into the studio in Calgary and finished up the record by adding kits and so on.”
Spoon collaborated with Lorrie Matheson (owner/operator of Arch Audio Studios in Calgary), and Decoupigny handled electronic arrangements. With Spoon still doing the bulk of the heavy lifting, including the production. In that regard, modern technology provides a solution to one age-old problem – getting personnel together in the same room at the same time.
“It’s pretty interesting because we’re passing the files back forth,” says Spoon, “then I would go in and add some more and then mix it. It was fast, over pretty quick. It only took about nine days in Calgary to record it and mix it. It came together quite quickly. I was working with a lot of people I’ve worked with before. That kind of helped that we already knew each other.”
That familiarity and ease translates into an album that feels natural and unforced. Spoon is clearly an artist who is comfortable in their own musical skin. It’s a self-assuredness that is also reflected in the lyrical approach. If My Prairie Home looks reflectively to the past, then Armour looks confidently forward to a brave new future.