Rose Cousins experiences life as a human. The east coast roots-balladeer dreams big, and writes big. Armed with a dynamic set of pipes, Cousins distils our species’ grandest themes into dreamy vignettes that seamlessly pivot from whisper-quiet confessionals, to titanic pronouncements.
Despite years of critical and industry acclaim, Cousins re-jigged her priorities at the end 2013. She spent some time travelling, songwriting in meccas like LA and Nashville, and got back into photography, spending hours printing in NSCAD’s dark rooms.
Last year she returned with “Natural Conclusion”, a candle-lit, epsom bath of emotive balladry. Lyrically impressionistic, she’s leaves the metaphorical heavy-lifting up to the listener. Minimalist song titles like “Freedom”, “Chosen”, “Grace”, harken to a simpler time in pop music, when a creep was a “Creep”, hurt was “Hurt”, and songs about spoon men were called “Spoonman”.
Rolf Klausener: Dream gig to open-up for? Rose Cousins: Sting, but only if I got to meet him. I’d like KD Lang, Bonnie Raitt and Adele’s audiences to adopt me.
That’s incredibly fair. Who’s your dream opening act? Drake
Heavy. I’d love to see that with my human eyes. What’s your favourite venue in Canada? This is where I say the NAC right?
Only if you mean it with your physical heart. Do you associate Ottawa with the National Arts Centre, or as having its own scene? When I started, my “Ottawa” experience was playing the Blacksheep Inn. It associated Ottawa with some of the best fans and listening audiences. Since the NAC’s program to develop new artists has been in play, it’s expanded my experience of growth as an artist and expanded the experience an audience can have of a variety of shows. It’s an opportunity I deeply appreciate.
With that, what significance does playing the NAC hold for you? It’s an opportunity to expand the idea of a show to reach new heights. Filling a grander space, not necessarily with more sound but with more ideas. This time, I’ll be bringing a string quartet along with my band.
Who doesn’t love strings!? Do you think performing arts centres like the NAC are the right place for contemporary popular music like trap or drone-metal? It makes perfect sense that the National Arts Centre would be a good place and presenter of our diverse Canadian talent.
It really does. How did the experience of writing-on-assignment in Nashville and LA affect your approach to the songs that followed? It has only broadened my skills. I adjust my approach based on what the song is for, especially if I’m writing to a brief; but, my experience as a human will always inform the way I write no matter what it’s for.
Humanity is vital. Since the early 2000’s, there’s been a marked shift in attitudes towards song placement in film and tv. For writers with solid publishing deals, syncs are an essential part of their financial sustainability. How has that shift in attitudes affected your process as a songwriter? Luckily, there will always be death, birth and breakups in Film and TV, so I don’t have to do much shifting as a songwriter. Songs in movies have always been my favourite. So, my existing tendencies lend to this shift in revenue streams.
Flexibility is key! So, how do you separate the “songwriting for me” Rose, from the “I’m gonna nail this sync” Rose? I don’t.
What happens when three singer-songwriters meet, become friends, and start to help each other out? I had a chance to sit down with Carleton Stone, Breagh Mackinnon, and Dylan Guthro, who all grew up in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Each having their own successful background in music, they told me about how they came together at the Gordie Sampson Songcamp, and from there, Port Cities was born.
Each a successful solo musician in their own right, it is no surprise that their collaboration has become its own fusion of sound, making their experimental vibe unique. Since meeting their mentor/friend Gordie Sampson, they have been working to create, perfect, and record their debut album. When asked to describe the journey of making this album they simply said “meat and potatoes.” Insisting that the album, which they have been working on for a year, has been worked down to the core. Expanding on the DIY style of writing and recording they have chosen, something that is both accessible and nourishing to the tight-knit music community they know and love.*
Port Cities revisited Ottawa, opening for folk power-house Rose Cousins on February 17th at the NAC. Listening live, their harmonies silenced the lively room of eager Rose Cousins fans. A crowd comfortable with artist interaction they sat mesmerized by the young singer-songwriters. Between songs, the crowd did not hesitate to let the trio know how they were feeling, making comments like “I can’t wait until you play at my house!” in reference to a tour contest the group is putting on to win a house show.
They promised their set wouldn’t make you cry like Rose’s inevitably did. (Trust me, you would have cried. Been there, done that, got the T-Shirt… literally) They were right, and started the show off on a strong high note, and kept the momentum from start to finish.
What’s next for Port Cities? They have a new album, and they are out to show the country. (You can give this debut EP a listen here.) They have been touring the country with folk power-house Rose Cousins, who has also recently released a new album.
My recommendation? Keep an eye out for these folks.
*Inspiration for their music is drawn from the artists’ personal tastes and backgrounds. When asked what song they didn’t write but wish they had, two of the three musicians mentioned Paul Simon’s Graceland.
October is breast cancer awareness month and a group of Canadian “babes” are doing their part to raise money for the cause.
This year’s Babes4Breasts is a National Benefit Concert fundraising for a variety of Breast Cancer charities. The concert is taking place tomorrow, Thursday, October 24th at Southminster United Church. Doors open at 7:30pm and the show gets underway at 8pm. Five excellent performers will be tickling your ear drums as they sit on stage together in a song circle for this great cause. They are Ana Miura (organizer), Amanda Rheaume, Lyndell Montgomery, Matthew Barber and James Keelaghan. Tickets are only $20 in advance, and proceeds go to help find a cure to a disease that touches us all.
Another of the great Babes4Breasts’s initiatives is the compilation album they recently released. The 15-song album features Rose Cousins, Jenn Grant, Oh Susanna with Jim Bryson, Amanda Rheaume, Matthew Barber, and many more. The wonderful mix of beautiful songs is available digitally on iTunes or can be ordered in physical format here. The CD will also be available at the show, for those looking to double up their contribution. Proceeds from the sale of these albums will go to a variety of breast cancer related charities including the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, the Canadian Cancer Society, and more.
Babes4Breasts was built from a desire to do good and unite women across the country. Founder Ana Miura enlisted the help of many talented, female musicians (and male musicians) and has raised over $50,000 to date!