Music Interview: Christine Fellows’ feline inspiration

When Christine Fellows performs at the Calgary Folk Festival this weekend, she’ll have to leave an integral part of her band at home, her cat, Slap.

Listen attentively to Fellows’ new album Paper Anniversary as Slap’s purring–or throat singing as it is credited–provides background accompaniment to the track “Instructions on How to Dissect a Ground Owl.” A cat purring, birds chirping or the wind rustling through prairie grasses are indicative of Fellows’ dedication to maintain organic elements in her “avant-folk” style, which combines haunting melodies and evocative lyrics with a backdrop of diverse musical instruments and the occasional field recording.

“I don’t like the clean studio kind of sounds where you eliminate the human element,” says Fellows of her eclectic style. “It’s so tempting to do that because we have the technology available to do that, to clean things up real nice.”

Fellows escapes the recording studio entirely in the creation of Paper Anniversary, which was recorded in her Winnipeg home. This relaxed setting provided the inspiration for many of the album’s songs, including turning an old Julio Cortazar poem into a song.

“I wanted to set that poem [“Instructions on How to Dissect a Ground Owl”] to music and it took me a long time to figure out what to do,” remarks Fellows. “The cat was sitting on my lap while I was playing the piano, trying to figure something out and I had the headphones on. I was recording what I was doing and I just stopped and just recorded the cat and sort of played to the cat.”

In addition to her cat, Fellows collaborated on Paper Anniversary with Weakerthans’ drummer Jason Tait, and long-time friend, and accomplished cello player Leanne Zacharias, both of whom will join her on stage at the Calgary Folk Fest. Fellows is looking forward to her Calgary Folk-Fest stop-over, which will be a welcome reprieve from the bar scene she has been playing on her current Hazard Lights at Rush Hour tour.

“Calgary–and I’m not just saying this because you’re from Calgary–it is my favourite festival,” says Fellows. “I played it in 2001 and I had such an amazing experience. I love the workshops, which are usually quite a challenge because it’s such a weird environment being up there with strangers and anything can happen.”

Anything may happen during Fellows’ own performance. Her style has been constantly evolving while on the road, depending on which artists accompany her in each city.

“Some of the songs from Paper Anniversary are kind of hard to do live but I’m going to try this time,” says Fellows. “Most of the material from all of my records has changed because of tours. We make the sounds we can make depending on who we have.”

Slap the cat, however, will not be making a guest appearance.

“I can’t get the cat to come,” says Fellows with a laugh. “He would just be hateful.”

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