Summer conversations with women in Canadian indie rock

By Andréa Rojas

How many 20-year-olds do you know who have had the gumption to tour completely by themselves, save for a few Greyhound bus tickets, a guitar and a pair of bespectacled eyes full of promise? Think of a Canadian version of Amelie Poulain; that is, if she was a little deeper, a little wiser and happened to like Bob Dylan more than rooting around for ripped-up photographs of strangers. Two summers later, Montreal rock poet Charlotte Cornfield is 22, finished her studies in jazz drumming and has percussive stints with four bands from North America and France anchored firmly under her sneaker-clad heel.

And to think that you might have thought she was just another girl with a guitar.

Calgary gets to take a peek through her indie-folk-coloured glass window July 31 at the Marquee Room and Aug. 1 at Higher Ground. This double-whammy tour stop in our city is one of many that Cornfield is making to promote her upcoming LP, Two Horses, her first full-length release after putting out two EPs in 2007 and 2009. A refreshing break from the vocals and melodies submerged in a fishbowl of distortion that seem to be dominating college radio as of late, Charlotte’s lyrics and musical phrases are candid, soulful and poetic without being pedantic or pretentious. In appreciation of this, the Gauntlet asked Charlotte to share bits and pieces of words and music with us on an appropriately sunny day.

The Gauntlet: What prompted your change in focus from being a jazz drummer to a folk singer-songwriter?

Charlotte Cornfield: I wouldn’t say I was ever just a jazz drummer. I’ve always been pretty diversified when it comes to music. In fact, I studied jazz drumming because that was the closest thing I could study to what I really wanted to do, which was [to] just play all sorts of styles of drums. Rock ‘n’ roll, pop and folk music is closest to my heart, definitely, in every way. I started writing songs and playing drums at the same time, so I’ve always done both. It just so happened that my solo thing has taken off a bit and that [is] obviously the music I’ve written myself, so it’s pretty important to me. But it’s also really important to me to play drums, and so I have a couple of rock bands that I play in and a jazz band called Takk that’s playing a lot in Montreal.

G: Your summer tour includes a full festival schedule– North by Northeast in Toronto, Sunshine Music Festival in Powell River, B.C., The Hillside Festival in Guelph and Skeleton Park Music Festival in Montreal. What do you like about playing festivals versus doing smaller-venue touring?

CC: Festivals, I think, are my favourite thing to play because they’re outside. A lot of it happens during the day, there is a ton of people, everyone’s there just to have a good time and you meet so many other bands. I’ve made some of my best friends at festivals [through] meeting other bands and meeting people . . . [it’s] like a big community event. Playing in a club is a little bit different. You roll into town and you roll out. But [with] a festival, you generally spend a few days there.

G: How long has Two Horses been in the works?

CC: Two Horses has been in the works for quite a while . . . for me, an album is a piece of art and it’s a start-to-finish story and it’s really important to pour your soul into it, so I wanted to wait until I finished school [to release it]. [I] got it mastered in early 2011 in Montreal, and now have just started the process of planning the release. It takes a while with these things. It’s like a movie– they come out a couple years after they’re filmed. Some people just make records and put them out that day, but I wanted to have the plan in place and make sure that it’s all going to be slated to go.

G: Would you say that there’s a theme tying this LP together?

CC: Two Horses refers to a few different things. Basically, it follows the start-to-finish of an affair and all that comes with it. So [the] “two horses” are two people, two lovers. For me, I’ve always felt pulled by the cities of Montreal and Toronto. So it’s those two cities, different paths, different things in life. It basically runs the gauntlet of being pulled apart by two different places. Also, [it represents the album’s] main musical forces. Half the tunes are fleshed-out rock tunes– pop-y songs– [and] the other half are more melodic, more introspective.

G: The theme of duality is apparent, so why use the metaphor of horses?

CC: Well, it was something someone once said to me: “I feel like I’m being pulled by two horses.” I thought [that] was really powerful. The name of the last tune on the record [will] tie everything together. In [making] a record, there [are] so many things you can do. You can rack your brain and give up and say “My record is called, oh, I don’t know, ‘Socks,’” but I’m like, “Why is it called ‘Socks?’” I just really wanted to do it properly so that really stood out as being a right thing.

G: Do you see any other “horses” in your future?

CC: I basically just want to make records. I want to make good records and write great songs and be able to sustain myself doing my music and just be a force in the music community and reach people. I mean, that’s what we [artists] all want to do: reach people with our music.

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