I’ve been captivated by the music of Toronto-based Abigail Lapell since the first moment I heard her music a couple of years ago. Abigail had been on my radar since our paths often cross at festivals and conferences in our mutual acoustic music world of singer-songwriters. Abigail’s music is as other-worldly as it is grounded in pure solid everyday emotions.
Abigail Lapell plays an irresistible melange of songs that tell tales of people, places, and things that evoke wistfulness and nostalgia with hope and vibrancy. Highlights of Abigail’s music career include winning Best Contemporary Folk Album from the Canadian Folk Music Awards as well as recently being named to the 2020 Class of Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk!
You can find out more about Abigail on her website.
Take a look at this amazingly produced video for “Down by the Water.”
Listening to your music, I sense a real connection to nature in so many of your songs. Is being outside and communing with the environment something that nourishes your soul and thus has a major influence on your music?
Absolutely, I’m definitely inspired by a lot of natural imagery in my songs, and I love getting the chance to work on music in a more remote setting, so that probably seeps in as well. I’ve only lived in big cities and I love the feeling of privacy being out in the country or the woods. And anywhere near water. Touring coast-to-coast I’m also lucky to get to see some pretty majestic landscapes, if only in the rearview mirror.
Do you have any memorable experience in nature that specifically influenced one song in particular?
The song “Shape of a Mountain” on my last album I wrote during a musicians’ residency at the Banff Centre, up in the Rocky Mountains. It’s such a magical place, and the mountains were such a direct visual inspiration for this song. It isn’t really a literal narrative, but the lyrics are kind of a slideshow of all these natural vistas, trying to capture the epic beauty of these landscapes but also a humbling, almost lonesome quality they can sometimes evoke (for a road-weary traveler, at least).
Do you have any favorite musicians whose music you admire? Have you met any of your favorite musicians and been able to thank them for the inspiration?
Most of my favourite musicians are friends slash locals I’ve gotten to collaborate or play shows with over the years. Some current faves include Zinnia (Rachael Cardiello), Dana Sipos, Shawn William Clarke, Merival, Richard Laviolette. I’m a huge fan of The Weather Station’s Tamara Lindeman, also from Toronto — she was an artist mentor at the Banff Centre last time I was there, and it was great getting to chat about songwriting and get really nerdy.
You’ve recorded three albums thus far. What would you say are the pain points of recording and the joyous moments? Do you like the experience of recording?
I’m more at home writing and playing live versus recording, honestly. Recording is challenging for me but it has gotten easier over time, and I’ve been lucky to have more resources to work with on the last album, and a great team of production personnel and players.
Basically the hardest thing for me is feeling pressure as a performer, in particular as a singer, to sing well or sing a certain way, in what is not the most natural setting. And then overthinking all of the above, which is never a good place to be coming from. In the studio there is this combination of almost infinite choices and, at the same time, the finality of committing to just ONE of the available options. But don’t get me wrong, that’s also the joy of it and can be so exhilarating; and I’m slowly finding ways to work that are more comfortable or successful, like trying to record as much as possible live-off-the-floor, with a band I know well, so it feels more like an organic performance. And all of that said, I LOVE seeing/hearing everything come together, I adore collaborating with other players, adding overdubs, especially writing and performing harmony ideas, all those finishing touches (or as I call it, “the fun part”). Hearing the finished product come to life is like one of my greatest joys, so worth it for sure.
Your touring has taken you all over North American and Europe. I’m intrigued by the various modes of transportation that you have used on those tours, including a canoe! How did that tour work out?
It’s true, so many great adventures on the road — including two tours by bike! But doing it on a river was a whole other thing, probably the most logistically challenging. The canoe tour took place on the Grand River in Ontario, just outside Toronto. We visited around 10 towns and communities on the route, camping out at parks along the river. In a few cases we had to “cheat” and take buses or taxis to our venue in town, but in some cases we pulled right up to our destination and played unplugged on the river bank. And all our actual tour travel was entirely paddle-powered.
You have worked as an artist in residence during your music career. What does that exactly mean? What is your main responsibility as an artist in residence?
There are so many different artist residencies offered in all kinds of different formats, so I think it can mean any number of different things. Personally, I’ve done more isolated writing-retreat-type programs, where my main responsibilities were eating, sleeping and making art — which as it sounds like, is literally a dream come true. I’m incredibly grateful for those experiences — especially because, going back to the nature theme, they were held in beautiful surroundings outside the hustle of the city.
I think a lot of artist residences can involve different levels of community engagement, collaboration or public performance, sometimes to the point of incorporating a teaching or mentoring role, like holding office hours or exhibiting/performing publicly. And some programs offer more of an artist-colony vibe with other artists either collaborating or in community together. For me, being such a loner, I’ve loved having at least the option of getting some solitary work and nature time. But I would also love to challenge myself to do different kinds of programs in the future if the opportunity arose.
I just say that your videos are mesmerizing is so many different ways! You surprised me with one of your recent videos — “Down by the Water” which depicts you as a female boxer. I love the fact that you even have a “behind the scenes” video with your creative team. Can you explain the concept between the gorgeous “Down by the Water” and this video?
Yeah the director Michael Clowater came up with the concept — he wanted to do something a bit unexpected, outside the usual folk idiom. And he started trying my song out in the background with these old classic boxing films and realized the sort of pathos of the song really resonated with the melancholy figure of the boxer, who often in films is like this reluctant, tragic hero figure. The song itself is a springtime song, it’s loosely about getting away and starting fresh after a loss, themes of renewal and redemption. Not so much about boxing… but it works!
I happened to see on your twitter feed that you’re trying to limit your screen time a bit, especially during this time of COVID-quarantining. Has the lack of connection to the digital world helped your creative spirit?
YES, I recently started doing one day a week “screen-free” and it’s been amazing. It’s really peaceful and also provides a bit of a reset for the rest of the week. When you’re self-employed or working from home (slash probably true for anyone nowadays) there’s that thing where you’re never NOT working — there’s always one more email, something to check on socials, something beeping or buzzing. The tech-free day feels like a *real* day off, like people used to have. Which I realize is a luxury, and not something I could do as easily in normal times, being on the road etc., BUT I’d like to keep something of it going in some form. And for now it’s also helping bring a bit of structure to the week.
So yeah, I guess it all comes back to nature, retreating, getting away… I aim to capture a bit of that feeling without leaving my home.
One more dorky thing I have to point out! I love the font that you use for your name in all your videos. I love the branding. Kudos to you or whoever it was who chose that font! (The little things matter and consistency is good!)
Ooooh! Fun fact: I’m actually a giant font and typeface nerd. If it’s what I’m thinking of, it’s IM Fell DW Pica and is FREE (along with a bunch of other “fell” font families) based on an old typesetting font. And I’ve used it for everything since my first album, all my graphics, album art and all over my website etc. Anyway, glad someone noticed — thank you for the kind words! 🙂