Features

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Wallgrin

Siren Songs

“I’ve always had the ambition to take [music] seriously, I’ve always wanted to go at it all out,” says Tegan Wahlgren when I ask her what it was like to take her fiddle and loop pedal from a passion project, to recording a full-length album. A project with earnest beginnings in 2014, Wahlgren has always had big plans for her music under the moniker of Wallgrin. Over the course of the interview, my discussion with Tegan drifts between the integrity of pop music, creating a genuine artistic practice, and mythology.

Tegan uses Wallgrin to explore sound, be it screeching or harsh violin riffs, the more experimental the better. Her new album, Bird/Alien (to be released early 2017) plays on unconventional noises with fantastical lyrics, providing listeners a distinct sonic experience. The album plays on her own interpretation of a sci-fi aesthetic, and is heavily based in motifs of mythology. Often beginning experimentally, she starts with melodies, then layers walls of sound, then adds lyrics. It builds a portrait of Wallgrin and the mythological women whom she channels.

Wallgrin || Photography by Pat Valade for Discorder Magazine
Wallgrin || Photography by Pat Valade for Discorder Magazine

Taking inspiration from musicians like Björk and Kate Bush, Wallgrin isn’t afraid to wear her influences on her sleeve. Especially in her first single from Bird/Alien, “Ae’aea,” Wallgrin serves up some lively string motifs accompanied by a drum beat and of course, her ever unique wispy alto. “I want to juxtapose beauty and dissonance, that’s what my main focus is right now,” says Wallgrin.

Wallgrin || Photography by Pat Valade for Discorder Magazine
Wallgrin || Photography by Pat Valade for Discorder Magazine

Bird/Alien, so it would seem, is a continuation of the experimental combination of sounds that began with Wallgrin’s self-titled EP from June 2015. This time around, Wallgrin is drawing on ruthless harpies, banshees, and sirens as reference points, paying homage to these underappreciated beasts. A reclamation of the “shrill witchy woman,” Wallgrin weaves their personas in her music, as ever-relevant images and engrossing unsung tales:

“Often people use these words to discredit women, but what draws me to most to [these] mythological figures is their ruthlessness … and I want to give these women back a bit of their power.” It’s clear that in order to make music that encompasses the nuances of femininity while also reclaiming the images of merciless, powerful women requires someone who is in their very essence, a lover and supporter of impassioned female figures.

Wallgrin || Illustration by D. Magee for Discorder Magazine
Wallgrin || Illustration by D. Magee for Discorder Magazine
Wallgrin || Photography by Pat Valade for Discorder Magazine
Wallgrin || Photography by Pat Valade for Discorder Magazine

“I feel like I’m getting braver, if I want to have this authentic artistic practice … I need to say what I want to say,” explains Tegan. With this goal in mind, Wallgrin praises the bluntness of pop music, stating that non-mainstream music will soon move towards sincere and direct lyricism. To Tegan, however, songwriting is just second nature and is a “fluid process.” She expresses an interest in writing without the need to hide behind the façade of metaphors she finds to be a little too “safe,” suggesting perhaps there is something more to be desired considering the ambiguity of most lyrics. Maybe the approach of just rolling with whatever intense and sincere emotion felt is the most underrated quality in pop songwriting. Tegan explains, “People appreciate that kind of honesty and vulnerability … I want to be so honest [in my music].”

Wallgrin || Photography by Pat Valade for Discorder Magazine
Wallgrin || Photography by Pat Valade for Discorder Magazine

In mid-November 2016, Wallgrin released a music video for her first single off Bird/Alien. Under the direction of Matt Leaf, the video was inspired by the mythology of sirens filmed through the perspective of a woman in love with the siren. Filmed in Lynn Canyon, the video clashes nature with the imagery of space and otherworldly experiences.

Wallgrin || Illustration by D. Magee for Discorder Magazine
Wallgrin || Illustration by D. Magee for Discorder Magazine
Wallgrin || Photography by Pat Valade for Discorder Magazine
Wallgrin || Photography by Pat Valade for Discorder Magazine

Speaking to whether or not Wallgrin will incorporate more visual content in the future, Tegan says, “I’d love to do more music videos, but I want to figure out other visual, audio-visual immersive ways to express myself … I don’t know what it is yet … it needs to be something more.” To this end, Wallgrin is looking to continue making music under the lens of a fuller, more experimental, all-encompassing artistic practice.

Wallgrin || Photography by Pat Valade for Discorder Magazine
Wallgrin || Photography by Pat Valade for Discorder Magazine
Wallgrin || Photography by Pat Valade for Discorder Magazine
Wallgrin || Photography by Pat Valade for Discorder Magazine

Releasing Bird/Alien is quite literally only the beginning for Wallgrin. A seasoned musician with experience in classic, traditional, and experimental music, she is a force to watch out for.

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Wallgrin will be releasing Bird/Alien in early 2017. Visit wallgrin.bandcamp.com to listen to other recordings, and follow Wallgrin on social media for videos and more.

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Adèle Barclay

Words In The Dark

On my way to meet Adèle Barclay, she texts me to say she’s running late. I don’t think much about her message, too distracted by the news that a beloved Canadian poet has just died, and the ongoing political climate in America. So distracted, in fact, that I don’t consider that perhaps Adèle has been affected by the same things.

“That’s why I asked if we could meet later!” Adèle proclaims when I bring up the poet.  “I just found out, and I was like, ‘I have to go listen to some Leonard Cohen music, I’m not ready to leave the house!’”

As a poet, it’s understandable that Adèle would be so impacted by the loss of someone so adept at using words to convey the complexities of human experience and relationships. In many ways, Adèle’s incredible new poetry book If I Were In A Cage I’d Reach Out For You communicates similar ideas about human connection, and the messiness of all types of love.

“I was in New York on a research trip for my Ph.D, and I took a poetry workshop with the poet Brenda Shaughnessy. It was life changing,” says Barclay when I ask her about the book’s beginnings. “I had a handful of poems, but I was feeling out of step, and my Ph.D took over. I wanted to write a book but I didn’t really know if it would happen or if I could, and then I took this workshop, and [Brenda] really believed in my writing. It jolted me.”

Adèle Barclay || Photography by Jennifer Van Houten for Discorder Magazine
Adèle Barclay || Photography by Jennifer Van Houten for Discorder Magazine

In addition to spending time in New York, Adèle has also lived in Montreal, Victoria, Vancouver, and has spent a great amount of time moving from place to place. And while moving can be physically and emotionally grueling, Adèle has found ways to channel it into her writing.

When I ask how she feels her location influences her work, Adèle says, “I think the book is really obsessed with place, and how humans are tethered not only to each other, but to their surroundings.” She continues, “I’m interested and sensitive to how space shapes our relationships to each other. The poems [in the book] are to people, but they are also to people in specific places, or people in different places, and trying to build that metaphorical bridge, despite distance.”

Adèle Barclay || Illustration by Sharon Ko for Discorder Magazine
Adèle Barclay || Illustration by Sharon Ko for Discorder Magazine

The connections that Adèle has to those in her life is a compelling theme within her book, displayed most prominently by a collection of six poems titled ‘Dear Sara’ which Adèle refers to as a sort of ‘spine’ of the collection. These poems invoking an incredibly intimate space, giving readers a glimpse into Adèle’s world.

Adèle Barclay || Photography by Jennifer Van Houten for Discorder Magazine
Adèle Barclay || Photography by Jennifer Van Houten for Discorder Magazine

I like the direct address to a person,” she says, when I ask her about the personal poems. “A lot of my work is informed by people and relationships, and so much of that is language. You have this very specific world with people, out of language, it’s very rich and lush and idiosyncratic. These poems are like letters but they’re also odes to that world I’ve built with someone, and the language and vocabulary and texture of that relationship. There’s something about writing poetry that allows me to get at the things about a relationship that I can’t really express in prose. Things that are more irresolvable. I think poetry can hold those weird paradoxical strings, things that don’t fit the normative scripts.”

Adèle Barclay || Illustration by Sharon Ko for Discorder Magazine
Adèle Barclay || Illustration by Sharon Ko for Discorder Magazine

I ask Adèle if it was strange or scary to include these seemingly intimate poems, and she laughs.

It was definitely weird, I was a little anxious. I thought [the Sara poems] were these weird things I was writing for my friend, but people responded really strongly to them, so I was like ‘Okay well, I guess they like our love.’”

Adèle Barclay || Photography by Jennifer Van Houten for Discorder Magazine
Adèle Barclay || Photography by Jennifer Van Houten for Discorder Magazine

Discussing this public display of affection, I’m reminded of the ways people show affection for one another over social media. I find my own impulsive reaction to this is often negative, wondering why people feel the need for a public, rather than private declaration. Talking with Adèle, I question this reaction.

Seeing models of love and behaviour that are good is not a bad thing,” she says. “Just because [the poems] are a performance of emotional vulnerability doesn’t degrade that emotional vulnerability. I think the poems also don’t gloss over the bad, or the messier bits, and that is something that I’m always thinking about. How do you also show the messy, and the low moments, or perform vulnerability? How do you perform the range of emotions and not just the good stuff?”

These are tough questions, and given the current state of the world, it’s tempting to want to hide from them. How do we focus on the messier, darker things, without getting lost within them, without losing hope? For Adèle, the answer is in poetry, and considering how it can be taken up as a political act.

Adèle Barclay || Photography by Jennifer Van Houten for Discorder Magazine
Adèle Barclay || Photography by Jennifer Van Houten for Discorder Magazine

I think of poetry as incredibly magical. There is logic to it, but there is something irrational to it. I see it as a counter spell to neoliberalism, [which is] kind of what got us into this mess; this neoliberal, patriarchal, white supremacist, mess. [There are] these systems that want to quantify and own everyone and everything. Poetry isn’t interested in that. Poetry resists, it’s outside of that scope, because it’s not super profitable. It doesn’t try to resolve things, it’s something that is at home with messiness and paradoxes … In this fraught, capitalist society, relishing in interpersonal relationships, celebrating non-normative relationships and scripts, I think that is political. I think of it as radical kinship or radical kindness. Saying those things out loud as well, being public about emotional vulnerability, I think can be political, right? Or at least I hope so.”

I hope so, too.

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If I Were In A Cage I’d Reach Out For You is out now on Nightwood Editions. You can purchase a copy at nightwoodeditions.com, or at your local bookstore.