I meet Chandra Ponyboy Melting Tallow at Jericho Beach on a picture-perfect Friday afternoon. Dressed in red from head to toe, including a letterman sports jacket qualifying her for the cast of Cry Baby, Melting Tallow’s figure is brightly contrasted against the pacific tones of the Burrard Inlet and its mountainous background.
Choosing a cool and shaded spot by the bird pond to have a conversation, we are intermittently interrupted by visitors with webbed feet. The little ones are clearly vying for a little more than just attention with their cute baby eyes. A couple of kids out on an adventure run by looking determined, as if they are out to conquer something only their eyes can see.
“I feel like in some ways my project with music kind of feels like that,” Melting Tallow says, referring to the mysterious determination and excitement of the children running around us.
Titled Mourning Coup, Melting Tallow’s experimental musical project has its roots in the performance art projects that she embarked on while studying fine arts in Montreal. Her conceptual performance art progressed incrementally towards her music, until she began to feel like the acts were becoming excuses for her to lipsynch in front of an audience in a form of dramatic karaoke.
While in the early stages of Mourning Coup’s conception, an unreleased cassette of her raw material was reviewed by national indie music blog, Weird Canada. On the tape, rising above layers of warmly blurred samples and keyboard melodies, Melting Tallow’s ghostly, echoing vocals guide listeners into a microscopic dream-world. The writer’s impatient sense of anticipation for the intricate web of ideas on this private cassette, bleeds in between the review’s lines.
It wouldn’t be until this summer, five years later, that Melting Tallow’s first full length album would materialize. Unfortunately, the five year span between the album’s start and finish was anything but one of abandon for the project. As Melting Tallow began experiencing medical issues manifesting as seizures and mobility impairment, she started to feel that the very nature of time had become warped beyond her control.
This turn of events, which she initially saw as a temporary interruption, took her life on a completely different track. The confrontation with her bodily limitations that began in 2010, pushed Tallow to pause her artistic projects and academic studies.
Regardless, Melting Tallow began to accept her medical condition with bravery. “I used to feel really upset,” she says, “I felt like I lost five years of my youth, but the reality is that people with chronic or mental illnesses ‘lose’ time by not being able to keep up with the pace of life that is normal to the majorities of people.” She elaborates, “I’m just learning how to adjust my life to the reality that this is something that will probably always be there.”
Melting Tallow began contemplating the implications of her blunt, irreversible reality as she read Dr. Gabor Maté’s When the Body Says No. Striving to regain a sense of coherence in her life, she directed her focus toward the concept of intergenerational trauma, in order to understand her origin as an indigenous person of Canada — which to her and many others, is a collective experience.
“Intergenerational trauma happens [more broadly] in humans and manifests in all these different ways that create marginalization.” While the severe mental and physical health issues that arose directly from forced assimilation through the residential school system are becoming increasingly widely acknowledged in public discourse, the study of collective after-effects and their links to chronic health issues are still nascent.
“I think learning about the intricacies of what that looks like in the brain, the mind, and the body, is going to be part of how to lessen these obstacles,” Melting Tallow shares while explaining her resulting interest in pursuing studies in cognitive science. “It’s just exciting that we’re living in a time now that we’re seeing how these experiences are manifested in the body.”
As a musical project, Mourning Coup was crucial for Melting Tallow to maintain a sense of self during her medical struggles. “It kept me sane, it gave me something to hope for,” she confesses. And this hope is audibly evident in the otherworldly energy that Melting Tallow channels in her recordings.
The mental imprint of her experiences runs deep in the finished version of her album, Baby Blue. This full length release — which is named in reference to a personal obsession with the colour blue worn by staff in hospitals — is set to be released this August, by Olympia’s No Sun Recordings.
The album’s complexity is particularly apparent in “Master.” Here, different layers of Melting Tallow’s vocals take on opposing, almost raging characters, while being simultaneously soothed by a soft, yet mournful refrain. Moments of clarity rise over an orchestrated chaos of warped synthesizers and vocals, only to be swallowed again by a swarming sound moving in tandem with a change of tempo and timbre.
Much like her interest in intergenerational trauma, Melting Tallow’s process with music is entirely self-directed, and exists as a result of her personal experiences. After describing how she taught herself everything she knows in recording and production through trial and error, Tallow reflects, “Once I figured one way to do it, I stuck to it, which is something I do with a lot of things in life.”
Trying things out, experimenting with instruments, and arranging elements in recorded sound is Melting Tallow’s natural way of interacting with her music. Although Mourning Coup arose out of performance, it has very distinctly moved towards production. Melting Tallow even aspires to produce music for other musicians. “I want to be Phil Spector, but not an asshole,” she says jokingly, while trying to explain her conflicted relationship with one of her main artistic inspirations.
When I ask her about her future plans, Melting Tallow talks with the wide-eyed excitement of a child about all the projects she would like to conquer. And while her first work took her through a long and trying path, her sight is already fixed on her second LP. “The next one is not going to take so long,” she muses.