One-on-One with Rebekah Higgs

rebekah higgsby Michael Thomas

Rebekah Higgs is a woman of many sounds. Since about 2006, when she began recording material, she’s done the solo thing, played in a heavily electronic outfit and performed only once with a large band doing 60s covers.

The “solo thing” is of course where most of her material comes from. Though she grew up in a musical family, she didn’t fully embrace music until she started playing the guitar in earnest in university. It wasn’t too long before she would be contacted by Thomas Ryder Payne.

“He invited me to come to Toronto to record in his home studio, I did that, and I put out that record,” Higgs says. “That’s when I first started touring and taking music more seriously.”

Following that first record, she would meet Colin Crowell, and Ruby Jean and the Thoughtful Bees were born.

“That was kind of an experiment for fun with me and a friend. I was really into using vocal effects and he was a DJ, so we started combining that,” Higgs says. “Just from those combinations and recordings we had done we decided to make a band and subsequently make a record together.” Though she calls it a side project, the outfit was pretty big when they released their self-titled album in 2009. The album is aggressively electronic, so much that one cannot help but dance. The band would only put that one album out, but it was an important one.

From there, Higgs would release Little Voice, a teaser EP, before Odd Fellowship, her second full-length under her own name, would appear. Her time as Ruby Jean wasn’t a direct influence on what her new record would sound like, but by that point, she had vocal loops down to a science.

“I was touring so much in that band and using my vocal effects so much that I really sort of mastered my techniques,” she says. “And I was able to apply some of those to my solo record, as far as looping and tones and things like that go.”

On December 13, 2011, Rebekah Higgs would perform a one-off show with a backing band called the Cassettes. Paul Banwatt of the Rural Alberta Advantage and Woodhands asked her if she wanted to put together a 60s cover band for a show for the Daily Bread food bank.

“I had a lot of fun doing that and I really love the sounds from the 60s and everything,” Higgs says. “So it was kind of a dream come true to put a band together and front it.”

Though the Cassettes only existed for one night, that performance would slightly foreshadow the arrival, out of nowhere, of Sha La La in November of last year. It took a little bit longer than she expected it to take, mostly because she had her first child, Lennon, who can be seen on the EP’s cover.

“I wasn’t trying to take a cover shot, I just took a picture of her with a flower crown around her, and I liked it so much I decided to use it,” she says about the colourful photo.

Half of the EP was recorded before Lennon was born, and a few were recorded after, during the summer in Halifax with Joel Waddle.

“For those recording sessions I had the baby with me. I would have to hold her for some takes, or take a break to feed her, or put her down for a nap or whatever,” says Higgs. “Yeah, it’s a lot of extra work to have a baby involved in the recording process, but we managed to do it and I think it’s a good experience for her and for me.”

On the EP, Higgs combines her love of 60s girl groups with her love of shoegaze and psychedelic music. Her partner Jay Holy certainly had some influence, though you wouldn’t mistake one’s music for the other. “I think we bounce ideas off each other as far as taste levels go,” she says.

One of the songs on the EP, “Pills,” was in fact written by Holy under the name “Funeral Is Real Fun,” and his version will be appearing on his own upcoming solo record. The final song is a cover of the Everly Brothers classic “All I Have to Do Is Dream.”

“I just really love that song,” Higgs says of her choice to include it on the recording. “It’s been Lennon’s goodnight song since she was born. That’s kind of her song.”

Now that her EP is out in the world, Higgs will be playing her first few shows in at least a year-and-a-half, and she’ll also be playing solo, something she doesn’t do all that often. She explained her stage setup:

Rebekah Higgs' gear
Rebekah Higgs’ gear

I have an old Rollin drum machine. This’ll go through a delay pedal and a looper pedal to get that sound that’s in “Loneliness” on the drum machine. Then I have a bunch of guitar pedals, and then my vocal loop station as well as a Moog vocal pedal. So I’ll have the guitar, drum machine and looping going on.

Higgs says she doesn’t have much expectations for her musical future, but given her excellence in all of endeavours, it’s hard not to have high hopes for her.

Catch Rebekah Higgs at the Grad Club in Kingston on January 18, and Ritual Nightclub in Ottawa on January 19.

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