by Laura Stanley
Following its release last year, the debut record from Ottawa based band Her Harbour memorized the blog. Together the richly personal lyrics and minimalistic instrumental arrangements cloud the record, Winter’s Ghost, in an emotional darkness. But it is something about front woman Gabrielle Giguere’s powerful voice that commands your attention. Akin, with regards to contemporary Canadian musicians, to that of Cold Specks (Al Spx), the passion behind Giguere’s vocals causes the record to quake and makes it really hard to not be completely drawn in.
Ahead of Her Harbour’s performance for our show in Toronto, co-presented with Doc Pickles Presents, I spoke by phone with, as it turns out, a soft-spoken Giguere. Her disposition makes the power of her singing voice that much more compelling, a voice that she credits to the old jazz music that would fill the rooms of her childhood home.
“My Dad loved old jazz and we always had something playing when we were home,” Giguere says. “I loved Nina Simone and Billie Holiday and when I was younger, I wanted to sing like Louis Armstrong so maybe having some odder male influences [helped to contribute to the vocal style].
When recording Winter’s Ghost, this childhood home became Giguere’s studio. Done partially out of an interest in exploring the recording process alone, Giguere says that the recording location was a conscious choice. “I had just been living in B.C. and then I came back and I was working on a few projects that were collective. I felt the need to pull away and lock myself up.”
She further explains, “a lot of what I had written when I was away and what I seemed to write, centred around themes of family and childhood. I thought that it might be a good place to draw upon.”
Although Giguere’s recording location was deliberately chosen to coordinate with the lyrical themes, the music style that developed out of these recording sessions was not done on purpose. As its title, and the previous descriptions of the record, would suggest, a chill deeply envelops Winter’s Ghost. Hovering somewhere between baroque-pop and “haunt-folk,” the record is, yes, creepy sounding.
“After showing it to people, I then realized it might be a little bit spooky,” Giguere laughs. “It wasn’t something I was striving for but I think I have always had a penchant for things that are dark and I’ve always liked to find the beauty in it.”
Since recording Winter’s Ghost, from February 2011 to February 2012, Her Harbour has developed from a solo project of Giguere’s to more of a collaborative entity that includes bandmates Pierre-Luc Clément (guitar, percussion), Philippe Charbonneau (bass synth, keyboard), and Jamie Kronick (drums, percussion).
“When I was recording, I was basically by myself and I was thinking of the production and the arrangements alone and bringing in a few friends and guests to play some parts. When we released the record, I started playing with a band which was really nice. Things get shaped by the people involved and now we are working on the next record. Some of my bandmates and I have gone as far as writing a bit of music together. Maybe not so much the lyrics but the music for the next record. There’s more collaboration that takes place.”
The evolution of Her Harbour and recently being awarded two grants has allowed the band to focus on their next record. Giguere says that the band has “been hacking away at writing arrangements for the songs as I write them for quite a few months now. We have about nine songs that we’ve worked with together. I would like to work on a couple more and we’re looking at recording in early 2015 and hopefully have it out by next Fall.”
Giguere also credits her record label E-Tron and the music communities in Ottawa and neighbouring Hull as places that foster creativity. With regards to the Ottawa scene, Giguere says, “I feel like I’m witness these days to it really blossoming with a much stronger sense of community. People are more willing to invest their energy into it instead of moving away or concentrating elsewhere. You get what you put into it.”