by Michael Thomas
If there’s one word that Corinna Rose, speaking to me from British Columbia, used over our chat more than anything, it’s the word “special.” Her musical career has seemingly been filled with special moments, from when she first musically connected with Leah Dolgoy (albeit in tragic circumstances) or even when she realized she needed to include a cover of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonely I Could Cry” on her latest EP, The Wharf.
But she didn’t really start getting into the music scene until she started attending McGill University in Montreal, when she joined a folk collective.
“I got this random Facebook message from a dude I’d never met before asking me if I wanted to join a band, because I think I’d written on my profile that I play guitar,” Rose says.
Thus began her five years as a member of the Rusty Horse Band which “performed mostly for fun” and at school fundraisers. When the band members graduated and moved away, that was the end of the band, but it was what inspired Rose to keep on making music.
Good thing, too, because Rose’s discography is beautiful as a whole. She first got Grayowl Point’s attention with her self-titled EP, and then with the full-band, full-length North East South West. It’s no accident that each recording has a slightly different sound.
Her bandmates come from McGill’s jazz program, and their unique musical points of view pushed Rose to think differently.
“The more we played together, the weirder my songs got and the more I started to scrutinize my song structure,” Rose says. “It’s not a natural process, but I’m really into trying to do things differently and make sure my songs are never in the same key and keeping things as interesting as possible.”
This latest EP is a collaboration with the aforementioned Dolgoy, whom she met after a mutual friend of theirs passed away. After the memorial service, a group of friends gathered at a friend’s house (“We were all grieving pretty intensely,” Rose says) and someone asked Rose to play “Green Mountain State.” Dolgoy joined in on the harp, and the two jammed again a few weeks later. Since then, they’ve played more than 200 shows together.
While the songwriting on The Wharf is largely Rose’s, the compositions are largely collaborative, and she has only the highest praise for Dolgoy. “Everything she does is always gorgeous,” she says. She actually co-wrote the song “Wolf” after Rose hit a writing block, and the two worked together to finish it.
Rose and Dolgoy covered “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” long after Rose started covering it—in 2012 Rose was touring by VIA Rail train with Gabrielle Papillon, and because the shows required a large repertoire, Rose started playing it. Eventually, Rose and Dolgoy found themselves playing the song in Wateron Lakes, Alta. for the first time.
“Leah and I had never played it together, but the autoharp was so beautiful on it,” Rose says. “Autoharp and banjo is such a special combination and it’s not heard very often, and it works so beautifully on that song. Before we played it, we realized how special the cover was. We realized at a certain point that we needed it.”
The beauty of Rose’s music may also be a byproduct of her current city, Montreal. The city is known especially for the weirdness of its artists, so being a folk musician there is an interesting challenge.
“Everybody’s doing something weird,” she says. “It’s one of the things I appreciate the most about Montreal. It kind of forces you as a folk musician to do something different and think outside the box. It’s definitely a part of what’s really influenced my sound over the last couple of years.”
The downside, she says, is that sometimes genre groups can feel separate. But various people and groups are trying to help create tight-knit musical communities in the city—she specifically names Grumpy’s and Barfly as two venues with a scene building around them.
Early next year, Rose will begin recording a full-length she says will sound like a blend of the sounds of North East South West and The Wharf, but as she winds down the year she’s been touring in British Columbia as part of a Home Routes house-show tour.
“It’s really nice to play house concerts, it’s such an intimate type of show. Very community-based,” she says. “You kind of get a sense of these communities and go into your audience and meet these different people.”
At the time we spoke, she had just played two shows on the tour, but she was already praising this different way of doing shows.
“People have been so kind to us and really excited to have us play in their homes,” she says. “People are extra excited, so that’s cool too. It’s nice to show up somewhere and have an audience I wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise.”
Whatever Rose comes up will next will undoubtedly be special too.