Sarah MacDougall’s Northern Inspiration
Photo credit: Jen Squires
One clandestine flight hit Sarah MacDougall so deeply that she felt she needed to make music to reflect this feeling. For her new album All The Hours I Have Left To Tell You Anything, MacDougall wrote music with a wide-swath of writers and honed it all in to capture the energy she'd been inspired by. We caught up with MacDougall ahead of her October 30 show at the National Arts Centre to discuss collaboration and not fitting in.
Ottawa Life: How did the idea of not fitting in inspire "We Are Fire" and how did you want to represent the non-binary community with this track?
Sarah MacDougall: I've always been uncomfortable with the gender binary, since my belief is that it's really a grey spectrum of how you fit in. I think it's very simplistic to just define someone based on gender in general. I'm bisexual so I've always felt like I don't fit in, always in-between something. Being from Sweden, living in Canada and living on the road all the time left me feeling somewhere in the middle. At this point, when I wrote "We Are Fire" I really connected with my non-binary friend and the struggles they were facing. You could easily say you're a man or a woman but it's better to be true to yourself, even if it's challenging.
How did you want to evolve from Grand Canyon on All The Hours I Have Left To Tell You Anything?
During this record I'd been listening to a lot more pop music, which changed my approach a bit, I wanted to make it accessible but interesting at the same time. I had tapped into that on Grand Canyon but I wanted to do so even more on this record.
I heard that flying over glaciers and lakes also shaped the way you wanted the record to sound this time around?
I was lucky to get a helicopter ride over glaciers, and this feeling in me was so strong that I wanted my music to sound like it felt. It definitely informed how I started to write those songs. It was in me the whole time then leading towards the end result.
In what ways do you see your Swedish roots influencing your music these days?
I think it's always there. I mostly listen to Swedish music so that is part of it too. I grew up there so it's deep in my culture. There's a kind of melancholy in the Swedish culture that is always influencing my writing.
What brought Marcus Paquin into the fold for this album and what did they bring to the recording?
He took my ideas and ran with them, since I only had demos going into this record. He played all the electric guitars which are a big part of the record's sound. He was very clear with his ideas for the drums and bass, and he was just an amazing producer for focusing his ideas. He also mixed it and made it sound that way it sounds.
I also understand Nygel Asselin, Rich Jaques and Bill Lefler also worked behind the scenes on the record, so how did you make sense of all of these creative voices while making it yours?
At some point I definitely felt overwhelmed by how many people I was working with but it came together really well. I co-wrote with all of them so we mapped out the skeletons of the songs together, which I took to Marcus to help me finish them up.
You also started your Label In Between, how did this come about and what influenced you on that title?
The label name comes from "We Are Fire" and that's really what started the song. The name is really about being in between but being a diamond instead of a monster. I wanted my label to be called that because I find my music is in-between as well. I've heard my music is too folk or pop, and it doesn't fit neatly into a genre. We've had a bunch of label offers for this record, but my manager and I thought it was a better idea to work directly with distributors ourselves.