Every year of our eleven years as the Good Lovelies has been vastly different. Sure, the fundamentals are the same: we tour, we write songs, we write grants, we record albums – and do all the work that comes with each of those categories – but not one year was like the one before it and not once could we have predicted what the year ahead had in store.
If I were to sum up 2017 for the Good Lovelies in one word, it would be: change.
It reminded me a lot of the year after we quit our day jobs: 2009. That was the year we learned how much touring we needed to do to earn a solid living for three people. That was the year we faced head on the stress of running a band/business well (meaning: figuring out how to run a business strategically while touring and practising and making music and building a fan base.)
That was the year we got our first FACTOR grant that helped us record and release our first full length album of original songs. And then we followed that up by recording and releasing a Christmas album the same year. And somewhere in between the time it took to write, record, and release those albums, we were on the road, hitting it hard to build our band up. It was insane. It was invigorating. We were constantly on the go. We were doing it though, tired, but happy with our growth, sometimes grumpy when we had to share hotel rooms too many nights in a row, or when we read a shitty youtube comment and had no outlet outside of ourselves to which we could lament our woes. But it was all new, a constant adventure and every landmark was a lesson we needed to learn and a milestone in our growth.
We were learning we couldn’t treat road life like a vacation – like, you can’t eat at Arby’s on every drive past the Port Hope exit, and no, it was NOT wise to drink the rider before the gig and still sing and play well. The newness of it all kept our engines revving. We were young, and as eager as they come, keen to get out there and make a splash, and really, to have a good time. We were all living downtown Toronto, two of us unmarried, all of us without kids at that point – it was a whirlwind of “everything-all-the-time.”
Twenty seventeen had its own electricity. We knew we would be making a new record early in the year, and that there was a great European tour on the horizon for the autumn. We didn’t know it yet, but there were some hurdles ahead of us and a series of important endings and beginnings to deal with. So, with only a couple of oddly placed tour dates scheduled in January we decided to make use of this gift of time and spend a few days holed up sharing new songs with each other. It was in that room that our new album started to take shape; where the nuggets of the songs that excited all three of us started to surface. We left those days together feeling hopeful, and excited about the creative project ahead of us.
In February we planted ourselves in two borrowed houses outside Halifax for three weeks to tackle the new album with Dan Ledwell. For the first time since our 2009 album, we worked with a new producer.
The snow fell and the songs took an even finer shape. We talked, discussed, lamented, argued over what this album would be, but then we left all of that behind and got to work. That first week in the studio, laying tracks for the songs was my favourite: laying the bed tracks, bass, drums, guitars, while watching the snow accumulate outside. Caroline and Sue had their babies with them, which meant a caregiver for the first half of our studio time, and then their families joined them for the second half. Me? I was in a beautiful house on the shore alone trying in vain every night to make the lyrics come. We worked to the end of that beautiful month, watching the snow melt eventually and watching these new songs grow into something unexpected. We were together the night we learned that Stuart McLean died and we spent the night with our friends, Dan and Jenn sharing stories about the Vinyl Cafe, and toasting the man behind the stories. We left that month with the album unfinished, hanging in the air, with the promise to return in July to wrap it up.
March was the month where we faced the biggest change that would reverberate throughout the rest of the year. It was a difficult time to be sure, but we learned a lot, we grew and we adapted.
We left the studio with 15 new songs and an idea to test them out on private audiences. They were brand new and unpolished. Never before had we done such a thing. Fifteen brand new songs in one set – what the hell were we thinking!? But as we expected, playing them live proved to us which ones were working and reaching people, and which ones had some percolating to do. These were my favourite shows of the year, partly because they were private and fan-filled, partly because my pulse raced every night on stage in a way I haven’t experienced in a long time.
We started working with a group of incredible women in March and April who helped keep our business on track during our most tumultuous time.This relationship is going strong and we’re grateful for their support, their expertise and their friendship. They were exactly what we needed and we were so grateful to be introduced to them.
In May, we toured Northern Ontario for the first time in over five years. It was Caroline, Sue and I alongside two hilarious baby boys in one rental van. The shows were packed and it felt good to touch base with our fans up north. It’s been years since we’ve toured all in one van together. We’ve grown a lot in 11 years – and what I mean is, we’re not just a trio anymore. Now, usually that means we tour in two vans and have a hired team to support us – but not in May. In May, it was just us, the core trio back to our roots, doing what we do, the way it all started.
JUNE, AUGUST & SEPTEMBER
I’m lumping these months together because that’s how these months felt to us. Recording an album is only one piece of an intricate puzzle to “releasing an album” and you’re not finished until there is cover art and design done, until you have new photographs taken and touched up. These days you need visuals to support the release of your singles which means time to hire or make music videos. The album needs to be mastered and credits and thank yous need to be written and edited. There’s more too, but I won’t bore you with it all here.
Everything takes time, and effort and money, and lucky for us, we have been awarded two grants to help us record and promote our album, so there was a little money, but man, there are only so many hours in a day. I’m not complaining, I love the work we do, and it’s fun to have your fingers in the all aspects of your creative project – but at some point you need to delegate, trust, approve and move on to the next thing. After all, the work of our band isn’t just updating our website, planning logistics, designing posters, doing interviews, making budgets and reconciling grants, or applying for work permits in other countries… though it’s certainly part of it. Every single element takes time and effort and important brain space leaving not much time for what our real work is: creating the best stage show we can, rehearsing, songwriting and working on personal development.
Oh, and, you know, taking time for family, personal projects and having a life outside work. These were months of “head-in-the-computer” work, getting on top of the business, making sure there weren’t too many loose ends. And we’re lucky because there are three of us working on all these items – and the support is incredible. Our hats off to you solo artists going alone. You are our heroes.
I should take a second and mention that we went back to the studio in July and fine tuned those songs from February in an intense eight days together. The three of us lived together in a borrowed Dartmouth home and traveled together to the studio, worked for 10 hours a day, returned home, ate food, watched TV, laughed and repeated the same for all 8 days. In the studio, we hashed out what songs we would prioritize and debated on arrangements and played every instrument imaginable and available until we were satisfied. The songs were complete and we decided on a strong ten to take us over the finish line. We left, spent but satisfied with the work we did. Three cheers to wrapping that project up, at least the recording part of that project.
We spent three weeks touring across England, Germany and the Netherlands after a few months of insane office work (not that the office work stops when you’re on the road.) This tour marked the beginning of a tour-heavy fall and winter and it meant we had to get into “tour shape” which to me is like getting ready to run a 5km race every day for 3 weeks. Touring is physically exhausting – for sure the hours spent in the van or in airports or in limbo waiting for the show to start, but also the performance itself. You’re on stage for two hours a night performing, singing, playing, and entertaining after loading in, setting up and sound checking. The first few days can knock the wind out of you if you aren’t already physically fit, but then the muscles build back up and you get into touring rhythm. We toured a ton of new places in Germany, and three new places in the Netherlands. The crowds were fantastic and to our delight, packed almost everywhere. I always like to take a minute in the whirlwind and step back to recognize how lucky we are that people show up to watch us sing and play. When I start taking that for granted, it will be time for me to retire.
We made new friends, ate new food, saw new territory and were supported by our friend and bassist (and tour manager) MJ Dandeneau. MJ is another branch of the Good Lovelies, our international bassist. She’s a one-stop shop of hard work and a great spirit to be around. Always up for fun, always upbeat in the midst of chaos. The tour was full of family too: grandparents and babies for the first half, husbands and kids in the second half. It was a massive tour, and a huge effort to keep all our moving pieces going in the right direction. We made it through and returned home in time to prepare for an entirely different set of music for the next six weeks. The Christmas Tour.
NOVEMBER & DECEMBER
I always laugh when I see people posting about their last gig of 2017 at the end of November because I know we still have at least 15 shows ahead of us. Of course we brought this tradition upon ourselves, unknowingly, because we celebrate a birthday every December 15th and because we made a Christmas album so early on in our career. That album has been great to us, and we celebrate it and and our birthday by touring every December until the last sensible day before actual Christmas.
This year, we were seven on the road, five of us on stage and two of us supporting crew. It was an ambitious 18 show-tour across Canada from Montreal to Vancouver. Growing this little tour from a single show in 2006 to an 18-show marathon in 2017 was not something we ever expected. Our backing band was Robbie Grunwald and Steve Zsirai, now four years as our backing band. Behind the scenes were Ryan Mathew Fields as our sound technician and Tina Love Cho tour managing and selling our goods. It was a huge project and a great undertaking by everyone. Each of these people was a team player. These are our friends, these are professionals, and everyone brought their best to this tour and it made it a huge success not just on stage, but in the van, in the green room and at airports at 5am. It’s an exhausting and beautiful end to every touring year. That’s us in Winnipeg airport on Dec 10th.
Eleven years ago we were three people smooshed in Caroline’s Volvo romping along the Trans Canada Highway seemingly without a care in the world, singing the songs we’d written, some we hadn’t, some of them ridiculous, some so light-hearted you would have thought that none of us had experienced a bad day in our entire lives. And I cherish those days. I’m glad we went for it without thinking too much about the consequences. I’m glad we didn’t stop ourselves from writing AND recording a song called Whiskey and for being lighthearted and making people smile.
It’s where we started and it’s why we started. We had an undefined mission to keep it light in a world where things felt hard and painful all the time. We were a break from that, and we left those shows feeling healthier and lighter most of the time.
And now we’re older, and wiser, and we roll our eyes when we see photos from those early days, when we wore flip flops on stage (ahem, that was me) and told crazy, long, meandering stories with accidentally politically incorrect punchlines. Whatever! We were doing it, and I’m still happy we were footloose and fancy free for those early days. Because guess what? We’ve lived a little bit more, and some of our songs are a bit darker now and our lives are bit heavier and the weight on our shoulders can feel a bit more than we can take at times.
But this year we’re releasing an album called Shapeshifters – almost too perfect a name after a year of incredible change and adjustment. And what this album title means to me, might mean something slightly different to Caroline, and something entirely different to Sue.
The changes don’t come easy, and I don’t think they’re meant to. It’s been a hard, but edifying year. And out of that difficulty I see how we’ve gotten stronger behind the scenes, and how we’re getting a clearer picture of how we see ourselves moving forward. I see the friendship between the three of us getting tighter and our business relationship becoming clearer. From the difficult times last year we are figuring out how to lighten the load this year, all the while touring a brand new album that we are deeply proud of and excited about sharing with you.
I’ll leave you with these lyrics from the first single off the new album because they resonate so deeply for me and for Sue and for Caroline in three distinctly different ways, because we are three distinctly different women. We’re still figuring it out, but we’re optimistic, hopeful and ready to hit the ground running.
“You don’t get more than you can take, but when it breaks me, I see
Gold in the shadows, flicker in the night
There’s a change coming
Everything’s gonna be alright
Gold in the shadows, flicker in the night
Let it go, let it go, everything’s gonna be alright.”
Excerpt from “I See Gold” from the album “Shapeshifters” coming out February 9th, 2018.