By Nicholas Coyne
To wrap up her time as our Rising Artist of the Week, Belle Plaine spoke to TIDAL about her latest album, Malice, Mercy, Grief & Wrath, the loss of her parents and understanding herself through her upbringing.
What about life growing up in Canadian prairies shaped how you approached pursuing a creative life?
Yeah, I had no idea how to get started. It started with hearing music on the radio, I think. I was blown away by it, thinking I could do it, too. Meeting other songwriters on the west coast of Canada, people always knew I could sing because I would sing along with the radio when I was working in a coffee shop. It became hard to hide, even though I wasn’t interested in performing.
All I ever thought about was just being able to go somewhere else within a song while I was singing. Playing in bands felt like being able to have this great conversation through music and I could have that conversation with anybody. When you’re playing with people who know their instruments and can emote through them, it’s very rewarding. I was really driven to start singing and getting to do that.
What was your mindset going into the recording of this new album?
The songs were written over a long period of time. I didn’t set out to specifically talk about anything, but it ended up being mostly about relationships and when they are flawed, when they are celebratory and when they are neither of those things. I wanted to preserve the honesty of those relationships through the lyrics. It’s what I strive for in my writing. In the recording of the album, I mostly made it live with a band and overdubbed after with guest vocals and instrumentation, to give it a layered feeling.
It was my first time working with a producer. His name is Jason Plumb and he was taking a lot from my influences, which may not be apparent on the record. Gillian Welch is a big influence on my writing and Neko Case is an influence on the depth and journey I want my songs to have. What ended up happening during the recording was that I was recording on an acoustic guitar to a click track, trying to get to the bottom of the songs, lyrically and arrangement-wise. The drummer, Steve Leidal, came in and played to the click track. Eventually, I came back in and played the guitar over it as an overdub.
So, the goal of the record was to preserve the ideas of the writing and understand what I was trying to say. I did want to let someone else’s vision to come in and help out and that risk ended up being valuable.
Is there any apprehension in “handing over the keys” in that regard? In entrusting others with your vision and personal lyrics?
Oh, yeah. I can’t even start in letting you know how hard it is to let go. That was a big lesson I learned. I can tell when things feel right, but when things are outside of my direct influences and listening realm, then I start to get uptight about it. It’s something I’m still working through. “Are We Good” is the furthest I anticipated recording for the record and we were just rehearsing it recently and it felt so fun to grow in that regard.
Was there any shift in your worldview or event in your life that influenced your new approach?
Lots has changed for me in the time this record was conceptualized. Both of my parents passed away in that time and that impacted the way I see the world. I could go on for a long time on the impact of that. Both of my parents have different outlooks on the world and so their deaths had uniquely different impacts on me. In my reflection of grieving and letting go, I saw what I wanted from the both of them. I wanted to understand my parents more through those feelings. I wanted to let go of my antiquated teenage angst about understanding their divorce.
I felt very competitive when I got into music and “Squared Up” was about me understanding more that we really just need to be there for each other. It’s a zero-win game when we are competing with our peers. There is so much more to be gained when we celebrate each other’s successes.
Is there anything you sense of value from the earnest songwriting and emotive musicality of the “Bakersfield Sound” and golden-era of country music that you gain from creating?
It’s what I was raised on, I was raised in rural Saskatchewan. The closest to us was 3 hours away and that city was about 200,000 people. So, I was raised on AM radio, prairies, and agriculture. I came to realize that we were kind of poor and I feel very blessed to have not known that we were. It helped me sense what I needed in the world and what I felt was a luxury.
My parents never searched out a lot of music, so it was what was always present as a little kid. It was a reconciliation, of sorts, and gravitating towards real sound.
Then, I grew out of it as a young person when I started venturing out on my own and ordering Rolling Stone magazine and listening to Portishead and Nine Inch Nails. Then, I went to music school and I moved to the big city of Edmonton, Alberta and studied jazz. My whole world opened there to a lot of different music.
For an album so tied to personal, private feelings, you have three strong collaborators featured on the record. How do you bring people like Colter Wall, Megan Nash and Kacy Anderson in on the album?
Everybody is a pal. That’s how I deal with my whole life. “Golden Ring” had all these different influences, like the male-female duet of the classic version of George Jones and Tammy Wynette and as we went along with the process, it had this Link Wray and surf-y element to it. I thought at some point that Megan would be great for the song and we had never sung together before, but she had always been a friend of mine. We had no idea, but when we were flipping between the two vocal tracks, the producer couldn’t tell who was who. We’re ten years apart in age, but we were both raised in Saskatchewan, listening to country music (laughs), so we thought, like ‘Is this a thing?’
Colter was a no-brainer, he’s been so great to us and so great to my partner, Blake [Berglund], who is also a musician. He has taken Blake on the road a few times as an opening act. It felt so obvious to put him on the record on “Is It Cheating” Jason had produced Colter’s first, self-titled album and he had Colter recording his part first and have me match his affectations.
Kacy Anderson is considerably younger to me, we have a funny relationship. I love her to bits. Her voice stands out so clearly and I knew she’d kill it, but I did not realize she’d dictate the session. She knew what she was going to do.
Do you feel you’ve accessed this new part of yourself through the recording of the record?
This record has a different element to it, where I’ve played on every song on the album, where previously, I’ve put some of the playing in the hands I felt were more experienced and more capable and I’d just really sing, for the most part. These songs have made me feel more comfortable writing and performing solo, even though I love performing with a five-piece band. I now love playing solo and focusing on the storytelling and letting people in on what these songs mean to me. This new access point is such a huge gift, where we can commune over the themes. There is a lot of reconciliation on the record and I like giving that to people.