Drawing From a Deep Well

By Chrissy Steinbock — Mon, 18/08/2014 - 15:58

This week brings the third edition of Arboretum, a week-long, lovingly curated celebration of the Ottawa’s cultural landscape. In a city that has become accustomed to the festival as a large-scale and corporate-sponsored machine, Arboretum presents a “small is beautiful” re-visioning of what a festival can be. There will be an eclectic banquet of bands to check out for sure but there will also be the chance to check out media and visual artists, chef showcases and panel discussions. Events are held at a number of the region’s best venues on both sides of the river. As it states on Arboretum’s website, one of the reasons the festival came to be was that the people behind it “were tired of enumerating Ottawa's best kept secrets to the rest of Canada”. I recently met up with Her Harbour, certainly one among these “best-kept secrets,” to talk about music, the curious nature of creativity and what’s great about Arboretum. Her Harbour plays the festival on Tuesday August 19th at Le Troquet (Hull), opening for Jesse MacCormack.  The show starts at 8pm.

If Her Harbour is a best-kept secret, it won’t be for long. But in case you haven’t heard her so far, allow me to introduce you. After years of playing in area bands, singer-songwriter Gabrielle Giguere emerged onto Ottawa’s music scene as Her Harbour with the release of Winter’s Ghosts in 2013. That first album was an intensely personal collection of songs self-recorded by Giguere in her childhood home, featuring voice, autoharp, piano and guitar against an atmospheric sonic backdrop of layered vocals, field recordings and a collection of household objects. Giguere describes the recording of the first album, saying “it was pretty much solitary”. These days, Giguere plays with a full band featuring the sounds of Jamie Kronick (drums, percussion), Pierre-Luc Clement (guitar, lap steel, percussion, vocals) and Philippe Charbonneau (keyboard, bass synth, vocals). Fun fact: outside of Her Harbour these musicians make up another of Ottawa’s most interesting new bands, Scattered Clouds.

But none of this answers what is perhaps your most pressing question – what’s the sound like?

Her Harbour leaves an impression of something rare that draws from a very deep well and possesses an energy that is at once compelling and unsettling.  Her Harbour’s quiet strength, carefully- crafted lyrics and textured arrangements make it music that demands your attention.  Expect dramatic vocals and long melodic lines reminiscent of operatic arias surrounded in lush soundscapes. When asked about her influences, Giguere says “I love soundtracks” which is perfect. All in all, these are songs that breathe, and move like a river with swells and dips, unbeholden to the master of a beat, the sonic equivalent of sweeping cinematography.

Below is an edited excerpt of my interview with Her Harbour.

Couch Assassin: How would you like to label your work for those who have never heard of Her Harbour?

Gabrielle Giguere: I hope that it comes off honest because that’s probably my biggest preoccupation with the project. I really wanted to do something that was honest and instinctual. I’m not trying to be anything but myself.

CA: Does it ever feel dangerous to be that honest in a world where people are always trying to be tough and guarded?

GG: I guess that it is intimidating and it might have been why it was hard to gather the courage to do that but I don’t think that I would want to do it any other way ‘cause it’s just such a nice relationship to have with music.

CA: What strikes me and what I think strikes a lot of people when they first hear you are the vocals. Is there something that you do differently, perhaps visual techniques that you use to shape your unique sound?

GG: After singing for years in groups, I’ve tried to trust myself and do whatever is true in that moment. So I guess what’s different for me from what I’ve done before is that in the moment, I let myself not think about it. I spent years performing and listening to myself as I was performing  and criticizing what I was doing so it’s been an exercise not to do that and just be a little bit more instinctual and animalistic about it. In terms of performing or recording and trying to capture that moment, I just go for it.

CA: It’s your second year performing at Arboretum so you might be considered somewhat of a veteran. Is there something in particular you’re looking forward to at the festival?

GG: Oooh yeah. I’m very much looking forward to a lot of Arboretum. I don’t think that there’s one thing that I’m more excited about […] It all looks really great. They do a really good job of curating and placing artists together that really work. There’s obviously a lot of love that goes into it. I’m looking forward to the church show. The talks as well, actually. The food is going to be amazing!

Well, the secret’s out! Don’t miss your chance to see Her Harbour in action.

Jesse MacCormack | Her Harbour
Tuesday, August 19, 2014 @8pm
Le Troquet
$5 at the door | Free with Arboretum All-Week Festival Pass

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