Exclusive Interview: Che Aimee Dorval of Casualties of Cool, Part 2
Ahead of her first ever solo gigs in the UK Canadian singer-songwriter Che Aimee Dorval gave us an exclusive interview. She will be playing across the country as support to Australian Kim Churchill following a short visit to Europe last year with Casualties of Cool, her acclaimed “space-country” project with fellow Canuck Devin Townsend. You can see Part 1 of her chat with Louder Than War here.
She picks up the story when she was working on “Volume 1”. Then a surprising and important phone call came through…
Randomly out of the blue while I was recording the new EP (“Volume 1”), Devin called me up. He was like, “Hey! Would you be interested in doing sort of a moody, really low-key sort of like country thing? Where we both write and there’s no pressure, we can just send things back and forth and there’s no time limit. Just to see where it goes?” I was like, “Hell yes! That’s right up my alley!” That’s how I got to know him. Kind of musically at first.
Che and Devin never actually met up in person during the recording. It was all done remotely, sending the music to each other.
It was cool. It’s my favourite writing experience to date. At the very beginning he sent me three guitar tracks. One was “Daddy”, one was for “The Field” and also “Mountaintop”. They were really sparse. One was just one guitar. It was sparse with him humming some bits here and there or gibberish singing. I do that all the time, it’s the perfect way to write and afterwards you create a poem. He was like, “There are no restrictions. You can do whatever you want. Let’s just see where this goes.”
A budding partnership was quickly formed which would ultimately result in the Casualties of Cool album…
“The Field” was the first one I tackled. It was really, really late one night and I think I’d had a fight with my boyfriend or something. I didn’t want to go to bed so I started working on this song and it didn’t have any vocals. So I just started singing along and writing lyrics. I sent it back and Devin really, really liked it. I was like, “Cool! We’ll work on some others.” It was back and forth. For the majority of the songs he’d send me ideas, then I’d expand on them and write lyrics and melodies. Then I would flip around the arrangements in Pro Tools.
There were some dark things in her head at this time…
“Flight” (see below) was the only one that we co-wrote 100%, split down the middle. In that period when we were writing it I was as I guess we all get sometimes pretty depressed, especially from November to February. Maybe it’s seasonal. I was feeling really, really shitty and music is a perfect way to sort of release some of that. It’s like talking to someone and feeling that they’re understanding you. I was feeling really awful at that point in my life maybe for a couple of different reasons. Writing those lyrics was like I was giving up. I wasn’t actually giving up, but it felt like exactly what I would say if I was giving up. It’s pretty simple, I just felt like shit.
Devin was so moved by what she sent him back that he wrote his own version, “Fight”, which appears on the double edition of the album. With the titles of the two songs referring to the well-known psychology term, it strengthened the bond of understanding between them…
I think it (“Fight”) is really beautiful. That’s my favourite part of writing with him, having another perspective and someone to have your back when you’re feeling awful. We’ve got to know each other a lot better now. We’re good friends. He’s quite amazing. That song “Fight” was obviously like a “Chin up, man! You can either just give up or try to face it and get up over it.” That’s the kind of guy he is, which is really nice to have in my life. He’s a really strong person. He plays it down a lot. He’ll second-guess himself a little bit like “I’m just being crazy!” but he never is. He’s always on point. He knows where he’s going and he knows where he’s been. I look up to him so much as a person.
When the album was released in May 2014 it received praise from all directions and inevitably there was a clamour for live shows. Just three, two in the UK, were announced and the trip to Europe proved to be another milestone in her career...
It was amazing. Amazing. It’s all I ever wanna do now. It’s because my whole life I didn’t quite know if I wanted to do all the parts of music that there are. Like the business part and all of that. I like to write, I like to sing and I like people listening to those things. But I didn’t know. Performing scares the shit out of me. I like doing it once I’m up there but it stresses me out. Doing it touring with Devin and being over there was an entirely different experience, like you’re not in your own backyard. Nobody knows you, you can be your true self. The person you want to be. Especially with this project and touring you know everyone is there because they like it already. At some shows you’re like “nobody knows who I am! Let’s hope they don’t all leave or boo!” Which hasn’t happened yet, but it’s a constant fear.
Over there (UK and Europe) people bought the tickets ’cause they love the album so it was exciting to sing to them. The touring part, just being on the road and everything that goes with it I loved. I don’t even know why. I was surrounded these… Devin surrounds himself with lovely people. Nobody’s shitty, you know? They’re genuinely good people and I found myself sitting around in the little living room part of this huge tour bus talking about shit jokes and poop! (laughs) It was actually pretty fun! Also at Devin’s guitar clinic things (example here) he’s so wry and he’s pretending he’s so unimpressed doing this clinic but it’s so funny to watch! He’s a genius.
Her partner, Mike, played guitar for Casualties of Cool on their tour and as it turned out his support came in handy…
It was amazing. Mike and I are really good in that we’re not in each other’s pocket. He’s not clingy, I’m not clingy. I don’t know if I’m a calming presence in his life, but he’s a calming presence in mine. I tend to get really anxious and scared of new things. Just having him there with me, although Devin’s crew are so lovely that without him would have been fine, but having him there was amazing. For instance at the Union Chapel show I think there were a couple of journalists in the hotel and they were waiting to do an interview. I came out and one of them was like, “Okay, we wanna ask you a question, but it’s kind of offensive and we want to ask you if you don’t mind. We have this bet.” I was like, “Yeah sure. Tell me. What’s going on?” Which I regret! (laughs) The girl is like, “Don’t say it!” The guy is like, “We were wondering how old you are?” I was like, “Sure! You’re guessing how old I am?” In Vancouver I get mistaken for being 20 to 30. I still get ID’d. I can look pretty young sometimes. So I’ve never really been scared of the whole age question. So I was like, “I’m 40.” The guy was like, “See?!” I lost my mind inside. I was so sad. The girl looks at my face and whispers to him, “Don’t say any more!” I went over to Mike, who was sat having a drink and I’m like, “They think I’m 40…” Not that it’s a bad thing but it’s ten years older than my age, and I’m a girl! (laughs) Mike helped in that situation immensely. He’s a good person to have around when you’re about to lose your shit! (laughs)
While Che had been getting immersed in the world of Casualties of Cool another very significant record was released. She won backing of legendary Rolling Stones producer/manager Andrew Loog Oldham and recorded “Volume 1” at his Vancouver studio. This was after she had tackled a lyrically re-worked version of the Stones’ controversial tale of misogynistic control, “Under My Thumb”, turning it on its head. The song appears on Loog Oldham’s “Rolling Stones Songbook Volume 2”, released in 2013 and also featuring Gruff Rhys, Johnny Marr and Vashti Bunyan. Che also sang on the final track, “As Tears Go By”. Clips of the tracks can be heard here.
This opportunity came thanks to another fortunate coincidence, right place and right time…
This world is so weird. You run into people and it doesn’t make any sense. Andrew Loog Oldham has a studio in Vancouver and it’s rented out when he’s not using it for his own projects. My friend was renting it for his band, Bees Make It, and I sang on one of their songs. The studio manager, Gary and Andrew Oldham are partners essentially. Gary heard my voice and was like, “Holy shit!” and sent it to Andrew who at that point was looking for artists to sing some Rolling Stones songs for his new “Rolling Stones Songbook Volume 2”. He really liked it so he sent me three of the songs to try out and we connected over that. Then he liked it so much he offered me a recording contract to record my own stuff and do whatever I wanted to do, which was amazing. There’s not a lot of record companies, independent or big ones, who will give you money, studio, equipment and just let you do whatever you want to do. He did that and then this EP, “Volume 1”, came about.
She admits she didn’t realise who Loog Oldham was initially…
Not at first! Then they told me and I was like, “Woah! What?!” I was a little bit shocked. I was pretty oblivious. I did a lot of things that I just think, “Yeah sure. I’ll do this whatever.” Then people said he was the Rolling Stones guy and I’d be like, “Sure he is…” (laughs)
When it was decided Che would cover “Under My Thumb” she wanted to put her own stamp on it…
I just did it. It made more sense. Andrew owned a little bit of the publishing I think, so we weren’t gonna get in trouble for doing it. It was going to be from a woman’s point of view and I just did it. They said, “We like it!” and I was like, “Cool!” It was good for me (as a woman). I have a hard time giving up my own power so there was no way I was singing this song like I was a waif! It was gonna be a strong kind of thing. My mother was very happy about that. She’s a pretty strong lady and she really liked the song.
As well as The Rolling Stones another musical great from an era way before she was born became a huge influence in her life. The British folk singer Nick Drake instantly struck a chord with her. It was love at first listen…
I discovered him pretty late in life actually, probably like most people over here. This is so silly, but I think one of his songs, “One Of These Things First”, was on a soundtrack of all things. “The Garden State” (2004) movie soundtrack. I loved it. It wasn’t like anything I’d ever heard. It was just so honest. His writing is so honest and peaceful and melancholy. That’s what I’m drawn to because I generally feel that way most of the time, peaceful and melancholy. I was obsessed with it and I bought “Pink Moon”, “Five Leaves Left” and “Bryter Layter”. Then I read his story and it kind of resonated with me in that he just constantly felt like he was failing, you know? He was just doing what he felt came naturally to him because he needed to. He seemed to have this really heavy insecurity and depression. I can understand that so I think that was another reason why I loved him so much. Then I heard the song “River Man” and I think I listened to that song over and over and over again for a month. That’s probably one of my favourite songs in the entire world. How could someone write something that beautiful?
She thinks discovering Drake had a massive impact of her own musical direction…
I’d say so, more than anything. Him and Jeff Buckley. For me music isn’t just what they put out, it’s who they are. You can see what they are without prying. Everything about the Nick Drake’s writing and who he was makes so much sense because I think I feel that way too. It’s really, really sad how it ended but I can understand where he was coming from.
With all the experience she has gained so far Che is determined to push herself further, maybe including further action with Casualties of Cool…
I think it’s a very good possibility. It’s funny but we were hanging out one night when Devin parked his car in a Tow Away Zone and it it got towed! (laughs) It was pretty funny! I had to drive him to the impound lot and I had put on Portishead. “Portishead” by Portishead with “Cowboys” and “All Mine”. He listened. It’s my favourite album of all time and it’s really, really…it sounds like witches! (laughs) It’s really creepy and evil but beautiful. That’s my favourite kind of music. That’s what I want to create. It really resonated with Devin too. So I feel like when we do another record it’s gonna be a bit evil in a way. That’s exciting. I think there’ll be a couple more (albums), but I don’t know when. At the end of the Helsinki show we really were a band and everything came together. All of us were like, “Man, I wish we had a lot more of this to do!” One of the only reasons we didn’t was ’cause Devin is so busy and the Ziltoid thing was coming out. That damn alien got in the way! (laughs)
She might pay a visit to London’s Royal Albert Hall for the sold-out Ziltoid extravaganza in April…
I’m gonna try. I really want to!
But before that she has her own tour lined up, making her UK solo debut with a 2-week run supporting fellow singer-songwriter Kim Churchill. Exciting times are ahead though she retains a sweet self-deprecating outlook on it all…
I have no idea. I’m not quite the business woman! (laughs) I put the EP out and I’m happy I did. I’m excited to move on to the next thing. I hope people will like it. I’m focussed on the future and I’m going to tour it. I’ve been talking to some people in the UK and they really like the EP, so they’re championing it over there to different labels and booking agents. Now I’m focussed on getting my live show up to par! (laughs)
You can see and hear for yourself when she hits these shores next month. Get along if you can.
- Mar 2 Mon Borderline, London
- Mar 3 Tue Exchange, Bristol
- Mar 4 Wed The Barrel House, Totnes
- Mar 5 Thu Koola Bar, Newquay
- Mar 6 Fri The Bullingdon, Oxford
- Mar 7 Sat Drygate, Glasgow
- Mar 8 Sun Sneaky Petes, Edinburgh
- Mar 9 Mon Cluny 2, Newcastle
- Mar 10 Tue The Deaf Institute, Manchester
- Mar 11 Wed Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham,
- Mar 12 Thu The Boileroom, Guildford
- Mar 13 Fri The Forum, Tunbridge Wells