Listening to Raine Hamilton’s new album “Night Sky” is a rare, exquisite experience. Her style – which some describe as chamber folk – is a transcendent mix of classical chamber music with gorgeous, ethereal folksinging. For someone like me, who loves both genres, this is an ideal find.
The opening track, “Starlight,” sets the foundation of the album right away – a quite traditional folk song, but with the sound of a classical string trio (Hamilton is backed by a double bass and cello, which provide a fantastic depth of sound behind her clear soprano). “Lift Me Up,” with Raine on guitar, is a beautiful love song, and is a great example of the detailed and complex string arrangements on the project – listen for the cello in particular and how the bowing is used to create an additional layer of percussion as well as melody.
“Robin Hood” is one of several highlights on the album for me – another love song, but with more than a hint of mystery and suspense to it. “Everyday,” an instrumental, is another delightful sonic experience (and while I adore Raine’s singing, her instrumental pieces are equally wonderful and I’d love to hear more).
This is one of those singular albums that I could easily loop on my player during the workday and never tire of it. If you have the chance to pick it up, or to hear Raine live, I strongly encourage you to do so. (We haven’t yet had the chance to hear her live ourselves, but she’s definitely on our short list of artists we’re working hard to catch.)
I’m thrilled that Raine took the time to talk to us about the album.
In listening to the album, I’m really intrigued by the idea of “chamber folk.” There are other artists, I think, who would fall into this category but I’m curious about how you define it? Just hearing the first two tracks of the album (“Starlight” and “Lift Me Up”), the first has a very classical (20th century chamber, to me) feel, while “Lift Me Up” is more folk. How do you see the intersection between these styles, beyond the obvious of instrumentation?
Great question! I think that I am a natural intersection of the chamber and folk styles. I grew up in a musical family – my parents met in a band in the 70s – so I was steeped in the singer songwriter acoustic folk music of their generation. And, at the same time, I grew up taking violin lessons, and playing in string quartets and fiddle bands. I grew up in both of these worlds, so for me it is natural that they would intersect to create chamber folk: songs in the singer songwriter tradition, with string quartet inspired arrangements.
I love the use of pizzicato (as opposed to bowing) in several of the songs to create percussive sounds; how does the instrumentation come together, is it a collaborative process or do you work out the arrangements in advance as you’re writing your songs?
All of the ensemble work is very collaborative. My trio mates Quintin Bart (bass), and Natanielle Felicitas (cello) are both creative and adventurous composers, and we do a lot of the string composing together. Those guys are awesome. I typically bring a song to rehearsal, and we follow inspiration, trying different approaches and ideas.
Where do you find the inspirations for your songs? As I listen to them, I have the sense of folk songs, or medieval/Elizabethan tunes (not in the sense of the style, but in the feeling of the storytelling happening).
Inspiration for me is like seeds on the wind. A seed of an idea comes to me like a gift, and then I am responsible for it, and I want to do right by it. So, I do my best to listen to that idea, and build what comes. Listening is a big part of that process. Sometimes songs are deeply personal, and other times they explore an idea outside of myself. You’re right on with your medieval vibe observation; I have a degree in medieval musicology (long story), and that flavour comes out in this album in a few places.
Do you find it harder or easier to write in French? And do you feel like your writing differs in style/scope between the two languages?
French is my second language, and for me writing in French is a challenge. I find it harder to reach for the right words, the right fit in this second language. But that challenge is part of what I enjoy. It feels good to stretch, to do something that I find really hard.
You’re also an educator – how do your two callings inform and impact each other?
I believe that art is for everyone, music is for everyone. When I lead workshops in songwriting and fiddle tune writing, my goal is to teach a creative process that people can use for life. I have always worked with young people, since my earliest jobs, and I have a strong background in teaching. Teaching has always been one of my gigs, so these workshops are a good fit for a travelling musician keen to teach.
You often include a sign language interpreter in your performances; can you talk a bit about making the experience of music more inclusive of those who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing?
About a year and a half ago I connected with some Deaf people in my hometown of Winnipeg MB, and they explained that they were interested in coming out to more live music shows. They taught me that with the use of an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter there to communicate the meaning, message, and feeling of the songs, Deaf people can have a really meaningful experience with live music. With an ASL interpreter, the hearing audience and Deaf audience can have a simultaneous experience; that shared experience is what draws a lot of people out to live shows, and with ASL interpretation, it is more widely accessible. I’ll add that ASL interpretation of music is very profound; interpreters really go deep to internalize and then express the deeper meaning and feeling of the song, not just the words. It is very cool to watch.
Recently we did our first show with Deaf ASL performers. That means that Deaf artists were the ones performing the songs on stage. They worked as a team with hearing interpreters, who would stand in their sightline and give timing cues, to keep the live song and ASL performance in sync. This was very cool for a couple of reasons:
- It is good to hire Deaf artists (and people in general) wherever possible, because they are a really under-represented group.
- Deaf people are the masters of ASL; this is their language, so their understanding and mastery of it really comes across, and their performance is more accurate, more communicative, and more effective for a Deaf audience.
I recommend working with ASL interpreters to any artist or presenter. I suggest reaching out to Deaf organizations in your community, and seeing if there are some interested Deaf folks you could consult with, and go from there.
Do you have touring plans for the new album?
We hit the road April 4th, and are gone most of the month, with festivals and other treats in the summer! I can’t wait to share this music far and wide.
Photo credit: Megan Steen Photography
UPCOMING CANADIAN TOUR DATES
April 4 – Saskatoon, SK – The Bassment (with string trio)
April 5 – Medicine Hat, AB – Esplanade Theatre (with string trio)
April 6 – Twin Butte, AB – The General Store (solo)
April 7 – Grand Forks, BC – Seniors Hall at City Park (solo)
April 8 – Vernon, BC – Record City (solo)
April 11 – Vancouver, BC – Guilt & Co. (solo)
April 13 – Chilliwack, BC – Tractorgrease Cafe (solo)
April 14 – Lions Bay, BC – House Concert (solo)
April 21 – Toronto, ON – House Concert (solo)
April 22 – Toronto, ON – The Burdock (solo)
April 25 – Peterborough, ON – The Garnet (solo)
April 26 – Owen Sound, ON – Bleeding Carrot (solo)
April 28 – London, ON – House Concert (solo)
April 29 – Whitby, ON – UpCap Cafe Concert Series (solo)