Interview: Ché Aimee Dorval, “Between the Walls & the Window”

Che Aimee Dorval - Between the Walls & the Window

Since Vancouver-based Ché Aimee Dorval’s latest release, “Between the Walls & the Window,” landed in my player, it has remained there.  It’s a collection of great songs, all anchored by her tremendous singing.  This, her second full-length solo album, reflects not only deep thinking but also deep lessons no doubt learned during her time in Casualties of Cool.

The opening track, “Afraid,” definitely throws down the gauntlet for the entire project, with its passionate vocals and vulnerable lyrics.  “Buried,” which was the album’s first single, offers some of Ché’s reflections on how our society hasn’t progressed as far as we would think (or wish), while “Erupt the Quietus” is a powerful call to find one’s courage.

“Holding In,” with its change in tempo and rhythm, is a shift in the songs (but not jarringly so), calling the listener to keep paying attention, and is followed by the mournful and gorgeous anthem “I Should Have Worried.”  “Art of Dying” is for me one of the highlights of the project, a lovely narrative of surrender in all its bitter beauty.  “Low” is an awesome slow-burner rock anthem, and Ché closes out the project with “I Know I Know (a Broken Heart),” a beautiful reflection on the aftereffects of lost love.

This is a wonderfully confident project by an artist willing to open up her thoughts and her heart in her music.  It’s a great mix of styles – folk, rock, pop, even some jazz, and should appeal to a wide audience.  Highly recommended.

We’re so very pleased that Ché took some time to answer a few questions about her album.

Given the events of 2017 (at least on this side of the border), your album and its exploration of the continuing challenges of being a woman seems especially timely.  What prompted you to do this particular album, at this particular time?

Songwriting for me has always been about working through whatever is going on in my life at the time by channeling my experiences into something tangible that I can reflect on.

A lot of the time when it’s a negative experience or when I’m having a rough time, I’m the sort of person who tends to hermit and seclude myself from the outside world and even to some extent from myself. I detach because sometimes it’s all a bit too much. Songwriting feels good and it takes you out and away from yourself, so I turn to that when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

I never set out to write a specific song and I don’t have a sketch of what I want to say, i just write whatever comes. Generally, while I’m writing it doesn’t even feel like it’s a part of my experience. It feels like I’m writing a story about some other person. It’s only when I have the chance to sit back, listen to my songs and mull over the lyrics that I realize the full spectrum of what has got me so antisocial and on edge. It’s like my body’s way of tricking me into dealing with my fear.

Last year was hard. Last year revealed that our seemingly evolved and just society was really nothing but a smokescreen. That a lot of the progress we thought we had made with gender discrimination and women’s rights, with racism and homophobia, it was all on the surface. Last year I guess I finally pulled the gauze away from my eyes and admitted to myself that discrimination is alive and well. And that really sucked. So, I did what I do; I hid in my house and I wrote some songs. I drank wine and I ranted. I attended a rally or two. I spoke up and I questioned things more. And then I put out a really fucking depressing album, lol.

How did your experience in Casualties of Cool inform how you approached this project?

Casualties taught me about hard work and stamina. I learned a lot from watching Devin put so much of himself into all of his projects and for this album I tried a bit of that on for size and surprise surprise I learned that hard work does indeed pay off!

I also learned that with this kind of music, and these kind of stubborn independent goals, you need to hold yourself accountable for the end result. I’ve learned that being able to step into a leadership position is necessary even if it doesn’t come naturally to you. When you’re trying to put out a very specific solitary piece of music you need to be able to communicate your ideas and feel comfortable speaking up when you feel that you’re straying away from them and I struggle with that the most I think. I have a habit of second guessing myself and throwing up my hands, but that’s what makes this endeavour so valuable to me as a person.

There’s still so much to improve on but I’m making progress and that’s what matters. Hopefully one day I’ll get to a point in my songwriting and recording career where I can look at a finished album and think “this is EXACTLY what it should be and I love every moment of this” and then I can move on to mastering some other thing.

Che Aimee Dorval

You said this about “Buried” – “The first single Buried was born out of frustration at having to fight the same battles I thought we’d grown past.”  Here at the beginning of 2018, does it feel like we’ve stepped backwards in time, or do you think that progress has been made on some of these battles?

I have high hopes for 2018! People are no longer pretending that everything is fine the way it is and women are demanding better treatment. I think we’re at an point in time where women specifically are done with the whole “going along to get along” mentality.

While Buried was about MY experience as a women, the frustration, anger and the need for change doesn’t stop there obviously. There are a lot of changes brewing and a lot of movements gaining momentum and I think that’s fucking wonderful. Unless the earth decides to call it quits or Trump leads everyone into a nuclear war, I think that 2018 will be illuminating.

Is it easier or more challenging to write songs that are quite personal (as opposed to telling stories that may or may not be about you)?

For me, any sort of songwriting that happens naturally is pretty easy. It’s when you feel that you NEED to write a song or SHOULD be writing more songs that songwriting becomes really hard.

With my solo stuff I tend to write about my life and it comes easily because I only really sit down and try when my body tells me to.

Casualties is a bit different. A lot of the songs on the last record were stories. Bones was a direct interpretation of the theme and I wrote the lyrics with that in mind. And it wasn’t any harder or easier than when I write my solo stuff. It was just different. It felt more like a puzzle or a fun game.

I also find that the songs that were the easiest to write are usually the same songs that people are more drawn to.

In other interviews, you’ve mentioned that Nick Drake’s music has had a big influence on your music.  Are there other musicians who have especially impacted your songwriting?

Cat Power has been a big influence as well. Her music is so beautiful and she has always seemed so sensitive and vulnerable onstage. I’ve seen her play 3 or 4 times now and every show has been such a window into where she’s at in life at that point. Her shows feel honest. Most people put on a show and that can be really great too but it’s nice to see someone play and feel like everything that’s happening onstage is a genuine moment. With her you get to see something not so polished all of the time and that’s really refreshing.

Do you have plans for touring the new material in 2018?  (Any chance of coming east, say, to Ontario?)

Ya! I have really vague and unconfirmed plans to play everywhere lol. I’m actually in the middle of sorting all of that out but ideally I’m hoping to have north American east coast and west coast tours hopefully in the late spring and then a European one. Super vague. But at one point my plans to make this album were incredibly vague and i managed to pull that off so I’m feeling optimistic!

~ L

Photo credit: Nicole Gurney

Visit Ché Aimee Dorval’s website.

Listen to “Between the Walls & the Window” on Spotify.

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