Interview: Good Lovelies, “Shapeshifters”

With their new album, “Shapeshifters,” the Good Lovelies have stepped into a new era of their musicmaking.  “We are the heavy lifters, we are the shapeshifters,” they sing in the album’s opening track, “I See Gold,” and so they are.  Fans who came to their music through their folk sound will discover new sounds here, as the group (consisting of Kerri Ough, Sue Passmore, and Caroline Brooks) ‘shapeshifts’ to a broader pop sound, but their trademark harmonies and powerful vocals remain to anchor their new sound in familiar shapes.

The project (which will be available everywhere on 9 February) explores universal themes such as loss, love, and the struggles of balancing motherhood with all the other parts of their lives.  Some of the highlights include “Take Me, Take Me,” a bouncy and terrifically catchy love song, and “Lightness,” a delightful ode to finding those things in life that keep it livable.

Although some longtime listeners of the Good Lovelies’ music might find the evolution in sound a bit surprising, I think this album will win them over with the excellent songwriting (always a hallmark of their music) and songs that just won’t leave your ears after they finish playing.  For myself, I can say that while the album initially took me by surprise, it’s been playing on repeat for me for days now…

We’re thrilled that Sue Passmore and Caroline Brooks took time out of their extremely busy schedules to answer some of our questions about the new album.

Your previous album, “Burn the Plan,” had some pop elements, but this album really fully completes a pretty big stylistic transition. Can you talk about how and why you’ve chosen to go in this direction musically?

SUE: There is definitely a shift in our sound on this album, though I would call it more of an evolution than a decision. In the same way that we didn’t go into the studio for Burn The Plan with a vision in terms of the sound we were looking to create, the same was true of Shapeshifters. This allowed the freedom of mind to explore a whole lot of ideas with our new producer, Daniel Ledwell. Having a studio with all the toys at hand helped too, and we tried some really strange ideas in the studio! I definitely took us down one wormhole that while entertaining, had no future. Other ideas stuck though – there’s a sample created from a recording of tree frogs that Kerri had on her phone, for one. Shapeshifters was definitely born of inspiration in the moment. It’s invigorating for us and we hope for our audience as well.

It seems to me that musicians often have to walk a fine line of challenging themselves as artists while not alienating their existing fan base – do you have any concerns in that regard?

SUE: It would have been really easy to stick with the sound we were first known for – the western swing/Andrews Sisters sound – but it would have been a place of stagnation. The three of us as individuals listen to and love a very broad spectrum of music, and pop is definitely up there. We take writing music seriously, and do want to challenge ourselves to write the best songs we can. No matter what, three-part harmony will always be the common thread in our music, and we strive to write interesting harmonies and not shy away from variation. We understand that some fans will continue to love previous writing styles, and we love that they love those songs as much as we still do. It’s important to us to follow our hearts and move forward with our careers, evolving our sound in ways that we find exciting and inspiring.

There’s a wonderful line in “Lightness” about how gratitude is the only thing that can get us through in these days. How can music make a difference when so much else in the world seems dark?

SUE: Music permeates all parts of our lives. It’s comfort and company, it makes our bodies want to move and our minds reflect. Music makes our hearts explode, and sometimes collapse. It makes us cry, love, shout, scream, relax, refresh, and sometimes, fall asleep when we need it most. Music is a VERY powerful beast, and when a song reaches your heart and moves it into a place of lightness, I think we find the strength and motivation to move forward, persevere, and make change. Music isn’t the only thing that can do this, but I know that when I hear a great song, or see a great concert, I’m left full of inspiration. In the midst of some darker times, if music can be a motivator to inspire great change, then it is definitely worth turning the volume up to 11.

Good Lovelies
(from left to right – Caroline Brooks, Sue Passmore and Kerri Ough)

I love the juxtaposition of the ideas of hurrying and slowing down in “Hurry Up” – that tension between ‘hurry up and go to sleep’ (every parent’s wish, I would assume!) and ‘slow down’ (e.g., don’t grow up so fast). You’ve given the lyrics a lullaby feel – how did you come to that particular sound for that song?

CAROLINE: “Hurry Up” was one of those rare songs that come out of you in one shot. I (Caroline) wrote it one morning after dropping my daughter Annabelle off at school. I came home and sat at our piano and the song came to life.

I’m primarily a guitar player and don’t really know how to play piano, so the part I started to play was quite simple and sounded like a lullaby. Good lullabies are always a bit sad, and I started thinking about my daughter and how quickly she was growing up. Parenthood is full of melancholy – of loving someone so deeply and never wanting them to change, but also wanting them to grow up and lead beautiful lives of their own. As they say “the days are long but the years are short.” That was the feeling I hoped to convey in this little lullaby for Annie.

Like many other artists, you did a fundraising campaign for the album. How was that experience, and would you do it again?

SUE: We are truly fortunate to have fantastic granting agencies in Canada, and Shapeshifters was funded in large part by the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC) and by FACTOR (thank you, thank you!), so our PledgeMusic campaign was in fact a preorder campaign. The motivation was to allow fans access to music in advance, to some fun, new and/or exclusive merch, and some access to behind-the-scenes pictures and videos from our time in the studio. We’ve got some pretty amazing fans and friends who have been with us a long time, and we’re happy to give something back to them in this way. The folks at Pledgemusic have been fantastic to work with on this project, so we would certainly consider doing another preorder campaign with them in future.

You mention in your blog that you road-tested a number of these songs… how did that process contribute to giving you the courage and/or inspiration to proceed and to embrace change?

SUE: The road test was SO MUCH FUN! One week of pop-up shows presented by some of our favourite people, with warm and welcoming audiences, was a blast. We learned a lot on that run about how the harmonies were feeling and how we wanted the arrangements to change, and so returned to the studio feeling the songs more fully formed. It meant some vocals we had already recorded needed to be re-tracked, but I think we all felt it was time well spent. Songs often change from album version to stage version right out of the gate, and you wish you had done a road test before committing “to tape” so to speak. So this was a nice approach this time around.

You have some tour dates on your site, mostly out west – what plans do you have for touring in 2018?

SUE: Lots of plans! I’m writing from Orcas Island, WA today, and we’re out west for another week and change. We will be in Minnesota and Indiana in March, followed by Australia in March and April and then have some big plans and announcements coming up for shows in the spring and summer. It’s going to be a wild year, but I think we will come out the other side feeling very proud and happy with what we have accomplished. Not to mention a whole new pile of road stories to share on stage!

~ L

Photo credit: Nikki Ormerod

Visit the Good Lovelies’ website.

Pre-order “Shapeshifters” (available 9 February).

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