Listening to this terrific new album from Edmonton-based VISSIA, it’s perfectly evident that it is the fruit of significant effort on her part. The album, she says, took four years to write – four years of experiences that have been woven together into this set of fantastic songs. While the songs definitely encompass time and space in her life, they nevertheless carry a common theme of love gone wrong, expectations not met, and a strong woman who endures it all.
The album begins with the powerful song “Mountaineer,” a driving tune about a wandering love, then shifts gear quickly – but not jarringly – to “Macondo,” a slow burner of a country song that highlights VISSIA’s beautiful and lithe voice to perfection. The tempo of the album then speeds back up with “I Wanted,” another jewel of a song that highlights the mixed feelings of expecting a lover to disappoint while hoping they don’t. (Watch the video of “Mountaineer” here.)
“Night Romancer,” which begins with a few bars of wailing guitar, is one of those great songs that you just want to crank up with the windows down in the car on a warm spring day, while “The Kind of Good” is a gorgeous ballad with just the right amount of reverb on VISSIA’s voice to echo beautifully like a dream in a smoky bar.
Not only are these wonderfully enjoyable songs, but the production and sound quality of the album is also excellent; even in digital format, the album has a warm, lush sound to it (and I look forward to hearing it on vinyl). Mark your calendars for 10 November, the release date for “Place Holder,” and plan to pick this one up.
We are so pleased that Alex Vissia took the time to answer some of our questions about the album.
In listening through the album, the shift from “Mountaineer” – a straight-ahead rocker – to “Macondo,” with a bit of a country twang, is a surprise. How do each of these songs encapsulate who you are as a musician?
There are a couple of things that have really had an impact on who I am as a musician. First of all, I grew up playing a lot of country music as a kid, so I think that’s always been an underlying (almost inescapable) influence. I’ve had a Martin D-28 since I was 15, so that’s very much the sound I associate with my youth and my roots. I think I was about 17 when a cousin of mine introduced me to Wilco, Neko Case, Ryan Adams, and Neil Young, and I have always loved how they walk that line between country and rock so effortlessly. Songs start in different ways, in different places, and I just try to go where the song leads and try not to get in the way too much.
As you were writing the album – which you’ve said took four years – what were some of the influences that inspired the songs that ended up on the project?
This album is a collection of songs, each holding a place in my experiential past. I don’t mean that the songs are all about me on a direct or personal level, but they come from firsthand observation one way or another, and they’re really just my own interpretations of things. Like any memory, the edges get fuzzy with time, and my perspective can change, but I look at each song as a snapshot, or a moment in time, and each song brings me back to a place. I used to be such a sucker for nostalgia, but writing songs is a way for me to acknowledge situations and experiences and then set them free.
I’ve listened to the album through several days and I keep coming back to “The Kind of Good” – the slow guitar, your voice with just the right amount of reverb – it’s curiously addictive. Can you talk a bit about how this particular song came to be?
This song is the most personal on the whole album for me. I wrote it when I was in Kansas City for Folk Alliance, or perhaps it was on the way home. I had just separated from the person I’d been with for years, and I was feeling raw and lost. Lack of sleep mixed with bourbon led to one particularly stormy night for me, and the lyrics started creeping in the next morning. I still haven’t played this song live more than a couple of times because it tends to trigger those emotions and I find it hard to keep it together – even for three whole minutes. I think this one really benefited from tracking completely live off the floor.
Between the production by Emily Bachynski and the mixing by Sam Kassirer, the album sounds tremendous. (And I bet it will sound even better on vinyl!) In the press materials, you mention in particular being excited about the mix – can you expand on that a bit?
First of all – thank you! When I was looking to get the album mixed, it was suggested to me by another band that I play in (The Hearts) that I look into working with Sam. He’d mixed the last record for The Hearts, and as it turns out, is a longtime collaborator and pal of Josh Ritter. I am an enormous Josh Ritter fan, so the thought of working with someone who had worked on his records sounded like a dream come true. This was also the first time I was going to be sending my songs away to be mixed, so I was understandably a little nervous about it. When I got the first set of mixes back from Sam, I forgot about ever being worried. He understood exactly what I was going for and I’m just so happy with how the songs turned out.
You’re in the middle of a tour right now and have a number of dates still to come… what can folks expect when they come to hear you live?
I’ll be touring with a band for all of the shows except Halifax, so they can expect to hear songs from Place Holder in all their full-band glory! (And maybe even a couple brand new songs slipped in…) Playing live is my absolute favourite thing about playing music, so I really can’t wait.
Photo credit: Emily Bachynski
Thursday Nov 2 :: Brownstone Cafe :: Orillia ON
Friday Nov 3 :: Tweedsmuir Tavern :: Tweed ON
Saturday Nov 4 :: Refined Fool :: Sarnia ON
Thursday Nov 9 :: Phog Lounge :: Windsor ON
Friday Nov 10 :: The Burdock :: Toronto ON
Saturday Nov 11 :: Garafrax Cafe :: Durham ON
Sunday Nov 12 :: Mahtay :: St Catharines ON
Wednesday Nov 15 :: Legendz Pub :: Belleville ON
Thursday Nov 16 :: house concert :: Gatineau QC
Friday Nov 17 :: Avant Garde Bar :: Ottawa ON
Saturday Nov 18 :: Le Cagibi :: Montreal QC
Monday Nov 20 :: Grumpy’s :: Montreal QC
Saturday Nov 25 :: house concert :: Halifax NS