La Force wants you to feel. From Ready to Run, a song that La Force (Montreal-based singer and songwriter Ariel Engle) describes as "a reaction to the refugee crisis," to TBT, about "how we construct memory," the nine songs on La Force’s debut explore, as her bio explains: "life, death, motherhood, self-discovery," these beautiful extremes of life that somehow through art may find moments of harmony. Out now on Arts & Crafts (home to Broken Social Scene, of which Engle is also a member), the album features collabs with many musicians and friends, including members of Plants & Animals, Suuns, Barr Brothers, and more, as well as BSS members like her husband, Andrew Whiteman. To warm up for her concert at the Phi Centre on September 21, we spoke with La Force (whose sound is described in her bio as "nocturnal electronic pop") about identity, inspiration, and owning it as a solo artist.
How did motherhood help inspire your new record?
Not necessarily in the way that we anticipate motherhood to inspire a record. And this has no bearing on how much I love my child, but I didn't anticipate how undone I would become in the early stages of becoming a mother. I thought I would just be me and more. It turns out I was less me than I had ever been, since adolescence. And I hadn't allowed myself the possibility that I would find it hard, or that I'd get postpartum depression, all these things caught me off guard. For the first while, I was like, 'Why didn’t anybody tell me it was going to be like this?' You go from having autonomy, to feeling completely responsible and anxious for this tiny little human you brought into the world that you would lay down your life for. Your life now becomes their life. So that was big… That process was an opportunity for me to really examine who I am. So, it’s in that way that the record is a lot about motherhood.
One song, Can't Take, is the short version of "I can't take me anywhere anymore…". And I wanted to talk about that, I feel it's an important conversation to have, I think it makes us real mothers and healthy mothers who are examining it. I think it's important that we not feel shame because something is complicated.
What are some other songs inspired by your life?
Lucky One is about how I feel like I have everything; this perfect existence in this moment, this daughter that's glorious, a great relationship, and I have a house and everything's good, and I was like, 'When is it going fall?' What goes up must come down. Well, it did. Things did crash, my papa died. And that is also part of the record. It's a real life and death record. He was my biggest champion, he really, really wanted me to sing and he was so supportive of me.
I always loved to sing, I think most children do, it's a real impulse to be creative, sing, draw, and be artistically expressive. My parents would take us to see concerts all the time, they were really passionate about music. My mother worked at Cheap Thrills, the record store, when I was a baby. She'd bring home lots of records so I grew up with crazy amounts of vinyl. But becoming a singer was a real conflicted, long process.
I had a hard time giving myself permission to be a performer. It's a very delicate place to put your ego. We're socialized to share the floor, I was certainly socialized to not hog attention, it's hard to figure out what your motivation is. I finally got comfortable when I realized I was there to share something with people and that when I go to a concert, I don’t want the performer to be shy or apologetic, I want them to be in full confidence. Because they're hosting me. An artist who was a real touchstone for me was Lhasa de Sela [the late Mexican/American singer who lived in Montreal]. When I watched her perform, I just felt safe, I felt great… Ironically, being confident is more generous than being shy. But, 'Oops. I'm sorry don't look at me,' no one's comfortable! So once I could get over that, I've had such a better time.
How did this solo project come about?
My husband and I had a band called AroarA. We were like, 'OK, this will be our second record,' and working on it was like pulling teeth. I love his musical sensibility, I love making music with him, but sometimes it's the one time we're most likely to fight, which is unusual for us. After awhile, he was like, 'You know what, we have a child together, we have Broken Social Scene together, and now we're not having a good time. We don't need to do this.' It took me a moment, and I think I had kept challenging all his ideas because he was like, 'I think you might need to do this alone.' And it was a bit of a hard thing to hear, because I felt like he was breaking up with me musically, but I knew it was true. And the more I did it, the more it was true.
The name La Force seems to reflect that independence…
J’ai trouvé ma force… What am I protecting myself from? What am I protecting other people from? Why is it so threatening to say, 'Yes, I stand here by myself?' The truth is, all this music was made with the help of other people, but in less than a week, I'll be opening for Leslie [Feist], I'm going on a little European tour where I open for her. Je vais devoir l’assumer. And so I gave myself the name La Force, in part because it's something I aspire to, it's not always exactly there... And another reason is, I love the tarot card of La Force [from the Tarot of Marseilles], I love the image, it keeps me centered on what I'm doing.
Do you read tarot cards?
My husband does, I don't. The card is an image of a woman and a lion. I love the simplicity, and that I don't know exactly who's in control. It's this beautiful dynamic between the human and the animal, and your animal nature, your creative impulse that is both powerful and scary to you. I also love that La Force is feminine.
How do you see your process evolving?
I'd like to explore sensory songwriting above intellectual songwriting. I'm self-taught, I don't particularly know about song structure or chords, I just play what I come up with. I'm really attracted to all kinds of devotional music from around the world, I don't know what they're saying per se, but I feel what they're saying and I love going into a trance with them as a listener… I hear it in gospel, I hear it in North African music; It's more of a body feeling than it is a brain feeling.
What's one thing you hope people take away from your show?
I want them to feel. That's it. Just that. Like I very delicately put my hand on their heart, inside their chest, very nicely, with love, and made them feel something that felt true to them, that's all I want.
Ariel Engle will launch La Force's eponymous album at the Phi Centre, on September 21.