New partnership between the Phi Centre and the National Arts Centre’s NAC Presents series to promote emerging Canadian musicians takes shape with three inaugural shows in Montreal: Allie X (September 2), Common Deer (September 15) and Cold Specks (December 1).
When asked about the music’s relevance in today’s political climate, “The apocalypse is real and self-care is important,” declared the musical artist Cold Specks, speaking on the phone from the Toronto suburbs, as she waited for her mother to arrive with coffee.
“I feel like in this record. I tried to bring light. It definitely touches on, with the subject matter, diaspora, racism, all of these things, there are naturally dark elements to it, but I think I tried to bring some beauty and some light. I attempt to bring beauty from ashes,” continued the singer and songwriter, whose real name is Ladan Hussein. “The record's called Fool's Paradise because it's a reference to detaching for a means of self-care. And in order to do that I had to create my own world. I dreamed up my own world and I drifted off and there was a lot of beauty in it.”
Her third album will be released September 22 on the Toronto-based label Arts & Crafts, and will see Hussein (who used to go by the name Al Spx) heading out on tour. The ten-song record follows Neuroplasticity (2014) and I Predict a Graceful Expulsion (2012), which were nominated for the Polaris Music Prize.
While she herself was born and raised in Canada, Fool’s Paradise is heavily inspired by Hussein’s Somali background and exploration of the musical heritage of her homeland and that of her family. “It influences the music immensely," she says about the war-affected country her parents left. “During the recording process I watched an incredible number of VHS recordings of performances and also, I guess what you would call music videos from the '70s, which was a very rich, beautiful time. It was the golden age of music in Somalia. I watched and analyzed those tapes immensely and I think those sounds seep through the songs, lyrically, thematically, sonically,” she says.
Somalia is a place that clearly stimulates both her heart and creativity. “My parents were heavily involved in that scene in the ‘70s, a lot of these people they knew and respected, and it's really wonderful that it's coming to light. And people can listen to it and dig into it, and it's being covered by many major publications. One of the bands is a band called Iftin, my father was friends with all those people, so it's nice for other people to hear what I grew up on. One of the women in one of those interviews, she actually lived with me for a short period when I was a kid. There was this song that she had called ‘Araweelo’ that influenced the title track ‘Fool's Paradise’ and I allude to that song in my song.”
“I've never been there but it's been completely out of my hands... one city in particular, Mogadishu hasn't really been in a state for me to feel comfortable enough to stay there and be safe. It's changed quite a lot. A lot of people from the diaspora have been moving back there, going back. It's been rebuilding. I'm actually planning on going sometime this year or early next year. I've never been, but I don't think you can revoke someone's citizenship because of something like war.”
As her coffee arrived, she shared other inspirations behind the new album. Montreal, where she lived for a couple of years, was one element, she explained. “I had a rehearsal space up on Bernard. I shared it with a number of musicians, Basia Bulat, and Tim Kingsbury from Arcade Fire – he actually ended up playing on the record, he played bass. Montreal is great because you can afford to be productive and being surrounded by all that, definitely allowed for the creative process to flow in a really natural, wonderful way. We demoed up the record there, most of it was written there. I'm a firm believer that your surroundings affect the music and I'm sure that was the case.”
As Cold Specks prepares to take her latest creation on the road, her upcoming live shows will introduce some new elements; electronic drums, and a stripped-down, three-piece band. “I used to have quite a large band and a pretty intense, textured set-up,” she said. “After touring for a number of years, I kind of lost my voice, because it was so loud I was forced to oversing. So I stripped it down, but it's still really powerful, and you can still feel it, but we have electronic drums now—which is a big change. Getting rid of the drum kit, I think, saved my voice. It's just a three-piece now, one of the members plays keys and bass at the same time, which is pretty interesting, and we have another member who covers all the drums and electronics and guitar.” She’s also “looking at digging into these VHS recordings from the ‘70s, and having them play while we perform”.
Over the years, she’s learned the importance of practicing self-care throughout a tour. “Initially it was very difficult, overwhelming and stressful because I hadn't done it before and it can be intense. I think I've had to learn to surround myself with a small group of people. And that's key. Also, I read, I write music on my laptop, and I watch a lot of shows. I've had to learn to exercise on tour, which is something I didn't use to do, it's really key, like running and yoga, something I can do in a hotel room or take in the city… touring intensely took a toll on my mind and body, I had to adjust.” Still, it’s thrilling to share the music with so many people around the world. “I'm definitely stoked!”
Cold Specks will be back in Montreal on December 1 to present her new album, Fool's Paradise.