I found my current fiddle at the Mariposa Folk Festival. After the shows were over, there was a great jam session back at the hotel and I took my drink and sat beside a pal of mine. He is a multi-instrumentalist and when he switched to Dobro, he passed me his fiddle to play. It was love at first touch. I played it the whole night and it broke my heart to relinquish it in the wee hours.
A few months later, my friend called me and said he wanted to sell it as he wanted to buy a pedal steel and would I be interested in buying it. JOY!
It’s a really growly and lovely violin and has a velvety dark tone. It’s over a hundred years old although the only clue I have is a label inside that indicates that it was repaired in Toronto in 1895…so it’s a bit of a mystery, which I like.
I started playing violin when I was four with the Suzuki method. I grew up listening only to classical music, so even now I have huge gaps in my popular music knowledge. I went to university to study opera singing and my violin gathered dust for a while but a cute boy asked me if I could play fiddle with him in an Irish pub band so I said, “of course I can play fiddle” and spent the next few nights cramming with a few Natalie MacMaster CDs! It was a revelation. Learning the fiddle and discovering folk music felt like coming home. I spent the next few years studying opera by day and playing tunes in the pub at night. It felt like a secret double life. Montreal is home to some incredible musicians who play in the pubs and from them I learned a lot of tunes and how to improvise (which sure comes in handy when you forget the tune you’re supposed to be playing!).
I love how different we are from each other in Belle Starr. It forces us to really consider the decisions we make. If one of us feels really strongly about something, we have to articulate it well to explain it to the others. This solidifies our intentions and I think in the end, forces us to make clearer musical statements. I felt that we all learned a lot about each other, and about collaboration working on this album. We all have individual contributions but it was a real collective effort and I’m so proud of the result.
One of the instrumentals on the record is a fiddle tune I wrote called Charity Kiss. When I’m in Nashville, I like to go to the Station Inn, which is an incredible music venue – it has a lot of character and on any given night you can see amazing musicians, both onstage and off. The last time I was there, I saw my hero, Alison Krauss at the bar! One of the regular bands there is called the Time Jumpers, who play in a Texas Swing style. I was inspired by them and originally wrote the tune for us to play in a triple fiddle style but when we started arranging it, it took on a life of it’s own and actually owes more of its sound to the current Boston Berkelee-centered folk scene. I know why I called it ‘Charity Kiss’ but it might have to stay a secret between the three Belle Starr girls!
A song I brought to the table and that really resonates with me is ‘Be A Man.’ I have a good friend who I play with sometimes – a brilliant musician named Justin Rutledge. He co-wrote this particular song with one of my favourite authors, Michael Ondaatje. It leaves enough space lyrically to leave some interpretation up to the listener and has some truly beautiful poetry in it that I never get tired of singing. I think there is something really compelling too about three women softly singing the words, “be a man about this.”
I feel as though thematically there is a lot of hope on this record. Hope is always noticed the most when the chips are down, and the contrast of dark and light is one we consciously explored in the making of the album. With six very distinct voices – three vocals, three fiddles, it is the adding and taking away and the creating of friction in timbres and harmony in tones that make it interesting for the listener and us.