Music, might & ships

Angela Desveaux sings her past and present

Angela Desveaux calls upon her family’s Acadian roots and current Montreal living in her album Angela Desveaux the Mighty Ship.
Angela Desveaux calls upon her family’s Acadian roots and current Montreal living in her album Angela Desveaux the Mighty Ship.
Despite comparisons to her Canadian country star peers, Desveaux says she’s more rock- and folk-inspired.
Despite comparisons to her Canadian country star peers, Desveaux says she’s more rock- and folk-inspired.

The past is a teacher, a shaper of things to come. It’s the repository of recollections and the setting for stories. Although experiences can be at once positive and formative, they can also be painful and tragic. Angela Desveaux has a close relationship with the past, her own and others’—it’s a vehicle for her music to explore.

Desveaux, originally born in Montreal, was raised in Nova Scotia by parents from an Acadian town. She eventually returned to Montreal at the age of 10, but she never really left behind her rural roots. The Journal reached her in Montreal, her home for the past 20 years, where she was preparing to head out on a tour through southern Ontario and the US.

Her newest album Angela Desveaux & The Mighty Ship, released in September, is only the latest chapter in her long love affair with music. Her parents, who she describes as pretty big music lovers, raised her listening to a lot of country music. She credits her father with exposing her to her first instrument—and the only one she has ever played

seriously—the guitar.

“My dad plays, not professionally. My dad probably taught me ‘House of the Rising Sun’ when I was nine or 10,” she said.

Desveaux was a natural, not only at playing but at writing too. She credits her parents for this too.

“As soon as I picked up the guitar I just started humming out melodies. …As soon as I started playing I started writing songs as well,” she said. “That was our main hobby, music. That’s how I met people.”

From playing in other people’s suburban basements in high school to open-mic nights at Barfly while attending McGill for biology, Desveaux always had music in mind. As for academia, Desveaux is not a fan.

“I felt like I had an obligation to go, but I felt like I didn’t belong,” she said.

Upon finishing up her degree she started putting all her effort into music and found the passion that put her at odds with the objectivity and rationality of university was useful when channelled into songwriting.

“I come from a family where it’s very important and easy to express our feelings. I find it difficult to talk about things and not express my feelings,” Desveaux said. “I like things to be emotional and subjective.”

The material on The Mighty Ship may be emotional but it’s also substantial. The title track is a fusion of two tragic seaside tales: The chorus is borrowed from an old song about the Titanic and the verses recount the tragedy of Desveaux’s own grandmother losing her first husband at sea. She said she sees the song as a gift to her grandmother.

“That’s a key ingredient to country music, a lot of personal stories,” Desveaux said. “Life is not always happy.”

Although Desveaux does cite many country and bluegrass influences, such as Gillian Welch and Lucinda Williams, and appreciates attributes of these genres such as their personal nature, she doesn’t see herself as purely country but rather cites more classic folk and rock acts such as Neil Young and The Beatles as resonating throughout her music.

“I think there’s a difference between who you sound like and who you’re influenced by,” she said.

As far as direct comparisons to other Canadian songstresses such as Kathleen Edwards, whom she loves, she said she sees these comparisons as a necessary evil, but that it’s a tad too reductive.

“When you compare to other Canadian artists I feel it shrinks the genre a bit,” she said. “You can sometimes cause more harm than good by putting people in these categories.”

Unfortunately, some critics have used these comparisons to make the point that Desveaux should further differentiate herself from her singer/songwriter compatriots.

“I don’t think the public or the people who are listening should be part of your equation,” she said. “You do want to please people but you can’t let that—you have to do it for yourself.”

Desveaux has never played in Kingston before but she has a few tricks for charting and charming unfamiliar territory.

“When I walk into a venue, it may not be the right thing to do, but I kind of assess the situation and look around. In general, young people have a short attention span so you have to play quickly and jump around.”

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