October 27, 2006

Angela Desveaux

Hearing Angela Desveaux's debut record Wandering Eyes really, really made me smile. You see, it's a record that reveals much about the author; it takes all of one listen to hear that Ms. Desveaux is a girl whose background is firmly planted in Country tradition. While other artists might steep their music in twang and all sorts of Country-sounding gimmicks, one won't find such posturing in the notes of Ms. Desveaux's music. It's really a refreshing thing to hear someone making sincere Country music. I had a really nice conversation with her, and I do hope that you take the time to seek out her music; it's worth the investment.

I take it you're on tour now?

This is basically the big month for release, so we're doing a lot of the major cities in Quebec and in Canada, so that's what's going on right now. Since we're playing nearby, we can take three days on the weekend and then come back home, sleep, and refuel. So it's not like we're leaving for a month and doing everything. We're just booking some shows nearby, and eventually we hope to go out for a more extended period of time, but not right now.

In doing research for this chat, I didn't find a whole lot of background information on you. Tell me about growing up. One of the things that really struck me about Wandering Eyes is that the music sounds like that made by someone who grew up around Country music.

Definitely, yeah! My mum and my dad, both of them were big music fans in general, but from their background, both folk and country was a big influence. I think Country was played in all of the households of the town they came from, so my brother and I grew up listening to that all the time. All the classics, but the older classics like George Jones and Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell, but also, we went through the whole 80s and 90s phase of new country music, like George Strait and more contemporary artists. So I listened to it a lot, but I didn't start playing it on my own until, basically, I was out of high school, once I found friends who loved country music, which is a little rare when you're younger (laughs).

I can totally relate. Were your parents musicians?

My dad plays guitar, and he still plays guitar, but not professionally. We'd all get together and play in the living room.

Like a Saturday-night sing-along?

Exactly! We had a lot of those.

I can relate to growing up on Country, "rebelling" against it, and then coming back to it. What brought you back to Country music?

Hmm....well, we went through a garage-rock phase, me and my brother, and we'd listen to more rock music, but it was always stuff that kind of had a country influence. I guess we were attracted to it in a way because it was very familiar. The rock groups that had more melodic songwriting or a lot of harmonies, or if it had pedal steel—right away those were little things that attracted us to the music on the rock scene. But they always had a little country influence. We were listening to Son Volt, Flying Burrito Brothers, Gram Parsons—we realized there was a cooler scene than what we were into when we were younger that still had its roots in country. Then I just started playing bluegrass as well. By then there was no holding back any more. Once you start playing bluegrass, you're right into it, and you're into the traditional country, because bluegrass is as traditional as you can get. I was never really ashamed of Country; it's just that when you were younger, you try to fit in, and we strayed when we were in school. Bu after that, we realized that was the way we liked to play music. So I got back to my roots.

You can't really appreciate something until you walk away from it, look back at it, and put it in perspective.

Exactly! And then you associate yourself with people who like it as well, and you don't feel so left out. In high school, there wasn't that many people who listened to Country music, so we kind of ignored it. But when we found a local scene that appreciated it, I felt proud of it.

I don't normally think of Montreal as being a big Country-minded place, but I guess it is, isn't it?

I think it's like that in North America. Once you get out of the city, people listen to more roots-y music, more relaxed music. I dunno, I think it's true in the States as well, when you live in the city, it's big and it offers more and you kind of stray away from Country. Once you leave the city, you realize that a lot of people listen to Country, and that's why I think my parents grew up on it, too.

Oh yeah, I can relate. I'm from a small town in Texas, and when I went off to college in the big city, people treated me like I was a hick from the backwater, and I guess I was, to some extent. But I found pride in that.

Definitely. And that's what helps you make great friends and makes you the person you are in the city if you're from a small place. I wasn't scared to talk about my feelings and I was really proud of my background, and I was confident as well. At that point, it made it a lot easier to make friends when I did come to the big city.

Is Wandering Eyes your first official album, or have you recorded and released music before?

I have another recording that is four songs long. It was done more acoustically, with stand-up bass, pedal steel, mandolin, and guitar. It has more of a bluegrass/roots feel to it; the songs are much more stripped down. Then I just wanted to do something different. I had a lot of songs that I felt needed a different arrangement and those songs became Wandering Eyes.

How was the experience of making Wandering Eyes?

It was great! It's always a little weird when you start something different, you don't know what to expect, and you just kind of hope for the best. I was working with good people, so I had that, at least. I put my trust in the musicians; at least the product had to come out decent, because I believed in the people I was playing with. But I knew I was going to get something different than what I had expected. My goal was to get something that was more "alt-country," but I think it ended up being a little more rock than I expected. But I'm still very happy with it; they're still the songs that I wrote and they come across well, too.

There are two songs on Wandering Eyes that I just really, really enjoy, that I always go back to.

Oh yeah? Which ones?

"Heartbeat" and "Wandering Eyes." It's hard to get to the rest of the album because of those two really great tracks at the beginning!

(Laughs) Oh, thanks! It's always nice to hear what people get attracted to, because it's always a different one for everybody. It makes it special.

I've shared your music with others, and all of them seem to pick up on a Lucinda Williams influence.

(Laughs) Yeah, it's hard to get away from that! I listened to a lot of Lucinda Williams when I was young, and I found it easier to sing in that style of Country. When you listen to female Country singers, you have the Alison Krauss style, the more high-pitched voice, and you have those who can sing with a more relaxed voice, a lower-ranged voice, and I found it a lot easier to sing like that. Even in songwriting, I find it easier to kind of sit back and lazily sing a song, rather than putting my tonsils into it. (Laughs) But it was also a matter of technique, too. It was a lot simpler, and I don't think it'll always be that way. I don't think all my songs sound like Lucinda Williams (They don't—ed.) I can see how some people would definitely hear that in some songs, though.

Another act I tell people you remind me of is The Judds...

(Curious) Hmmm….really? (Laughs)

I take it that's something you weren't expecting to hear? (Laugh)

Not at all! But let me tell ya, I probably sang their song "Grandpa" in front of my family, like, 250 times, growing up! (Embarrassed, laughing)

Yeah, now that you mention it, I can hear that song's style in Wandering Eyes.

Really?!? Wow.

It's nothing really overt, but more of that style of music, like you said, a relaxed style.

My dad's favorite singer was George Jones, and my brother and I went through a lot of that growing up. Initially, we'd joke around and try to imitate George Jones, singing really whiny and with all the words attached. It kind of sounds like you're a little drunk when you're singing like that, which might be the case with him! (Laughs) But we've always liked singing in that style and it's hard to take it out once you've learned it a certain way.

One other thing that was shocking about your record is that it was released on Thrill Jockey. How did you meet up with them?

Through Howard Bilerman. I worked with him, he was the drummer at the time, and he recorded my first demo and Wandering Eyes. He helped me a lot. He supported me and gave me direction when it came to working with labels. He was very fond of more independent labels. Once the album was done, he sent a couple out to labels he preferred, and I sent them out to labels I preferred as well. Some of them were kind of big, like Lost Highway. Finally, Thrill Jockey came back and said, "We love the album!" I liked the label, so I signed with them.

When I think of their roster, I wouldn't envision them having a more Modern Country-ish singer.

Yeah, we're definitely a bit of a black sheep on the label.

But it works to your benefit, at least in theory. If you were to sign to a Country label, you'd just be another Country musician.

Yeah, and I'd be wearing lipstick, too! (Laughs) I don't like wearing it.


Did I throw you off? (Laughs)

Nah. (Laugh) There's no real difference between Modern Country singers and pop singers like Britney Spears.

Well, that’s the thing, that's what I find, too. I think some of them are great singers, people like Faith Hill, but they definitely have a pop sound, and it's really hard to distinguish. If it wasn't for the pedal steel in the background, I don't think I'd be able to differentiate. I'm not sure I would put myself in the "New Country" tag, though.

It's just nice to hear somebody doing something that's really real. When you grow up listening to a particular genre or style of music, it becomes rather easy to discern when someone's just not really being true to a sound, and are using it more as an affectation.

If you can, allow yourself to just stay away from certain things. I don't think I've ever watched CMT or listened to any of the Country stations here. I know it's there, but when it's time to write my own songs, I try to avoid those things, because I don't want my music to sound like that. I disassociate with the Canadian Country music scene as well, because it's becoming more and more like that. I just stick to my old vinyl records I have here, or my old CD's, and I listen to that. Besides, it's better music, you know? (laughs)

Angela Desveaux's debut album, Wandering Eyes, is available now on Thrill Jockey

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