Chloe Albert enters the media tent with a sense of exterior calm amongst the festival frenzy. Numerous accolades surround Albert, an Edmonton based singer-songwriter, with a 2014 Juno Nominee and Western Canadian Music and Edmonton Music Awards for her most recent album, Dreamcatcher.
This is Albert’s second time performing at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival; she notes with a smile that the first time she was on Gallagher Hill, she was just a bundle of nerves. She exudes the patience of an Artist that has the stamina to build her career in gradual manner.
Tell me about a formative musical moment in your upbringing.
C: For me, actually, it was Lilith Fair, probably around 15 years ago. Right around when I bought my first guitar was when Lilith Fair happened. There were all these women and artists I really loved and looked up to. The merging of those two things together at the same time was when I got excited about it and thought: “I’d really love to do this!” I was always really shy and performing was not something I did otherwise. It was struggle to get out but I love the rush of it.
Are you ever surprised about people’s connection with you through your music?
C: That’s my favorite thing ever. Even at this Festival, I still have this idea in my head that I must know everybody who listens to my music because I must have a relatively small fanbase. However, CKUA has a really broad reach. Even at this Festival I’ve had people say they’ve been listening for years. A kind gentleman yesterday, said to me: “your voice has stopped me in my tracks so many times over the years,” that still surprises me and makes me feel really good. A lot of times you really don’t have a way of knowing. Not everyone is on social media and even if they do they might not reach out.
What made you decide to pursue music as a profession?
C: It really changed year to year. Fifteen is where I thought: “Oh, I want to do this.” I was really naïve, I didn’t know the road ahead of me that was awaiting. This is embarrassing to admit, but I kinda grew up in a time where my favorite singer/songwriters were discovered singing on a street corner. I wasn’t too worried about it. I played some open mics and I was interested in traveling. I wasn’t too worried about pounding the pavement and thought, “someone will discover me!” Then I put out my first record and that changed things a lot.
Then I took music in college. I was in college taking a Bachelor of Arts program, I felt like a fish out of water. I enjoyed it but I didn’t feel like I was in the right place. My mom suggested the music program cause I’ve always played music. I wasn’t hoping to go to school for music but it ended up being the best. That’s where I got my first glimpse of the idea of playing music and not necessarily having to be a superstar. Many of my professors have been jazz musicians and played music for their whole lives in Edmonton and Alberta. I remember thinking, “that’s so cool!”
I have a local band I play in here with some of my best girlfriends. Now it’s really nice because when I’m taking a break, I had a baby last year, not taking a break from my own stuff but focusing on writing and not performing. And this band can keep me busy and pay some bills. It’s been an evolution. Between my first and second record I knew that [a career as a professional musician] was possible and this was what I wanted to do.
It sounds like post-secondary education seemed like a positive move in your training.
C: Just the level of musicianship was so high and was something to strive for. Hearing that practical side of making a living while playing music. It was really positive.
Even the world of grant writing was important to learn about, which as an independent artist, you really need to know. That was really important because grants funded both my albums. It gives you the power back from “maybe I’ll get discovered someday!” to “I’m going to apply for some grants and I’m going to get the work.”
Motherhood is a new component into your various roles. Do you enjoy the diversity and change each of your roles offer?
C: I knew I wanted to continue to play when I had a baby. Singing and playing is the same as exercise, if you stop you gotta to start from scratch again and you’re out of shape. It’s definitely a juggle that I’m still adjusting to. I’m still trying to do everything I was doing before and obviously there’s this beautiful, human being that I’m taking care of so that takes a large portion of my time. The first year I was putting no pressure on myself. I was enjoying motherhood and performing every couple of weeks. Now I’m starting to find the balance. He’s 1.5 now so it’s a little more structured. I’ll probably be figuring out this juggle for the next while. It’s good, it’s fun!
Do you feel like motherhood has introduced a new perspective to your work?
C: Not so much. The most common question I get asked is: “now that you have had a baby, has this inspired a whole bunch of new songs?” Not yet. Well, like I said, for the first year I didn’t write at all.
I just attended a writing workshop in Nashville last week and I found that when I was focused on it and delving into it, I find that I do have a lot to say and maybe I haven’t realized it. But now it’s all starting to bud.
Do you have general guidelines in your songwriting session?
C: The most important ingredient for me is the inspiration behind the song. There has to be this inexplicable thing when I’m playing my guitar. It could be a lyric or a melody. You either get a feeling or you don’t about it. That is the sacred special piece of the song. What often happens, the way I write, I get that bout of inspiration that comes to me and from there I work outwards from there lyrically and melodically. Sometimes when you’re writing, you can lose the essence of why you’re writing. Sometimes in co-writing or if you go back to the song many times and re-write it, you can lose the essence. Not getting too caught up in, for example, as far as lyrics are concerned, there can be a lot of rules.
But really, there are no rules, because it’s art. In the last five years taking songwriting classes, really focusing on a lyric needing to be a certain way, I find sometimes you can compromise the essence of trying to make it fit into a box. That’s another learning and juggling act to dance around that fine line. I’m really pulling back now and realizing I was focusing too much on framework and structure and sometimes that can take away from the magic of the song. What I found generally speaking is that there are always exceptions to rules. You think, “that song one of my favorite and it doesn’t follow any of those rules.”
Do you have any checks to see if pieces work?
C: Before I used to be: “when a song is done, it’s done!” But now I’m more open to people’s takes and opinions. I want to be making music people enjoy. I’ve been writing a few new songs for the new record and I’ve been doing that playing it for friends or sending voice memos to family. I’ve also been trying them at smaller shows to get some feedback.
What do you enjoy about being a working musician based out of Edmonton?
C: Surprisingly, people think of Alberta of being oil country but we have a phenomenal Arts community. Having toured Canada now and traveled as an independent musician – that was when I realized how great Alberta is. Calgary has six folk clubs, Edmonton has two or three, that’s more than most cities!
The CKUA Radio Network is a huge part of keeping this circuit alive amongst folk independent artists. I find Alberta has been really great. The other is the corporate world. If you are dabbling in both, like I am, it’s really great here. There’s a wealth of Arts funding.
With social media coming into play, there was a time 10 years ago that I did feel the pressure to move to a bigger centre like Toronto, Vancouver, or out of Canada. But now, I feel like it’s not necessary. There’s the internet and you can share your music that way.
What is moving you forward in the next few years?
C: The thing that really drives me is the fulfillment of creativity. That’s why I love songwriting. I hope to continue to have a rich experience of collaborating with people and writing music. Ultimately, I’d like to be playing for larger audiences and touring more.
It is evident that this calm resilience and pursuit of songwriting excellent will continue to fuel Albert’s artistic work into the future.