Abigail Lapell’s sophomore album, Hide Nor Hair, with its sparse instrumentation and haunting vocals, won the award for contemporary album of the year at the 2017 Canadian Folk Music Awards.
An artist who was part of the early 2000s Montreal indie-folk scene, Lapell came of age as a singer-songwriter during a DIY era of recording. Her 2011 independent debut, Great Survivor, was recorded by Heather Kirby, the bassist of the indie-pop band Ohbijou. “It was a pretty low-budget project. We did a lot of recording in a bedroom, but she has really nice equipment and she did a super good job, but it was definitely a lot scrappier production values,” Lapell said.
Hide Nor Hair, on the boutique indie music label Coax Records, was produced by Chris Stringer at Union Sound in Toronto. It was Lapell’s first time working with a producer. She said Stringer was an unobtrusive presence in the recording studio. “He’s worked with many folk-indie bands, so he has a kind of style that he brings to it, but at the same time, it wasn’t very heavy-handed. His production is pretty collaborative. The instrumentation was mostly already finalized, but then we tweaked everything in the studio,” Lapell said. The result is a stripped-down recording that feels very full to her, she said.
The album’s 10 tracks put the spotlight on Lapell’s powerful voice and her often impressionist lyrics. One of the songs, Jordan, received the Ontario Arts Council’s Colleen Peterson Songwriting Award in 2016. Written while she was at a writer’s retreat near the Jordan River in Michigan, Jordan is ostensibly about walking in the woods after a night of disturbing dreams. “That’s a song about being lost in the woods and wandering around, and I was in the throes of a new love at that moment. It’s kind of a love song in disguise,” Lapell said.
On her website, she describes herself as a folk-noir singer, a singer of dark folk songs. In that vein, she’s included two anti-love songs on the album, Indigo Blue and Diamond Girl. Diamond Girl is a love song and break-up song rolled into one. It’s “loosely based on a true story,” Lapell said.
In another dark song on the record, a toe-tapping folk rocker called Hostage Town, Lapell recalls the frightening experience of getting caught in the G20 demonstrations in downtown Toronto in 2010.
Lapell’s favourite track on the album is Fur and Feathers, a song about grief and mourning. She writes stream of consciousness lyrics and only realized what the song was about after it was written. “I wrote that song very quickly. I didn’t think about it, and then later on someone asked me if the song was about my brother, who had died a few years ago. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it really made a lot of sense, because I write very stream of consciousness,” Lapell said. “So when I went back and thought about the song, it definitely seemed like that was in there. It’s a song about grief and mourning and a bit hopeful as well.”
IT’S A SONG ABOUT GRIEF AND MOURNING AND A BIT HOPEFUL AS WELL
On Murder City, a hypnotic drumbeat is the background for Lapell’s thoughts about a new romantic relationship while she walks beside the Winnipeg River. The title refers to Winnipeg’s reputation as Murder City. From 2007 to 2012, it had the highest rates of violent crime of any large Canadian city. “That song is about starting a new relationship and just being in this place and not being sure. It was a feeling of wanting to do right by someone, but also wanting to protect yourself, wondering which one of you is going to be the bad guy in the relationship,” she said.
Hide Nor Hair is available as a digital download, CD or on vinyl. Lapell, who was enrolled in a master’s degree program in cultural studies before she decided to become a professional musician, said that the revival of vinyl records is a backlash to the digitization of music. “It just has this whole physicality to it that’s really missing from our relationship with music. I think people also like having the artifact. It’s like a piece of art and the artwork is so much more prominent,” she said. “I do notice that often I put on a record and just sit and listen to it, which I don’t really do with MP3s on my computer in the same way. ”
Lapell is playing at Toronto’s Tranzac Club (www.tranzac.org) on Jan. 6 at 7:30 p.m., a regular gig she has the first Saturday of each month. She won’t be at the club in February, but she’ll be back in March.
For more information, visit www.abigaillapell.com.