A holiday tradition and music go hand in hand with the Good Lovelies

The Good Lovelies: Caroline Brooks, Kerri Ought and Sue Passmore. Photo: Ali Eisner

It’s an annual ritual for the JUNO-winning Good Lovelies to hit the road and bring some musical cheer across the country. The trio is celebrating 12 years together. They will be in Ottawa on Nov. 27 carrying with them the songs of a new album called Shapeshifters and some warmth for the season. Before the Ottawa show, Caroline Brooks answered some questions from ARTSFILE.

Q. Why is your latest album called Shapeshifters?

A. The lyric ‘We are the Heavy-Lifters, We are the Shapeshifters’ comes from the lead single on the album, I See Gold. We liked the word Shapeshifters because it felt like it represented who we are as people as well as the evolution of our sound as a band. We are constantly adapting as individuals to our lives as parents, partners, daughters and friends. We are also growing as musicians and writers. The title just made sense.

Q. From my perspective, your music is definitely evolving, but is it fair to call it “pop-influenced?” Do you like that label? Do you like any labels?

A. Labels can be challenging because we often feel like our music straddles many genres of music. That being said, I am not afraid of the word “pop” — there is some great pop music coming out of Canada, and the lines between genres are blurring in a really amazing way. My favourite records right now are all leaning into Pop, but firmly rooted in other genres like country or folk. 

Q. Were you aiming for a wider commercial appeal?

A. I wouldn’t say we were aiming for it, but we’d certainly take it if it came our way.

Q. When you made this record, what was different about it?

A. We have always played instruments on our previous albums, but nothing to this extent. Aside from drums and bass, we played almost all the electric and acoustic guitars, synths, keys on the album. Our producer Dan Ledwell (The Once, Fortunate Ones, Oh Pep!) gave us the space and support to take the time we needed to deliver on the vision we had for each song. It was a very freeing experience musically. He was a big part of that.

Working in Dan’s studio, we also got to experiment with different sounds — making synth pads out of our voices, or taking samples and placing them on the album (Kerri’s Dad has tree frogs which were sampled onto one of the songs).

I think all this freedom and experimentation took place because, for the first time, we recorded the album in a studio that wasn’t on a clock and that was away from our homes. We stayed together each night and worked together all day. It was a very lovely experience. 

Q. When you guys write a song does one person bring forward a lyric, or do you guys always co-write? Or is it a mix? 

A. It’s always a mix. We share co-writing credits on everything, but sometimes songs come fully formed by one person. Other times, there’s a chorus idea, or a song missing a bridge. We work through lyrics pretty obsessively as well. Ultimately it’s not until all the voices come together on the song (vocally and artistically) that it becomes a Good Lovelies’ tune.

Q. What issues are affecting your song writing these days?

A. Personally, I’m writing a lot about domesticity — my love of this particular time of life with young children, but also the exhausting nature of raising a young family… I’m also exploring themes related to an apocalyptic future — what will we do when the whole system breaks down, you know, really happy stuff like that. Bet you can’t wait for those tunes.

Q. How do you maintain such a high standard of singing? 

A. We work diligently to continue to evolve our harmony writing and delivery. Right now we’re about to embark on a big Christmas tour and we’re trying in-ear monitors for the first time. We’re looking to bring our singing to the next level, and this is part of that effort. I believe those harmonies are the primary reason people come back to see us again and again. We have to up our game continually to keep them interested.

Q. Do you maintain separate solo careers still?

A. To varying degrees;  I would say the GLs are our main project and has been for 12 years now.

I sing and write quite a bit with other people in and around Toronto. I have a bunch of songs that don’t live in the Good Lovelies sphere, and I’m interested in releasing those in the next few years. Sue works with the SONG project, helping young people in Northumberland write songs, and Kerri will be releasing a solo album in the new year. We do keep busy outside of the band.

Q. Do you anticipate staying with a more pop sound going forward or will your roots show again?

A. I think our “roots” were showing even on Shapeshifters, but the next batch of songs will determine the direction we head in for the next album. It might be pop. It might be old time. It might be roots or even country. I really believe that the songs we write over the next six months will play a big role in the sound of that album.

Q. The holiday tour is an annual affair. How did that start? Why does it continue?

A. Our band’s first show was on Dec. 15, 2006. During that show we did a handful of Christmas songs, and ever since we have done Christmas shows in celebration of our band’s birthday. This year marks 13 lucky years.

Aside from all the amazing holiday music and originals that we get to sing on this tour, there has become this great sense of tradition both within the band, and with our fans who attend the Christmas shows. We are literally watching life fly by when we do these tours. Little kids who used to come to our Christmas show with their families are now off to university. Parents who used to bring their adult children to our shows have passed, and now their kids are bringing their own babies. It’s a beautiful experience to be part of that.

Q. I know you are concerned about the environment. The tour talks about household plastic waste and about the Suzuki Foundation’s Butterflyway program. Why have these caught your attention?

A. We are definitely concerned about the future of our planet, and plastic’s chokehold on our waterways. Our job as touring musicians has a pretty big eco-footprint and we’re trying to make some meaningful changes to help reduce the wastefulness of our industry. We have a plastic bottle ban and styrofoam-free rider. We also bring our own coffee and food containers to reduce waste to landfill. Did you know that Canadians use six billion throwaway coffee cups per year?

We decided to team up with the Suzuki Foundations Butterflyway program. They help to create pollinator-friendly corridors by engaging citizens to create front yard, park and schoolyard gardens. We’ll be selling Abeego Beeswax Wraps (say goodbye to plastic wrap) on our merchandise table and we’ll be donating all proceeds to the program.

Good Lovelies
Where: Babs Asper Theatre
When: Nov. 27 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets and information: nac-cna.ca

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.