Erin Costelo delivers an album in record time

Erin Costello launches a new record at the NAC on Saturday. Photo: Mat Dunlap

The Nova Scotia singer-songwriter Erin Costelo has emerged as a musical force to be reckoned with both as a performer and as a producer. Before she celebrates the launch of a new album called Sweet Marie at the National Arts Centre’s Fourth Stage on Saturday, she answered some questions from ARTSFILE. Here’s a taste of the new album with the song All in Your Head.
Q. Tell us about Sweet Marie?

A. This album started in summer 2017. I started thinking of making it in a different way.  I wanted to challenge myself to make an album in a shorter amount of time.  Instead of taking years to make the record, I challenged myself to make it in just 10 days.  I enlisted the help of some great musicians and we went to the country in Nova Scotia in January 2018 and made the record in a home by the ocean.

Q. What does the album signify to you in terms of your evolving career? What are your hopes for it?

A. I hope that this album will be heard by as many people as possible. That’s always a hope.  With the help of my new label Compass Records in the U.S. I am hopeful that will happen. But more than that, I think it shows an evolution and growth in my songwriting and producing and growing as an artist is always the biggest hope, I think.

Q. Can you take me through your writing process. What catches your attention when you write a song? 

A. I generally start with a harmonic progression.  For this album I wrote a number of songs on guitar, which is new for me.  Usually I write at the piano.  I spend a lot of time editing lyrics and this album was no different in that respect.

Q. Are there themes or ideas that you keep coming back to in your writing?

A. I think this album I am a little more fearless in expressing my thoughts in general, less afraid to be angry, or vulnerable in my writing.  And the same is true for anxiety and true love. I think I try and dig deeper and deeper with each album.

Q. Who are your musical heroes and influences?

A. I love Carole King and Randy Newman. In fact, there is a Randy Newman cover on the album.  I have opened for Mavis Staples and Dr. John and those experiences were truly amazing. They are both such heroes.

Q. You had a film made of this recording process. Why?

A. I wanted to hold myself accountable to the 10-day plan and filming the process seemed like a good way to stick with it.  I also felt a certain amount of responsibility as a female producer to show a woman in charge. I think the world needs more female producers and the more younger women start seeing female producers the chances are greater that it will become an option for them. You can’t be what you can’t see.

Q. You asked Amelia Curran to lead the making of the film? Why?

A. I think I picked the best person for the job. Amelia is a close friend and very experienced in the studio. And I knew she would care about the project and show the world what it is like to record an album. It was a wonderful and happy coincidence that she is also a woman.

Q. You are a producer. Why? 

A. I produce albums, my own and others, because I love bringing to life a vision.  Whether it is my own or the work of another artist, I find it exhilarating and very fulfilling.

Winning an award as Producer of the Year (at the Nova Scotia Music Awards in 2017) was really validating.  I hope we see more woman win awards like this. I look forward to the day that a woman winning isn’t a big deal. That it happens all the time.

Q. How many cats and dogs currently tell you what to do?

A. I have two dogs: Minnie a chihuahua (aged 16 with no teeth) and Hoagy a beagle/shepherd cross (five years old with all his teeth). We had a cat named Frank but sadly he passed a way a few weeks ago.  We were all very broken hearted, especially Hoagy who loved Frank the most.

Erin Costelo with Shannon McNally
Where: NAC Fourth Stage
When: Oct. 20 at 8:30 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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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.