After her first tour as La Force, Ariel Engle talked with QRO. In the conversation, Engle talked about playing everywhere from New York to Portugal as La Force (but not Spain), making her self-titled debut record (QRO review), why it changed from being an AroarA record with her husband Andrew Whiteman, working with Whiteman & many more in Broken Social Scene (QRO spotlight on), the many benefits of Canada & Quebec, not competing with the likes of close friends Leslie Feist & Amy Millan, and much more…
QRO: How was your recent tour?
AE: It was great. It was brief.
The standout was playing the Mercury Lounge. I only played two shows in the U.S.
QRO: Was that basically your first tour as La Force?
AE: Outside of my little burg, yeah. I played a few shows in Montreal, Canada, close to Montreal, Toronto. It was my first foray into the U.S.
It seems every time I play, I’m in a slightly different configuration. This time we were a three-piece.
I’m really dead, because last night I played solo, in Montreal. And the night before, I was with Broken Social Scene in Newfoundland. From Montreal to Newfoundland, it’s far – it’s kind of like Montreal to New York. It was a weed legalization party.
AE: I didn’t partake, I promise! Now that it’s legal, I’m less interested. Now anyone can do it.
QRO: Are you from Montreal?
AE: I am. I six blocks from where I grew up. It’s crazy! I feel like I’m from the shtetl.
QRO: [laughs] Was that accidental, or intentional?
AE: I think that has to do with having a really close relationship with my family.
When I met Andrew, who’s my husband and bandmate, there was the option of moving to Toronto, ‘cause that’s where he lives. I was ready to move, but he was also ready to move. I had a beautiful apartment, and… It just sort of happened.
Now, we live here, our kid goes to daycare. There are many things about Quebec that are wonderful, like it’s bilingual, and daycare is ten dollars a day. She gets organic meat, and organic dairy – ten dollars a day. You’re not going anywhere!
QRO: I was thinking, wouldn’t your parents be like, “Oh, we can watch the kids,” if they live six blocks from you…
AE: I no longer have my father, which is tragic – it happens; that’s what a lot of my record is about.
But my mom looks after my daughter a lot, because we tour, and I don’t bring her that much.
QRO: I know that it can be tough, to be a parent on tour.
AE: It’s tough having them with you sometimes, and it’s tough being away from them.
There are many things about Quebec that are wonderful, like it’s bilingual, and daycare is ten dollars a day.
QRO: You played twice in Portugal last month, and will play there four times in December. Is that just random, or do you have some sort of ‘Portuguese hook’?
AE: That’s random. It played Portugal opening for Feist; and I’m going back, opening for Patrick Watson. That’s their tours; I don’t have any say in it, but it’s pretty great. Wonderful.
QRO: And is it also just coincidence that both times you’re not playing Spain?
AE: Oh, total coincidence. I think it has something to do with bookers. I have no say – if I had say, we would definitely go to Spain. I love Spain.
QRO: When you’re on tour in European places like that, do you get much of a chance to check out the country/city?
When I went with Feist, it just happened that we had two days off, before the gigs in Portugal. And a really good friend of ours came, so we kind of had a ‘girls vacation.’ I don’t mean ‘girls,’ I mean, we happened to all be women. But we’re all very good friends, so Leslie got a really nice, old villa in the country, and her band came, and we just hung out for two days. Eat, and drank vinho verde – it was beautiful. So I did get to see it a bit.
QRO: Is touring solo just completely different from Broken Social Scene touring?
AE: Oh, my god, yeah.
There’re many reasons why it’s different. One of which is, Broken Social Scene has infrastructure. We tour, either we’re in a tour bus, or we have a tour manager, so it’s a very different level of touring. My stuff is set up – it’s comfortable. There’s a delicious rider.
But there’s also something about touring alone. Even though I have to think about more details, there’s also a pleasure and feeling like it’s all on you, and I’m lightweight – ‘cause it’s just me. There’s a good feeling too; you feel like you’re relying on yourself.
And if the show works, you feel like, ‘Fuckin’ hell – I did that!’ You can take the pride. If it doesn’t go well, there’s also no one else to blame.
There’s also something about touring alone. Even though I have to think about more details, there’s also a pleasure and feeling like it’s all on you.
QRO: How was making La Force?
AE: It was a real process.
Because, it started as an AroarA record – Andrew and I started writing the record together. And then, because of – in Canada, we get grants. They support the arts, which is a radical concept. There’s a governmental organization that supports the arts. So we had to fulfill our commitment. We’d gotten some money to make the record, time was ticking – we were under a lot of pressure. We started to just kind of go at each other, and not get along, which is unusual for us – we have a great relationship.
And, it wasn’t fun. Between looking after our daughter, and being in Broken Social Scene, and my father dying at home, it was just too much. “I think maybe you need to do this by yourself.” And at first I was like, “What do you mean?!? You’re not going to do this with me?!?” But I was like, he’s totally right, I’m not letting him make any decisions. I’m cutting him off at the knees. “You’re right – I do need to do this alone.”
I’m really glad that happened. I think that Andrew and I will always collaborate, and he’s really part of the record. It’s a solo record, but truthfully, how often do people do things without a lot of people’s help? He’s got tons of lyrical input, and musical input. Yeah, he’s my touchstone, you know?
QRO: You have been touring with artists and the like for years, but how much had you been in the studio before this?
AE: I’ve sung on a fair amount of records for people, so I have some sense of it, but I wasn’t in the situation where I had to make decisions; I was just trying to please my ‘patron of the day’ – or not ‘patron,’ I mean whoever the artist was.
Andrew & I made an AroarA record together. It was a very different experience, ‘cause we made it ourselves on a laptop. Largely in Feist’s cottage – we borrowed her cottage, and like locked ourselves up. Kind of like crazy people, and did it really fast.
So there was that experience, and then I did Hug of Thunder (QRO review), so that was another – they’re all very different experiences. I’ve been learning a lot about how I want it to go, next time.
QRO: How much did prior studio experience, like with AroarA or with Broken Social Scene, carry over into solo recording?
AE: I think it made me realize, for my own record, I need to feel like they’re my decisions.
Like, this is what I would do for the next record. It’s always this process of learning. What I want to do on the next record is, I want to produce my next record.
That’s what I’m learning: When it’s my own project, I wanna have greater control. That’s what will define solo La Force work, versus collaboration. Where I don’t need to have control – it’s really not about that. It’s about serving the greater purpose of the collective, and the song that’s written in a group.
It’s hard to give yourself that permission. It’s like, this is the learning process, saying like, ‘I do have opinions; I have sonic opinions. And maybe I’m right.’ Well certainly, if I’m trying to please myself, then of course I’m right.
La Force’s video for “TBT”:
QRO: How was making the video for “TBT”?
AE: It was a one-day, it was harried, it was no budget, and it was in my apartment.
These really great, these two very creative, wonderful young people with lots of energy. Came into my house, and with basically with no money, came up with a concept. We just did it – I didn’t question them; we just did it. It was really an afternoon.
QRO: Was it meant to look so eighties?
AE: I think that’s them, you know? That’s their perspective. Because they’re younger than me, so the eighties feels like a long time ago. I remember the eighties… [laughs]
QRO: Me too. [laughs]
QRO: You mentioned getting Canadian government support for the La Force record – was that the Factor Program?
AE: Yeah! You know about it?
QRO: In America, with American musicians it’s this mythical – it’s like how a lot of Americans feel about like Canadian health care, ‘Wow, is that really true?’ For musicians, it’s this myth.
Or how I’m sure now Americans feel like, ‘Wow, marijuana’s legal up there – it’s true?’
AE: [laughs] It’s an El Dorado up here.
Just to be clear, it wasn’t that much money. When it’s all said and done, it still cost me money to make this record.
Certainly motivating, though. It feels like support.
QRO: Does it also feel like validation?
There are also other funding agencies in Canada. There’s provincial ones too; you can get funding for tour support. There’s all kinds of great funding, tons. Let’s be real.
That’s what I’m learning: When it’s my own project, I wanna have greater control.
QRO: Who is in your band?
AE: As a three-piece, I have a saxophone player, David French, who plays in Broken Social Scene. I have a drummer, Evan Tighe.
Sometimes, Warren Spicer, who helped me finish the record; he’s the frontman for Plants & Animals, a Montreal band. He’s one of the producers on my record. When Andrew was like, “We gotta to do this separate,” then I called Warren, and Warren helped me. We ran the ship.
QRO: How did you end up working with Broken Social Scene?
AE: It was gradual.
I met Broken Social Scene through Amy Millan (of Stars). We speak every day. We live ten minutes walk, but we usually talk every day, once to four times. Yeah, she’s my I Ching. I’m itching for my I Ching [laughs] – I gotta call Amy!
So she introduced me to them, but not in a musical capacity, just as, ‘This is my friend.’ Andrew & I started dating soon after, because it was pretty immediate and pretty obvious that we were interested in each other.
And then it was really gradual. A year after knowing each other we were doing AroarA, and then I would sometimes get up and sing with them, do the bangers, get up a sing “Almost Crimes” or one of those songs.
And then they decided, when they were doing Hug of Thunder, that they wanted to invite me to join, in a formal way. But I had already been doing stuff.
QRO: Does just like every Canadian musician know each other, as it sometimes seems here in the States?
AE: It feels like that, eh?
QRO: I know that there are different generations…
AE: Within generations, yeah, we know each other a lot.
But then there are things like, there really is the English/French divide. So if you’re Francophone, or connected to the French scene, you’re not going to know each other, even if you’re in the same generation. We really have different cultural platforms.
You can have a career, just in Quebec, and have a very lucrative career, just singing in French. Because they really support it. All over the province, you can go all over the province. People actually buy records in Quebec.
QRO: I used to go there for Osheaga Music Festival.
[Amy Millan]’s my I Ching. I’m itching for my I Ching!
AE: Yeah, that’s where I met them – that’s where I met Andrew!
QRO: Did you feel any pressure taking up ‘the female vocalist in BSS’ role, when you specifically did it for Hug of Thunder, considering all the women who had been there before?
This is a question that has only come up a couple of times, and I kinda have a policy that my answer is no.
Because I feel like, I’m not sure that question would be asked, if someone was replacing Andrew Whiteman on guitar. And it has something to do with… with any chance that women are in competition, or that men are pitting women against each other.
QRO: Okay, yeah, I can see that.
AE: I could elaborate on that? I could say this: I could say that all the women of Broken Social Scene are quite individuated, and have really separate voices & artistic careers. So my feeling, coming into Broken Social Scene, was that I just had to be me.
QRO: Yeah. It’s just that that role has changed more than, say, Andrew’s. But some of the other people haven’t been there as long as him.
I didn’t think of that.
AE: Leslie, Amy, they’ve all rotated. That’s the nature of the band, that there’s different female presence. Sometimes all of us are there. Sometimes some of us are there.
QRO: I think someone who sees the band in concert, sometimes they think, ‘Okay, who’s ever on stage at the New York show, okay, that’s the person in the band at that time.’ They don’t necessarily think, ‘This person contributed to the record, but they’re not there at this moment.’ There’s this certain idea that, ‘The people on stage at this moment, that’s the band.’ You know what I mean?
AE: Yeah, I understand.
But it’s all the band. It’s not fixed. I think it can be hard to get our heads around, that it’s just not fixed.
QRO: It’s different than a lot of other acts, where they really are fixed.
AE: Yeah, yeah – what do you do when Ronnie James Dio goes?
QRO: Yeah, or Lindsey Buckingham in Fleetwood Mac. How could you not have that guy?
AE: I’m sure for some people, maybe it feels like that.
I feel like the repertoire is so varied and collective driven. That if you’re so passionate about seeing one particular singer, you’re probably following her career, mainly.
And, to those people, I say, you know, ‘Keep your ears open. You might like this.’ Or you don’t. I’m just there to serve the music and the show.
And really, I think that being yourself is always the best way. I feel like Broken has really invited me to come and be myself, and contribute to the songwriting. And bringing some of what I am to the big recipe.
We all really love each other; that’s the other thing. Us, as women, really support and love each other. You know… it’s utopian, like health care and government funding for the arts.
QRO: It’s not this dog-eat-dog, bitter world that we’ve got in America…
I’m dual [citizen], though. I’m not slagging the U.S…
All the women of Broken Social Scene are quite individuated, and have really separate voices & artistic careers.