Article by Kolston Gogan and Heather Beresford
Andrea Ramolo, known as well for her solo work (Nuda 2017) as her half in the acclaimed folk-pop duo Scarlett Jane, is about to release Homage. The album becomes available on November 7, 2018, which is the second anniversary of Leonard Cohen's death, a fitting choice for a record featuring his work that is also performed in the spirit of his music.
With a soft spot for Cohen myself, I happily listened to the album in detail. What I love most about it is the way that she seemingly embodies his energy. It's as though she knew his deep inner psychology for each piece and came at it from those places within herself. You can sense a connection.
Curious about the albums conception, its realization and her history with Cohen's work, I sent away some questions and awaited these thoughtful responses. After having transcribed many a candid conversation between interviewer and interviewee, I appreciated the difference in delivery here. This is Andrea, unedited, expressing herself, in her own words, without any processing. It wasn't the plan, but things often work out the way that they're meant to and not according to the plans anyway.
(1) This wasn't your first time working with Michael Timmins, what do you value most about him and maintaining long term working relationships like that?
AR: Michael has become one of my favourite people. I met him when recording on Lee Harvey Osmond’s last record Beautiful Scars. Tom Wilson and I wrote a few songs together and he brought me into the studio to sing on them and Michael was the producer. I loved the way Michael worked from the get go. He lets things breathe and find their way and is a real artist’s producer in that he wants the artist to be exactly who they are and he works around that by pulling out different moods and tones and layers in the final mixes. That’s his genius. He’s a mixing wizard. He really knows how to build a song once he has all the particles to work with. He’s also a fan of the darkness and of moody, analogue-sounding recordings. He and I both like minor keys and sparse arrangements so we have been a perfect match on the two albums we did together. I also love how many times I’ve cried in front of Michael while going through a personal purge. He has a charm about him and is not in any way didactic or trying to control exactly where the recording ends up. He creates a nice playground to record in. I think building these long-term working relationships just breeds more comfort and confidence in the team and allows you to feel more free and expressive.
(2) I read that Nuda was created out of its own desire to be acknowledged. It was a cathartic release, full of emotions begging to be realized. By contrast, how much planning and intention went into Homage?
AR: I love this question! Although I wouldn’t necessarily state that NUDA had a desire to be acknowledged as a record. Instead the catharsis itself that was experienced during the period NUDA was written needed to be acknowledged in a healthy way… through music. NUDA is my story… my personal journey… characters that have shown up in my life and experiences that have made their way into my blood and tears. NUDA wasn’t planned at all. It was a necessary happening. Homage on the other hand was more intellectually thought-out very soon before the recording process, but it too developed organically. A few weeks after Leonard’s passing I was booked on a show in Montreal to celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Last Waltz. It was a fantastic bill with Matt Mays, Tom Wilson, The Wooden Sky, and more. Gavin Gardiner from the Wooden Sky and I rehearsed ‘Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye’ in the dressing room and we closed the show that evening by honouring Leonard. It was a beautiful moment and I had never sung that song before and felt such a connection to it. I started closing all my shows across Canada and overseas in Italy with it and I was asked continuously after my shows where fans could find this version of the song. Then one night I was playing a house concert just north of Toronto and the host George asked if I would ever consider doing an entire evening of Leonard Cohen songs and I said well absolutely. And then the light bulb went on and I thought to myself… well wouldn’t this be a beautiful challenge and a lovely homage to choose some of my favourite songs by a favourite writer and interpret them in my way with my own voice. Three months later I had all the demos arranged completely and brought them to Timmins and he loved the idea. He was really excited about this project. So I hired a small group of stellar musicians and we made it happen in a very short period of time. I had never done a cover album before and I wanted to honour the spirit of Leonard and his songs but also wanted to find my own way sinto them. It was a love project. It was different than NUDA because the impetus to record them didn’t come out of the need to purge emotion. It came out of the desire to bring honour and my own unique voice to text and melody that I love.. and the emotion followed.
(3) You've mentioned how much you appreciated having the input of your musically inclined friends on your album Nuda. I'm sure mentioning a Leonard Cohen album to other musicians would yield unsolicited opinions, for better or worse. How much did your friends in the industry play a part in the conception and creation of Homage?
AR: Hmmm… I don’t think they really did. I mean I wasn’t really looking for anyone’s opinion or approval. I just communicated that I was taking on this beautiful challenge and recording Leonard Cohen songs. Michael Timmins, I think, played the biggest part as his excitement about the recording just solidified my joy in wanting to take it on.
(4) We just spoke to Tom Wilson in regards to his book. I know that you've collaborated together for Lee Harvey Osmond. Leonard Cohen, Tom and yourself all seem to create with the same "colours" in your music. What do you think the tendency is towards that? Would you call Leonard one of your influences even outside of this project?
AR: Absolutely… his writing always deeply engaged me. I love how bold and prophetic and dark he is. Leonard seems to mix the sacred and the sexual and sings about love like it’s a religion. I like to think of love that way too. I think you just find your “people” in life… those who like to speak in the same tongues as you… who like to communicate with similar colours or images. Tom and I were a couple so I assume even on a personal and spiritual level our souls gravitate to similar ‘colours’ in life. We are people who like to share openly about pain and pleasure and everything else in between and are not afraid to paint a picture that isn’t so sunny a lot of the time. Music is about reaching people… about having a conversation… and I’m not really interested in shooting the breeze in my art just like I’m not in my life. So there’s that.
(5) Which ties into the token question, what do you love about Leonard Cohen's songs? Can you remember the first time you were exposed to his work?
AR: Leonard’s songs are rich and spiritual and dark and candid and sensual. I love all of that. I love how he can juxtapose two images together and you can hear, smell, taste, and feel exactly what he means. The first time I was exposed to Leonard’s work was in high school and of course it was Hallelujah (which I did not record on my album for reasons that are potentially obvious). It’s been done so many times and so well by so many people.. but there’s a reason for that. It’s an epic, lush, and beautiful piece of music. But I remember learning it in Catholic school choir… which is funny to me now. I remember the second verse sticking out to me… “you saw her bathing on the roof, her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya. She tied you to her kitchen chair, she broke your throne and she cut your hair, and from your lips she drew an Hallelujah.” It was so provocative and evident to me that this song was not just simply about the God our choir teacher wanted us to believe it was about. Sometimes you can’t tell if Leonard was writing about women or God as they seemed interchangeable in the most honourable and perfect way. This song satisfied my preconceived view that intimacy and romance and love and lust and pain are all sacred. That was my first experience with Leonard.
You can catch Andrea performing in Collingwood on Tuesday, November 6th at Crow. If a longer drive suits you, the Homage release party will be in Toronto the following night at Burdock Brewery.