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Emilie-Claire Barlow interview

Emilie-Claire Barlow interview

The Medium chats with Juno Award-winning Canadian Jazz artist

You’re a self-produced artist on your own record label, what’s that like?

I think it’s more and more common for people to be self-produced and releasing albums independently even though it’s a tough business. For me it’s been a journey and it’s gone through several different stages.

When I first started out I released an album on my own label because I didn’t really have a choice. I wasn’t out seeking a big record deal, people weren’t banging down my door and no one really knew who I was.

I decided it made the most sense to do that. I would drive around with CD’s in the trunk of my car and bring them to the HMV and Sam the Record Man, this would have been the late 90’s.

Over the years I learned the aspects of the music business just by doing it. Jobs that needed to be done, I would do them, and I made mistakes and I learned but in the end I retained ownership of all of my music and now it’s eleven albums later.

I have a great team now, I work with distribution companies, digital distributors, and the label eOne on the last record. It was a very ambitious, expensive project so they took on a larger role in that album.

Generally speaking I’ve been happy to maintain control even though at times it can be overwhelming.

So this latest album is based of off a “transformative experience” according to your website. How do you take experiences like that and put them into live shows as well as recordings?

As far as the “transformative experience” the story is that I had the opportunity to spend a week on an icebreaker ship in August 2011 and it was a very unique experience, as you can imagine.

It gave me an opportunity to reflect on the path that I was on and what I wanted to do both personally and musically and sparked a major change in my life. This album, Clear Day, tells the story of my life starting from that experience, those four years and the pivotal moments along the way.

I decided to try to choose repertoire that could tell that story. Mostly it’s cover songs and that’s how we went about finding the right songs from any genre, era, composer, with the idea that it would tell the story of those moments.

Bringing that to the stage has been interesting because we recorded with a seventy piece orchestra, the Metropol Orkest in Amsterdam. To take those arrangements and bring them down to a small jazz group has been a really fun, creative task and they’ve translated really well to a live show.

You’ve always been doing jazz, but you mentioned incorporating other genres and elements. Do you find that happens naturally or is that a choice?

It’s a choice. When I started out I had learned the great american songbook, the standards from musicals being a lot of them. Part of that was because I listened to a lot of Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett and Mel Torme. Growing up my parents listened to a wide range of music but those artists were part of my vocabulary from a young age.

I studied musical theatre at Etobicoke School of the Arts and so of course that’s where a lot of these songs come from, musicals. It’s natural for a jazz singer to take songs and try to put their own stamp on them and rearrange them in a unique way.

I’d done a couple of records with that repertoire and I wanted to do something that was exploring a different songbook. In 2010 I did The Beat Goes On album and the concept of that album was to take pop songs from the 60’s and to strip them down and reimagine them in a fresh way.

The repertoire was not jazz but I took my jazz style and applied it to those songs and the record still fits in the jazz genre in my opinion. That was beginning of me continuing to find my voice as an arranger and my style musically. Clear Day is certainly an extension of that.

You also do voice acting for cartoons, is that just something to do or is that a passion you have?

It’s definitely a passion. I started working in the business at a very young age, both of my parents were studio musicians. I started singing in commercials when I was kid and there was a natural evolution to doing voice-over work.

I got an agent when I was as teenager and started auditioning for cartoons and for commercials. I ended up doing a lot of work in animation, which is a great balance to being a singer. I’m able to use my voice, to find and explore different parts of voice as a voice actor.

Of course it’s very creative and whimsical and fun. I would say it’s a great compliment to my music career. Music has gotten a lot busier though so it’s been harder for me to be available and audition and do what it takes for voice acting.

I still do some work from my home studio, I work on a show called Peg plus Cat, there’s another show called Fugget About It, it’s a really fun job.

When you’re not voice acting, travelling, or doing music, what else do you enjoy?

I enjoy cooking, I spend a lot of time in Mexico, and I love being out on the ocean. Making music though is my passion, I spend most of my time working on music and in the business. I’m working on a christmas album right now, that’s going to come out in November, so that’s been taking up a lot of my time.

When you find something that you feel a strong pull towards in your life, such as music, how do you balance chasing that with other things in your life?

Balance is something that I’m always trying very hard to achieve but it’s not very easy. It’s very difficult to find balance but I’m kind of okay with that at this point.

To anybody who wants to become a professional musician I would say, “If you can do anything else, you should do that.” I’m not saying that to discourage people my point is that you need to ask yourself, “Am I obsessed with music? Do I have to make music in my life?”

For me the answer is yes, this is what I have to do. I can’t imagine doing anything else. You’re going to need that passion if you’re going to pursue a career in the music business.

You’re going to need to say to yourself, “This is it, I can’t do anything else.” Not that you’re not able to do anything else but I believe you need to be pretty singularly focussed if you want to make this your career.

There are going to be some really challenging times and you need to have enough passion and energy to get you through those times. There will be rewards, when I’m standing on stage with my band and connecting with the audience that is so rewarding, and there are a lot of hours that go into getting there.

I don’t want to discourage anyone but I think it’s important to understand that you need to have a lot of passion, you need to pursue this against all odds. I put together my first jazz quartet when I was in high school, I may have just done it intuitively at the time because both of my parents were musicians but I went out and created opportunities.

There’s no reason to wait. Start a band, get a weekly gig somewhere, create a songwriters circle. This is the only way. If you want to be a musician, be a musician. Make that what you do. If you want to be musician, play music. Then you are a musician, it’s deceivingly simple.

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