“This town that I live in in SO much like Twin Peaks.”
The name of Woelv's last record is Tout Seul Dans La Foret En Plein Jour, Avez-Vous Peur. For those non-French Canadian speakers out there, it translates in English to "All Alone In The Forest In Broad Daylight, Are You Scared?" This is the central concept to the record: admitting that it's okay to be frightened in a modern world. Although most of the songs were recorded in 2004 (and released in 2007) and all of its words are in French, they still strangely resonate with political, personal, and emotional power.
Woelv is GeneviÃ¨ve Castrée, and it was rainy and foggy out my window when she called. It made sense; this record of hers (to which I had just been immersing myself in some sort of pre-interview research ritual) is steeped in dark, Pacific Midwestern imagery and atmospheres, coated in moss. She is as humble and meek as you might expect from a record, filled with hushed words and floaty vocals, looped guitar notes and misty tones. We didn't talk much about the other things she does, like drawing and painting (contributing work for comic publications like Drawn and Quarterly) or her new project Ã” Paon, but the things we did discuss -- her landscape, travels, and what's going on in the world around her -- came across with an honesty that is matched in the music she makes.
How small is this small town that you live in?
I think it has about 20,000 people living in it, so it's not a suburb to any bigger city. It's kind of an old town, about an hour and a half away from Seattle. It's a very quaint place. It's very grey and foggy; there are a lot of very very tall pine trees, evergreen trees.
I guess it's not too surprising that that's the idea I had in mind when I was listening to Tout Seul Dans La Foret En Plein Jour, Avez-Vous Peur before; it definitely has that dark and foggy vibe. It certainly sounds like a forest. Were you around this sort of landscape when you wrote the songs?
Actually, most of the songs were written when I was traveling around the states in 2004. I went on my first two month tour that year.
Yeah, I read a bit about that actually; you were talking about falling in love with the North American countryside and also the notion of home and having roots.
Yeah, I was having a hard time making up my mind. I never imagined that I would move to the U.S. in my life, especially after the Iraq war started. After the invasion of Iraq, it was like “why would anyone move there!” but then I found myself kind of having to because I married an American. We were trying to move to Canada for so long, but it just didn't work out that way; the Pacific Northwest region here just has so much of an appeal for us.
I've been so intrigued by that region lately, I mean I've never been there myself, but I have a strong idea of it, and its mythology seems to be coming out in a lot of music or art I'm finding lately; the way you album sounds, or Twin Peaks and things like that.
This town that I live in in SO much like Twin Peaks [laughs]. It's funny though, I had never actually seen the TV show until I moved here, until I realized "Wow, this is pretty much where I've just moved."
You'd get a lot more frightened going out into the woods after having seen that show I'm sure.
Totally, yeah. I've watched the whole series twice now, and when I was watching it alone at home in my room, I had the window open, and at night I would hear crackling sounds out there. I would look out the window and see these shiny eyes out there looking at me, which turned out to be a deer; we have a lot of deer wandering around the house.
"If we admit that we're scared, it makes us so much more human, and it brings us together; it brings us closer."
Did this sort of landscape inspire the songs on the album?
Hmm, not so much; I mean, I think this landscape inspires me in so many other ways in my life, but for the actual record, most of the inspiration for those songs came from when I was traveling all across the U.S. and being exposed to all sorts of things that I had never been exposed to before. Like traveling through Texas and playing at an alternative music venue and going to the bathroom to find scratched into the stalls were pro-Bush statements. I was blown away by that, because I was never exposed to that different an opinion before. But also, being exposed to very, very radically conservative people who call you ‘honey' and give you a slice of pie; this sense of ‘all is not evil' comes across too, like it's impossible to be evil all the way. Like the people who are really into Bush, it doesn't mean that they wont take care of you or be really sweet to you when you meet them.
I always think that there must still be some fundamental flaw in people's thinking, but it doesn't always have to come into everyday life. It would've been an interesting time for you to move to America, but did you find it really hard?
Yeah I found it difficult because, before moving there, I lived in British Columbia. I mean, I'm originally from Montreal, but I moved and lived in Victoria for five years. Actually, in my mind Victoria is so much more like Australia or New Zealand, just with the way that the people are. Because it's Canada still, even though it's an English-speaking place, I was exposed to people who were French Canadians a lot more often. People didn't think that I was so foreign, because they're Canadians and were all like "Oh yeah! The people from Quebec, the French Canadians; they live and are part of the country here." But then moving to the U.S., I felt very much like I was foreign and very much like an alien. All of a sudden, I'm talking to people about where I'm from and I tell them I'm from Montreal, but they don't even know that people speak French there [laughs].
And politically, too, that must have been confronting; like you were saying before about Texas. Was this a big inspiration for the Tout Seul? I mean, it seems like it's very political; is that fair to say?
I guess I was trying to speak about things that mattered to me, but also I didn't want to make the type of record that is so political that you feel like your being lectured, you know. The way I see it is that, with music and drawing and probably whatever else I would try to do, I feel like if you're going to put something out there in the world and get people's attention, it would be nice... well, I'm just going to speak for myself: I want it to have a message. Or, at least have a question mark; something that will take these people's attention and put it to good use.
Even just the fact that a lot of people won't understand the lyrics because they're in French, that could change its effect slightly I guess, but it's more the delivery and the overriding concept that came out in it to me -- the idea of being scared. A lot of my friends are frightened at the state of the world; the album and its concept seems to resonate a lot even without being able to understand the lyrics.
Oh yeah, for sure. The main issue is the idea of being scared in this world. [It feels] like admitting that you're scared in this world is wrong for some reason. Being confident is what people want; people pay to go to concerts to see you be confident, to see you have a good feeling about yourself. People want politicians who are really strong and never questioning. But I just feel like wait, wait, wait; if we are scared, and if we admit that we're scared, it makes us so much more human, and it brings us together; it brings us closer. I'm scared. I'm scared of what's going to happen, and my friends are scared. When we talk about it, the people around me, everyone is frightened; we don't know what's going to happen next. In a weird way, this thing of being scared is reassuring.
"Moving to the U.S., I felt very much like I was foreign and very much like an alien."
True, empathy is always at least a bit comforting even if it is a scary situation. The album sounds very alone though, and the whole metaphor of being lost in the forest seems a big thing.
The title of the record, "All Alone In The Forest In Broad Daylight, Are You Scared?," it came from this thought that I was having at the time, where you're in this situation [that's] so clear and so easy to find the way out, or so easy to take care of yourself, so evident what your bad patterns are, or what shouldn't be repeated or what the mistake was. I feel like if you're lost in the forest in the middle of broad daylight and you're scared, it's sort of mildly pathetic, because you should be able to find your way out. At night, it might be different, but during the day, it's just like take a deep breath and be patient and you can find the exit.
That makes a lot of sense, particularly in the world right at this moment.
Yeah that's what it was trying to say; at this moment in time. it's kind of crazy, because I wrote those songs in 2004. I mean, it took a while to record them and to make the book and everything, but four years later, it still means something. It doesn't feel like these songs are talking about something that is no longer happening, you know; nothing has been resolved. It's so terrifying to me, what's happening.
Yeah for sure. The way that the record sounds, its atmosphere and sparseness, as well as the expressiveness of delivery, it really has a spooky feel, more like a forest at nighttime than one during the day.
It's the way that everything I do turns out I think; it always has this weird night feeling. Maybe that's like with what you were asking about the landscape influencing the music; I think it was definitely an influence on the music. This weird Twin Peak-sy feeling; this weird darkness and the fact that it's grey and mossy all the time. I'm a night owl; I work at night a lot, so even if I was trying to write a thing about a fun little party in a field with children in the middle of the day, it would still turn out really dark.
It seems like a very visual sort of thing, for me. But I think I'm the sort of person who tends to listen to the overall sound rather than listening closely to the words. I think the reason I kept going on about the forest and shit before was because it just comes across so strongly in a visual sense on the album. But okay, so with the notion of being scared and the dark vibes of the music, I was wondering if you have much of a sense of hopefulness or optimism?
[Laughs] I'm not a very optimistic person I don't think. In my circle of friends and family, I think that I'm very much known as someone who is quite dark. It's funny, because I can be really funny and laugh a lot; I think I'm a pretty happy person, but there's always this feeling of sadness lingering. I heard this thing recently on the radio, it was about the fact that people who don't lie to themselves very often tend to be the most depressed ones, and I'm like, hey, that's me! [laughs]. I think I'm pretty honest.
This makes a lot of sense. It's funny that scientists have actually proved it! Oh, I was reading about another music thing you're working on, called Ã” Paon.
Yeah, it means “Oh Peacock.” It's just a new musical avenue for me. I mean, the Woelv project was just me, but then this one is also just me but with the help of some friends during the recording process. I'm playing some concerts under that name, but I don't have any releases out yet. I'm playing some Woelv songs at the shows still, but technically I'm going to close that curtain pretty soon and focus on my new ideas.
Are you taking a different approach with this new project?
Slightly. To me, it feels completely different, but I would have to admit that if I was not me and I was a different person listening to it, I would probably think sounds like the exact same thing [laughs]. I think, though, it's a bit more rebellious than what I was allowing myself to do with Woelv. This new project really isn't something that I have expectations for. It's darker, and also I won't be making so many drawings to go with it. But it's still all in French, of course.
[Photo: Michael Elvin]