Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

In Conversation with... Christine Fellows

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A Winnipeg songwriting power couple has entered the hallowed halls of the University of Manitoba.

Acclaimed singer/songwriter Christine Fellows and her husband, Weakerthans frontman John K. Samson, have been named (song)writers-in-residence at the university's Centre for Creative Writing and Oral Culture. They will hold the position through Dec. 13.

This is the third co-residency for Fellows and Samson, who also completed stints at the University of British Columbia and Dawson City Music Festival. Fellows, meanwhile, was an artist-in-residence at St. Boniface Museum in 2009, an experience that left an indelible impression on the singer/songwriter and resulted in her masterful fifth album, 2011's Femmes de chez nous. Roughly translating to "our gals," the record is a love letter to the fearless Grey Nuns who bravely travelled to Manitoba from Montreal via canoe to be teachers and nurses in the Red River settlement.

Fellows frequently collaborates across disciplines, working with a rotating cast of choreographers, visual artists, filmmakers and musicians on her own work as well as performance art and scores.

Fellows' sixth solo album, Burning Daylight, was created in that collaborative spirit and will be released in 2014, alongside a companion graphic novel. She recently talked to Free Press music writer Jen Zoratti.

FP: You and John are the first songwriters to hold this post at the U of M. What does that mean to you?

A: For us, it's incredibly meaningful on many levels: It's a chance to spend a significant amount of time together in Winnipeg (which is rare for us), to write collaboratively, to work within a community that is, for the most part, new to us. Neither of us studied at U of M, and neither of us are scholars by any stretch, but we're compelled by the intersection between the artistic process and the scholarly process. We're championing songwriting as an art form. Having the opportunity to encourage and workshop with emerging writers is a real gift. We've been doing more of that in recent years, and we're both astonished and inspired by how many fantastic songwriters there are out there, working under the radar.

FP: I know this isn't your first residency. Earlier this year, you both shared the position of writer-in-residence at the University of British Columbia Creative Writing Program, and will return to UBC as adjunct instructors in 2014. What attracts you to these positions and what do you hope to get out of them?

A: This residency is actually our third co-residency. Our first was in Dawson City, Yukon, in February 2011 (we were Dawson City Music Festival songwriters-in-residence) and that was a true trial by fire. We were holed up in a house together in that tiny community and it was -46 degrees every day, with ice fog. Ice fog! We both got a lot of writing started there and toured the Yukon (as far up north as Old Crow) and it was a really rich and weird experience, so when UBC came knocking we were delighted.

FP: You have a new album, Burning Daylight, coming out in 2014 with a companion graphic novel. What can you tell me about that project?

A: I started working on Burning Daylight in 2011, during that residency up in Dawson City, and it was inspired by that place. It's been a strange and circuitous creative process, and a project with many overlapping layers. I don't want to say too much about the album just yet, but I will say that it was one of my favourite recording experiences to date. The album features my two key musical collaborators, cellists Leanne Zacharias and Alex McMaster, who are two extremely talented forces of nature, and it was recorded in Toronto in a beautiful-sounding studio during a full-on heat wave this past July. My longtime friend and collaborator, Alicia Smith, is creating the graphic novel that will accompany the album, and she is a visual and conceptual genius, so I'm really excited about that layer of the project as well.

FP: You were an artist-in-residence at St. Boniface Museum, which yielded the multimedia performance piece Reliquary/Reliquaire and Femmes de chez nous. I know that experience was very special to you; are there any other places here at home or abroad you'd like to make art in and why?

A: I certainly love writing here in Winnipeg; it's a city I never get tired of exploring. The residency at the museum was an extraordinary experience, and there were many factors that contributed to that: the museum and its wonderful staff, of course, but also Winnipeg Arts Council, which funded the residency, gave me free rein to create whatever it was that I wanted. It was a rare gift to be afforded the opportunity to assemble a team of artists to collaborate with me, and I was very grateful for that. So, if I were dreaming big about what I'd like to do next, I'd love to be able to assemble a collaborative team again, to be somewhere together, to make something collectively without constraints.

I love birds and nature and pretty much any place I could imagine being and writing would involve a good supply of both. I'm especially fascinated by the North. I've been lucky to have the opportunity to travel extensively in the Yukon, and this October I'll be travelling for the first time to Igloolik, Nunavut as part of a creative team, working on a National Film Board project. I would love an opportunity to spend more time up there, above the Arctic Circle, perhaps as part of a scientific expedition, studying the terrain and the wildlife. I've got a little bit of the scientist in me -- a slightly loony, easily distracted scientist that doesn't really care about science so much as looking really closely at things.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 28, 2013 $sourceSection0

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