Christa Couture has been through a lot, and she's not afraid to show her emotional scars.
The Vancouver-based singer/songwriter had two sons who died in infancy -- profound losses that changed her life forever. While it began as a product of grief, her 2012 album, The Living Record, is a rumination on letting the light back in and making sense of things again.
"There's something about saying it over and over again that helps me process it," says Couture, who has been playing the songs live for the better part of year. "There's something that can be cathartic about that.
"It's interesting: when something happens to us -- whether it's traumatic or exciting or surprising -- you tell everyone about this thing that happened to you."
Still, knowing exactly how much to share can be difficult.
"I'm not a songwriter who decides what to write about, but I did make conscious decisions about what songs I put on the album and what information I included in the press release. No one wants to see me get onstage and share some weird cathartic thing that probably should have happened in private. It still has to be artful. There were songs that were too personal or too dark that I didn't include on the album. The songs I put out there, I feel like they stand on their own. They don't feel too raw."
Couture's collection of songs explores the duality of joy and grief, which isn't unfamiliar ground for the songwriter. Her visceral 2008 album, written after the death of her first son, is titled The Wedding Singer and the Undertaker.
"(The Living Record) has its joyful moments and its sad moments," she says. "I wanted it to be an up-tempo album and I did want it to be about what comes next. With grief and loss, there are such moments of pure despair -- but then there are those little moments that find you. Something would make me laugh and I'd think, 'How can I be laughing when this terrible thing happened?' I wanted the music to speak to that complexity."
Her producer, Steve Dawson, helped her tease out those nuances. Couture didn't get into the specifics of her loss until the duo were well into preproduction; she felt the songs could benefit from Dawson's distance from the subject matter. It was important to her they be open to interpretation.
"I have a line where I sing, 'Though I hate how your body is never touched/How your singing is never heard.' When I wrote that line, I was being very literal. I was thinking about my baby's voice and how the world will never know that sound. How I will never know that sound. Someone came up to me and quoted it back and said, for them, it really spoke to the female experience and violence against women. I wanted Steve to bring that same objectivity. I wanted someone thinking about the big picture and the best feel and the best vibe and not be too precious."
Songwriting has been an integral to Couture's healing process, which is ongoing and daily.
"My friends say that I'm doing much better, but I'm just getting used to it. It's always hard and it's always very sad, but you have to work at it and keep going," she says.
Couture is looking forward to moving on from The Living Record. She's road-testing some new songs.
"As I writer, I'm so autobiographical -- I'm always writing from my experiences. The new songs are going to be the next chapter and what my world looks like now," she says. "It's good to start talking about other things and telling other stories."