Pride and pressure for Desiree Dorion and her new album


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You’d think releasing a new album would also mean the release of some tension after spending hours upon hours writing, recording and putting the final touches on the songs.

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You’d think releasing a new album would also mean the release of some tension after spending hours upon hours writing, recording and putting the final touches on the songs.

Not so for Desiree Dorion. Even though That’s How I Know, which came out last Friday, is her fourth album, the country singer-songwriter from Dauphin and Opaskwayak Cree Nation says she’s feeling self-inflicted pressure about how it will be received.

“I feel really excited, really nervous, a little bit terrified, all of the above,” Dorion says. “It feels like, ‘OK, we’re moving.’ It’s kind of like getting on a roller-coaster and you’re scared of the roller-coaster but you’ll know you’ll be fine, and then the roller-coaster starts moving.

“You invest so much time and energy and finances into this kind of a project. There’s a lot riding on that, the success of the project.”

High expectations for That’s How I Know, and a new single, Love You to Death, also add to the butterflies she’s feeling.

“I feel like I have a bit more momentum happening with my career right now,” Dorion says. “I just feel more pressure to release quality music and still hold true to who I am as an artist.”

Part of the expectations come from all the artists in Manitoba and Nashville she’s collaborated with writing songs.

Songwriting sessions took place in Music Row, a district in Nashville that’s the heartbeat of Music City’s country and western industry.

The Country Music Association has its office there, and there are many tourist sites to see, but the actual blood, sweat and tears of making records happens in more ordinary-looking places.

“It’s a bunch of little houses, and they all have studios and writing rooms inside,” she says. “It looks like a normal street… you’d have no idea that all these crazy, talented people work out of these little homes.”

The album’s first track, I Meant What I Said, came out of one of the sessions, and it’s a ballad about holding true to your promises and commitments. It includes the chorus, “When I said I do, I meant what I said.”

Dorion co-wrote it with songwriting veterans Troy Johnson and Jack Williams, both of whom have penned songs for a who’s who of artists in country, folk and rock, from Keith Urban to Gregg Allman.

She came in to the session with half a song, she says, but the three worked together and came up with a tune that could bring a tear from the hardest of hearts.

“I had looked up the guys I was writing with and that was a big mistake because they’re insanely successful songwriters and I immediately felt I just don’t belong in that room,” she said. “I had a ton of self-deprecating thoughts going into that but they were super-sweet and gracious and I think we got a pretty good love song about it.”

The story behind Love You to Death has a far different mood, and Dorion got inspiration to release it as a single after Charles Kelley of Lady A released As Far As You Could last December, which is about his addiction to alcohol.

“It’s a song about loving someone who struggles with addiction, and having to make the really difficult choice to impose boundaries with that person to preserve and protect your own wellness and your own heart,” she says of Love You to Death. “I really struggled with the idea to release it as a single because of the subject matter.

“I feel like commercial country is coming around to the idea of making space for more honest stories again.”

There are many Manitoba connections on her record , including Winnipeg-area producer Chris Burke-Gaffney, city songwriter Tyler Del Pino, and Portage la Prairie guitarist Stephen Arundell, who plays in Dorion’s band and joined Dorion on the album’s closer, Your Last Name.

Dorion had previously released four of the songs from the record as singles in 2022, including Wouldn’t That Be Fun, featuring Doc Walker’s Dave Wasyliw, which won the Manitoba Country Music Award last year for music video of the year.

Tour dates for 2023 haven’t been set in stone yet, but she’s ready to take the album on the road, despite how it keeps her away from her husband and two school-aged children.

She found out a 20-day road trip in 2022 — a go-go-go year for all musicians as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions relaxed and fans returned to shows — was too long away from family. She plans to keep trips away shorter while still keeping a busy performing schedule

“One of the biggest beasts on the road is loneliness,” she says. “People look at the life of a musician through the social-media lens, that’s it’s all glamour and fun. I’m getting my makeup done and I’m doing my hair and doing all kinds of cool things but at the end of the day, you go back to your hotel room and you’re by yourself. It becomes mentally taxing, for sure.”

Twitter: @AlanDSmall

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Alan Small

Alan Small

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.

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