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INTERVIEW: Michaela Slinger | VENTS

Hi Michaela, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

You know, all over the place. Right now, of course, I’m so thrilled that Tarot is out in the world, and I’m feeling incredibly grateful for the support. But 2020 has mostly felt like a rollercoaster ride that I didn’t even know I was on until it was hurtling downhill. I’m still experiencing the losses and anxieties that have accompanied COVID-19 and I’m thankful to live in BC where our public health response has been excellent. I’m feeling emboldened and enraged as I witness global action against race-based violence and systemic injustice and white supremacy. I’m learning and reading and discussing my role as a white artist in the music industry. I’ve found that it’s quite destabilizing to be actively living through history when that “history” is the present, and yet it’s also an opportunity to be intentional about the stories I seek out and the way I choose to remember this (hopefully) transformative time. So, yeah—clearly all over the place.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Tarot”?

Tarot was one of the first songs I had demoed on Garageband last year. One of my producers and mentors, Louise Burns, forced me (in a nice way) to go get a MIDI keyboard and start experimenting. I think she knew it would improve my writing. I’d set a challenge for myself to write and record a song every day in April of 2019. That didn’t happen, but I did write more than I ever had before, and just had so much fun not knowing what I was doing and messing around with my microphone and keyboard. Tarot came out of this period, and I sent the rough demo over to Louise and to Kevvy, my other producer and mentor at 604 Records.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

It wasn’t a particular event as much as an observation about myself and the world around me. I realized how often we use practices like astrology and tarot cards to explain away unwanted or challenging thoughts. This gives our thoughts so much power, when in reality our brains are random thought generating machines, and it can cause people like me to dwell in a repetitive thought loop or give something a grander meaning than it might deserve. I feel like I need to also include this as the official disclaimer of the song: I’m not trying to knock astrology or tarot readings! I am a huge fan of anything that provides a new lens for me to understand myself and my relationship to the world.

How was the filming process and experience behind the video?

Outside of seeing my family from a distance, it was the first thing I’d really done out of quarantine, so that gave it a layer of weirdness and also excitement being in the presence of my friends again. Miranda MacDougall is one of my best friends, my director, and my trusted creative co-conspirator, and her and my friend Callum Gunn (who’s one half of the media company Eastcherry) schemed up a storyboard for Tarot after I sent them the track and looped in Harry Hill, the other half of Eastcherry. Their parameters were basically just that I had to be the only one in the video due to COVID-19. Of course, their vision with all the projections and creative uses of light was amazing. I don’t know if I had a single edit. We got to the studio to shoot and they were using a RED camera, which to my untrained eye looked impressive and extremely high definition. I let Miranda, Callum and Hank do their thing and basically just tell me where to go and how to move. I trust them all so completely and they took the song to a new level with the music video.

How was the recording and writing process?

A dream, as always! Seriously, I am so fortunate to have collaborators who make studio sessions feel like summer camp. Once I sent Kevvy and Louise the Tarot demo, Kevvy started working on it and building it up, and I finished writing lyrics and melodies with input from Louise. We worked on it a bit at his home studio, and then did some vocal and piano tracking at 604 Studios. Something I appreciate so much about Tarot (and all the other songs on the full album) is that we keep elements from the original demos. That low, percussive “mm, hmmm” that you hear in the song was just me playing around back in April in my apartment humming into my USB microphone. I thought it sounded cool.

What role does Vancouver play in your music?

That’s a great question. I think there’s a part of me that wants to resist having my music or imagery easily identified as “Vancouver,” because I hope people from many places can find themselves in my songs. At the same time, though, Vancouver—or the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations—is, of course, embedded in everything I do. Often, I’ll have song lyrics or melodies begin synthesizing in my head when I’m out for a walk or a bike ride enjoying the ridiculous beauty of my hometown. And I think I try to achieve feelings of expansiveness, of lightness, and of possibility in my music, and I can only do that because I’m so grounded and comfortable in Vancouver.   

How have Maggie Rogers and Joni Mitchell influenced your writing?

Two idols! I’ll start with Joni Mitchell. Her unique, unpredictable melodies and vivid lyric imagery inspire me. Also, she appears not to care at all about what people think about her, and has remained true to her craft and nothing else—that’s something I’d like to channel and cultivate throughout my career. For me, it’s less about trying to sound like Joni Mitchell than it is tucking those elements away and letting them be part of the foundation for my own writing process.

I discovered Maggie Rogers and her Alaska story years ago, and something clicked. I felt like I was watching her do what I wanted to do, share similar philosophies, and make this music that sounded like my own personal soundtrack. It was the first time I found an artist I loved and felt not only admiration, but like she was opening a door for me to feel okay pursuing music and songwriting. Miranda and I actually flew to San Francisco in October of 2018 for one night to see her perform at The Fillmore and got to meet her afterwards—I like to casually throw this into conversation when I meet people and they’re like “Oh yeah, I love Maggie Rogers!” It’s her blend of folk-inspired lyricism and energetic electro-pop arrangements that is so exciting to me.

Does the new single mean we can expect a new material – how’s that coming along?

It does! My timing with 604 Records was lucky in that we started working on my debut record in October/November of last year, and I finished up my last studio session in March right before COVID-19 shut everything down. I’ve got a few more singles up my sleeve that I’m eager to share, and then the record will be out sometime next year.

Any tentative release date or title in mind?

The album is called Panorama. It’s a meaningful title for many reasons, but I’ll share that story in a future interview. As for release date—part of me wishes that I could say tomorrow, but music is teaching me about patience. Sometime in 2021!

Any plans to hit the road?

Potentially! Obviously, this is maybe the most challenging time ever to try and tour and connect with fans. I’m trying to scheme up ways to safely do some small, local backyard shows, and maybe expand those out over time. But safety and compliance with health directives is the priority.

What else is happening next in Michaela Slinger’s world?

Besides trying to plan some small, safe outdoor shows for the summer and fall, I’ve been writing again! I’m already excited to start working on my second album. And scheming and dreaming for some more music videos, what my album release will look like…it’s a time of major uncertainty, but I’m trying to lean into the possibility that accompanies it.