Singer-song­writer Chris­tine Fel­lows stripped songs down to the studs — and a fresh, new sound emerged

Winnipeg Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - ERIN LE­BAR

Erin Le­bar talks to Win­nipeg singer-song­writer Chris­tine Fel­lows about the mak­ing of her new al­bum, Roses on the Vine /


● Nov. 15, 8:30 p.m.

● Good Will So­cial Club

● Tick­ets $15, avail­able at Show­

Fel­lows is also play­ing the Mor­den Le­gion Hall on Nov. 16. Tick­ets are $20, avail­able at

BE­FORE Win­nipeg singer-song­writer Chris­tine Fel­lows had even put her pre­vi­ous al­bum, 2014’s Burn­ing Day­light, to bed, she had al­ready be­gun work on some of the tracks for her new record, Roses on the Vine.

The songs were orig­i­nally cre­ated for a project with vis­ual artist Shary Boyle ti­tled Spell to Bring Lost

Crea­tures Home (which is also a track on the new al­bum). Boyle worked with over­head pro­jec­tions that were han­dan­i­mated and Fel­lows’ songs were de­signed to ac­com­pany them. Only the two of them were tour­ing the show across the coun­try in 2015, so Fel­lows had the added chal­lenge of de­vel­op­ing tracks that were sparse enough for just one per­son to play and easy enough for Boyle to at­tempt if they de­cided to swap roles.

Fel­lows knew these songs would even­tu­ally evolve into an al­bum right from the start.

“I pretty much had that idea at the be­gin­ning when I started de­vel­op­ing these songs that I would take them later and keep work­ing on them, and I was do­ing an­other piece with a con­tem­po­rary dance chore­og­ra­pher, so some of the songs from that ended up com­ing in here. Gen­er­ally that’s how I work, it’s a col­lec­tion of things that I do over time and then you start re­ar­rang­ing the reper­toire and turn­ing it into what­ever it’s go­ing to be,” says Fel­lows.

“It was ac­tu­ally a re­ally good ex­er­cise for me in just edit­ing, edit­ing, edit­ing, be­cause that’s the magic of the writ­ing process. Yes, get­ting the good idea is one thing, but just reef­ing away on them and clean­ing all the garbage off and this is the first time I think I’ve made some­thing that I could ac­tu­ally ex­e­cute all of the songs on the record, just me stand­ing there. I’ve never been able to do that, they’re al­ways weird or­ches­tra­tions or some­thing, but I can do this on one in­stru­ment with my ter­ri­ble arthritic hands,” she says, laugh­ing.

Roses on the Vine is Fel­lows’ sev­enth full-length al­bum and will be re­leased Nov. 16 via the newly minted “la­bel” Vi­vat Vir­tute. Fel­lows says Vi­vat is less so a la­bel than an um­brella her — and col­lab­o­ra­tor and hus­band John K. Sam­son’s — projects can live un­der; Sam­son has a long­time la­bel he will con­tinue to work with, but the pair have a lot of other things on the go, and wanted some­where to put them.

“It’s not like we’re start­ing a la­bel be­cause that’s crazy,” Fel­lows says.

“I’ve never re­ally felt com­fort­able in a sit­u­a­tion with a la­bel, it’s never been some­thing that suits some­one like me. I’m not mak­ing any­body any money, and I’m not go­ing to do any­thing, it’s al­ways go­ing to be what­ever the weird idea I come up with next.”

Fel­lows and Sam­son share a workspace in their home, and as the lit­eral walls be­tween their work have melted away, the creative walls have fol­lowed suit. Fel­lows was a pro­ducer and band mem­ber on Sam­son’s 2016 record,

Win­ter Wheat, and he, in turn, is fill­ing a sim­i­lar role on Roses on the Vine.

For Fel­lows, Sam­son acts as a sound­ing board, the go-to guy when she’s in the trenches with a song and needs an out­side per­spec­tive. To­gether they pull things apart and re­con­struct them, “like break­ing glass and putting it back to­gether,” Fel­lows says.

One such song is Pas­sage, which Fel­lows says they stripped “right down to the studs. And then put it back to­gether with the studs on the out­side and the walls on the in­side, and the floor on the ceil­ing and the ceil­ing in the hall­way.”

What re­sulted is a hazy, and later folky, sound­scape that rum­bles be­neath lyrics that present the thoughts of a first-per­son nar­ra­tor deal­ing with the fi­nal stages of a fa­tal ill­ness.

It’s del­i­cate and, in a way, sweet, but there is also a the­matic weight to it con­sis­tent with much of the other writ­ing on Roses on the Vine.

Fel­lows has long been a pro­po­nent of telling real, raw and emo­tional sto­ries of women, rep­re­sent­ing them in her mu­sic as of­ten as pos­si­ble, and this record is no dif­fer­ent. Many of the 13 tracks on the record are de­tailed vi­gnettes in­spired by the lives and work of women in the artis­tic com­mu­nity, as well as some of her fam­ily and friends.

While these top­ics and these char­ac­ters are some­thing Fel­lows has in­ten­tion­ally writ­ten about for much of her ca­reer, the themes feel more timely given the sweep of fem­i­nist move­ments across the world.

“I feel like (these ideas) have al­ways been timely,” Fel­lows says. “I re­mem­ber be­ing in uni­ver­sity back in the ’80s and hear­ing the term ‘date rape’ for the first time, and that idea, that con­cept blew my mind. And fast-for­ward and here we are now. And peo­ple talk­ing about these ex­pe­ri­ences in their lives, like usu­ally their first sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ences are co­erced, it’s kind of in­cred­i­ble to hear this keep per­pet­u­at­ing for what­ever rea­son,” she says.

“It’s also dis­tress­ing to me too that it’s di­vi­sive be­cause I don’t see it as some­thing as man and woman, it’s hu­man be­ings, we want the same things. Es­pe­cially here in Win­nipeg with First Na­tions women and girls be­ing mur­dered or their cases not be­ing taken care of. To me, that should be an af­front to ev­ery per­son. It’s not just the First Na­tions com­mu­nity, not just women, it’s like, how can this not be freak­ing every­body out?”

And that thought process de­vel­oped into one of the more in­con­spic­u­ous, but no less im­por­tant, themes of Roses on

the Vine — the be­lief that we, as hu­mans, need to be bet­ter at tak­ing care of each other. It’s such a ba­sic con­cept, but one that of­ten re­quires a re­minder.

“Maybe it’s not an ex­plicit take­away (from this al­bum), but that idea of tak­ing care of each other. I feel like it’s some­thing that, for what­ever rea­son, is the hard­est thing for us to do.”


Chris­tine Fel­lows on her new al­bum Rose on the Vine: ‘I can do this on one in­stru­ment with my ter­ri­ble arthritic hands.’


Fel­lows’ Roses on the Vine will be her sev­enth full-length al­bum and will be re­leased Nov. 16.

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