Hansen made Be­fore You for her­self

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The Georgia Straight - - Music -

DUR­ING THE process of mak­ing her new record, Be­fore You, Ali­cia Hansen was wrestling with some big ques­tions, not the least of them be­ing “What genre is it?” and “Who is it for?”

Now that the al­bum is out, with a re­lease party sched­uled for this week­end, those are still fair things to ask, be­cause Be­fore You de­fies easy cat­e­go­riza­tion. A con­ser­va­tory-trained pi­anist with an in­ter­est in free im­pro­vi­sa­tion, Hansen has unusu­ally strong key­board skills—but she uses them to ex­plore, not to zero in on one par­tic­u­lar sound. Lis­ten­ing to the new disc, it’s pos­si­ble to de­tect the in­flu­ence of early-mod­ernist clas­si­cal mu­sic, as fil­tered through a 21st-cen­tury jazz sen­si­bil­ity, in her play­ing, but her knotty key­board ru­mi­na­tions are set on top of a pow­er­ful rhyth­mic pulse that owes an audi­ble debt to pro­gres­sive rock. And when Hansen opens her mouth to sing, per­cep­tions shift again: her phras­ing is care­ful and con­sid­ered, but also deeply felt. Easy com­par­isons can be made to some of the great fe­male singer-song­writ­ers of the past 40 years—kate Bush, Tori Amos, Veda Hille, Björk—but that’s pri­mar­ily be­cause, like them, Hansen is sui generis.

The ques­tion of who Be­fore You is for, how­ever, is more read­ily set­tled. It’s for her.

“If you want the back story, I had my son in 2014, and then af­ter I had him I think I didn’t touch the pi­ano for al­most two years,” Hansen ex­plains, check­ing in with the Straight from her Bowen Is­land home. “Maybe a lit­tle bit here and there, but es­sen­tially noth­ing hap­pened for the first two years of his life. I just couldn’t get to the pi­ano at all, and I had gone back to work full-time af­ter my mat leave—and be­tween com­mut­ing to the city and hav­ing an in­fant, there was just ab­so­lutely no room left over.

“At some point I re­al­ized that I was re­ally suf­fer­ing be­cause of that, and that there was some cru­cial part of me that was wear­ing away from that lack of mu­sic and hav­ing an out­let,” she con­tin­ues. “I felt ‘This has to change,’ so I moved my pi­ano into a lit­tle shed on the prop­erty, fixed it up as a stu­dio, re­duced my work hours, and just carved out a lit­tle time, ev­ery day, to get out to my pi­ano. It was just a huge re­lief—and all of these songs just were ready to come out.”

Given the cir­cum­stances, it’s not sur­pris­ing that many of those songs de­tail Hansen’s strug­gle against the voices, both ex­ter­nal and in­ter­nal, that were raised in op­po­si­tion to her cre­ative re­birth.

“Yeah, own­ing my iden­tity as a mu­si­cian has been re­ally hard for me,” she al­lows. “There’s al­ways been the im­poster syn­drome, and also along with that a sense of ‘How do I fit in this cul­ture of the mu­sic biz?’ I don’t do any­thing the way you’re sup­posed to do it, and when­ever I’ve tried it’s just felt so wrong. So I’ve just sort of re­fused to do it that way.”

For­tu­nately, Hansen has found sup­port and com­pan­ion­ship in Van­cou­ver’s bur­geon­ing im­prov scene. Vi­o­lin­ist and stu­dio ace Jesse Zubot pro­duced Be­fore You, and he’ll be present when Hansen brings it to the stage, along with his equally gifted brother Joshua, cel­list Ma­rina Has­sel­berg, singer Hi­lary Ison, bassist James Meger, drum­mer Ben Brown, and Lee Hutzu­lak on a num­ber of elec­tronic de­vices.

It’s a dream band, and know­ing that she has this kind of sup­port is no doubt a fac­tor in Hansen’s present hap­pi­ness.

“It’s go­ing to feel re­ally good,” she says of her up­com­ing show. “That’s my idea of bliss, for sure.”

Alexan­der Varty

You’ll hear ev­ery­thing from 21st-cen­tury jazz to prog rock in the mu­sic of Ali­cia Hansen.

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