INTERVIEW: Moore good music playing in the garden this week

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
July 15th, 2010

Like the great cartographers of olden times, or perhaps the Google Earth of the music world, the driving force behind Mae Moore’s nearly three decade long music career has been a desire to explore, map and take listeners on a trip through the deepest depths of human emotions. Her talent in bringing people together through song and taking her personal life experiences and turning them into verse that strikes a chord in the hearts of listeners has been her calling card throughout the years. Some say her voice is reminiscent of Dido, Sarah McLachlan, perhaps, or a softer, smoother Joni Mitchell, but Mae Moore is an artist who can’t be tied down by comparisons. In particular, her songwriting ability has won over many a fan with numerous awards and songs that, although not enormous hits, are instantly recognizable to many.

Right out of the gate she struck songwriting success when she penned the lyrics for Loverboy’s Top Gun soundtrack hit “Heaven in your eyes.”

This week Mae chatted with the Telegraph’s Andrew Zwicker prior to her show this Saturday night in Kelvin Saldern and Ann Damudes backyard garden on Cooke Avenue.

You got your start professionally as a songwriter. What are some of the differences or challenges in between being a songwriter as opposed to a recording and performing artist?

Being a songwriter, for me anyway, is more of an introspective profession. I really had to learn how to perform and be comfortable in front of audiences. When I write it’s pretty much on my own, but when you are up there performing you have to put on a good show and really engage people. They are two different worlds. I enjoy them both now. I didn’t always feel that way, though.

How does your process differ when you’re writing a song specifically for someone else as opposed to one you’ll perform?

I haven’t done a lot of writing for other people because I find the most honest and genuine kind of stories I come across are ones that I’ve lived. Occasionally, I’ll dip into conversations I’ve overheard or things I’ve read as well. When you travel a lot you can pick up all kinds of good brain food or good fodder for writing.

When you’re writing a new song, at what point do you know that you’ve got a hit on your hands? Is there a sense during the writing, perhaps, or do you need a crowd reaction to know if it’s a going to be a great song?

Wow. That’s a great question. I think on a real visceral level I get affected by great songs. I can pretty much tell that if I get goose bumps or shivers myself that it’ll connect with people. Most of the songs have some universal element to them. Some of the songs I’ve written in the past are ones that have come really quickly and they tend to really connect with people the most. I think it’s the songs that I have to labour over that maybe aren’t as clear and as clean.

Over the years I’ve learned that it’s very important for me to stay with a song. Some people can re-visit a song a week or a month or a year later and turn it into a great tune. For me, though, it’s about capturing the initial feeling and staying with that and really fleshing it out and figuring out what it’s all about.

What influences you, or what inspires you to sit down and write a song, or for that matter do you sit down and write at all, or just let it flow?

Some people take notes and write journals and various phrases. It doesn’t happen like that for me.  I need a real block of time with no interruptions. My writing happens in the winter. The ideas subconsciously have been collecting through the year and then in the winter when I sit down to write things start to come forward.

I write in alternate tunings on the guitar which is a really different way of approaching songwriting. The chords I come up with are a bit more elaborate and the chord progressions suggest a mood and then that mood will start to suggest the lyrics.

So your songs come largely out of the guitar rather than lyrics first?

Yes, exactly. I always write the music first. There have been a few instances where I’ve written lyrics first and tried to put music to them and they haven’t been very successful. Some people are very successful at that but it doesn’t seem to work that way for me.

What projects are you working on currently?

I just finished recording my first solo album in ten years. I’m really excited about that. It’ll be out in the fall. I’m setting up touring now, just got new management and there is a lot going on. I just came back from Music Fest in Courtenay where I was performing. It’s a great three day music festival up-island.  Really I need a good night’s sleep [laughs] before I head out on the road tomorrow. I’ll be going to Vancouver tomorrow, then up into the mountains a bit, then Penticton, to Rossland, to Fernie where I’m actually teaching songwriting at the Fernie Writers’ Conference. I’m teaching a three day course on songwriting. Then I’ll work my way back to the coast for another show and finish with a show on the Island I live on [Pender Island].

I hear you’re a big time gardener. Your Rossland show was originally booked for the Old Fire Hall, but has now been rescheduled for a neighbourhood backyard garden. Have you ever played a concert in a garden before?

Never! I’m really excited about it. It should be great. I came home to my garden today. It’s surviving but it needs some TLC. My husband, Lester Quitzau, is here and he’s going to pick up the slack while I’m away and fix up the gardens and things that need fixing while I’m out on tour.

Does your garden ever work its way into your songwriting?

No, I don’t think so [laughs]. It fuels me, though. I grow organically and really love good food from my garden so my songwriting is really fueled somewhat by my organic garden, I guess.

If folks aren’t familiar with your work, perhaps give us an idea of what they can expect this weekend?

Well, if they’ve never heard of me before this won’t mean much. I’ll be playing mostly my new music from my upcoming album and some old ones that they may have heard on the radio. I’ll be solo with my guitars and my dulcimer and I’ll be really looking forward to meeting new people in Rossland. I’m also a visual artist so I’ll be bringing some of my art up with me to show as well

What kind of visual art are you into?

 I’m into expressionistic landscape painting. I’ll be putting a book out this fall to coincide with the release of my album all of my artwork. My book will also contain a digital download card for my album. It’s all keeping me very busy. You know I just love that part of the world all around Rossland. Last time I was there I was playing with my husband and we had a really great time. It’s a wonderful community.

Having been ten years since your last solo album, how has your sound progressed over the decade?

Well, the new album, of course, is all brand new songs. This is the first album I’ve recorded with my dulcimer. I’ve been playing dulcimer for quite a long time but this is the first time I’ve brought it into the studio. I have one song on this album called “Oh Canada”. There’s kind of a Canadian theme to this record. I’ve lived in a lot of places in Canada on both coasts and was born in the middle. I’ve been to every province and territory so there’s a bit of that Canadiana and my love for the country in this album.

You’ve had a long and successful career already. What have been some of the more memorable parts?

Certainly touring across Canada and opening up for some of my heroes like Crosby Stills and Nash, John Hyatt, Richard Thompson–you know big folk stars. Touring in the US and playing some big shows was a real thrill and touring through Europe. It’s a great way to reconnect with a lot of friends I haven’t seen in years traveling around the world playing music. It’s a wonderful lifestyle. It can be wearing sometimes, but I just love it when one of my songs really resonates with another person. That’s what it’s all about for me. Getting out there and connecting with people.

Where do you see yourself going on the horizon, what else would you like to tackle?

I’m not really sure yet. I think my focus right now is this album because it’s been ten years since the last solo album. I love writing songs and playing music, but I also love painting and that aspect of my career is beginning to take off. On top of that, though, I also love staying home and being in my garden. Joni Mitchell said it best, because she also paints. She said that her painting and her music is like farming. It’s like crop rotation. One keeps you filled with inspiration while the other side rests.

Mae Moore will be playing live in Rossland Saturday July 17th at 7:30 pm in Ann Damude & Kelvin Saldern’s garden – 1980 Cooke Ave  in Lower Rossland. Tickets are $15 at the Garden Gate (proceeds to the artist and the RCAC). Bring your own lawn chair, beverages and snack.

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