INTERVIEW: Coco Love Alcorn on life, music and infant producers

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
May 16th, 2011

 It’s been two years since Coco Love Alcorn last spread her love in Rossland, playing at the Old Fire Hall. This week she’s making her long awaited return with a stop in the Golden City to play a show in the Rouge Art Gallery. This Tuesday night Coco Love Alcorn will bring her joyful sounds, new songs and her new family in tow as part of her first BC tour in two years. Earlier this week I caught up with the Nova Scotia born, Vancouver raised and current Ontario resident on tour from Thunder Bay to chat new songs, new family and new experiences.

I know there are lots of folks who are excited to have you coming back to Rossland next week. Before we talk about that show, though, let’s go right back to the very beginning. When did music become the driving force in your life? How were you first introduced to it?

I can’t think of one specific moment because there have been a thousand little small moments all along the way. I come from a very musical family on both sides. It was always around. My Grandfather played organ in the United Church and my grandmother was an opera singer as a young woman and ended up teaching voice at university and my dad was a jazz musician so there was no escaping it. It was full musical immersion. At Christmas time we would go back to Nova Scotia and my dad and my aunts and uncles would gather around the piano and sing Christmas carols with lots of harmonies.

I tour a lot in Nova Scotia these days and there is music going on everywhere and now I’m on my way heading out west. It’s great to have bi-coastal routes. I’m living the bi-coastal dream. You know what I’m talking about.

Let’s jump inside your head for a moment. At its deepest what does music really mean to you? 

One of my favourite parts of music and I have a lot but for sure one of them is improvising. I’m a person who loves the moment in life and when I’m on stage in front of an audience I ‘m kind of letting the moment occur either musically or talking with the audience. When those moments happen when everyone in the room experiences something together it’s such an amazing connecting binding force.

About 12 years ago I was performing in Montreal and had the opening act slot for Chantal Kreviazuk.  I don’t remember exactly what happened but I said something funny about the fire alarm. Everybody knew that it obviously wasn’t a pre-determined part of my show and everyone, like 300 people were all totally in sync in that moment and they all had that realization that this moment will never happen again and we are all sharing int. It’s not specific to music but that’ what I love about performing. It’s a real medium of connection for me. There’s a lot of things I like about music but that is really special to me.

You’ve got such a great live act and improv is such a big part of that. How does improvising on stage compare to recording in the studio? How do you translate that “in the moment” feel to the album?

It’s tough. Recording is a whole different beast that I love in a whole different way. I’m currently touring my new record Play across Canada. I recorded it at home and it was a very different process than other records I’ve recorded. Normally I go into a studio and you’re working with a band and a producer and engineer and you’re trying to capture those special moments like improvising and being live on stage but you’re trying to capture the in a way that will translate beyond the moment.

This record I’m touring right now [Play]–because I recorded it at home, mostly myself where I was the producer and engineer and most of the musicians, it was a totally different set of recording processes but special in its own way. I just had a baby girl in September and she is sitting right beside me right now eating books. When I was recording this record I guess there were creative constraints but also liberties in the recording process. I only had little 45 minute snippets of time between Eloise easting, changing her diapers or having naps so I would go into my studio during those short breaks and it was cool. I felt relaxed because I was at home but also couldn’t dilly dally and waste time because Ellie would wake up in 40 minutes or something. It took a lot to focus to really go for it and be productive. But I also felt very liberated creatively.  Sometimes I can over analyze things where as her I just turn on my gear and just sing and play. It was really fun.

Your album names of late have been Play, Sugar and Joyful. Looking at that list you’d almost think you were a happy person?

I am a very happy person ! [laughs]

So tell me about the name Play. Where did that title come from for the most recent album?

I’ve always been a very happy, playful person and now that Ellie is in my life it has just kicked it up a notch. The recording process just felt even more playful this time around.

So did you get some baby noises in on the album? Maybe a rattle shake, or giggling backing tracks?

There are a couple little moments here and there for sure. I almost wish there might have been more but she’s such a happy, docile and sweet baby there really wasn’t a lot of accidental mother-daughter duets.

Family seems to be coming across as a major theme on this record. You’re father is a Canadian jazz icon and is on this album as a co-producer. At the same time you recorded it with your daughter and have her on the cover. How much of an influence has family been on your music? It must be fun to record an album with your daughter by your side and your father working on it?

Family is very important to me. I’m always learning from my dad. He’s got that real producer’s ear and mind for music. He was really instrumental in helping me pick the track order this time around. As a performer, he’s one of the best vocalists I’ve ever encountered. He’s a great singer and also he’s able to take a lyric and really capture the essence of what the song is trying to say while he’s singing it. I’m always blown away by his ability to do that and I’m constantly learning from him.

I knew that because Ellie had been born that I wouldn’t be out touring until spring of 2011 and here we are. I wanted to stay connected to music and that part of myself and luckily I have a husband who is a graphic designer that works from home too. We also made the escape from the big city of Toronto out to the small town of Markdale Ontario so all of a sudden I had a room dedicated to music and wasn’t crammed into a tiny Toronto apartment. I had space and time and the inspiration with little miss Eloise in my life so we played together over the winter and now I’ve got the new album Play done that ‘m touring now.

Tell us a little bit about the sound of the new album.

Some tracks are very acoustic and some are I dove in and made drum beats for them and layered my voice. Sorry I’m trying to stop my daughter from reading a book and I’m losing my train of thought (laughs).  Maybe that same losing my train of thought happened on this album. In a way Ellie was also a co-producer of this album. She was constantly telling me when I could start recording and when I had to stop. It’s as much an album inspired by her and what she’s brought into our lives as it is anything else

I’m fairly eclectic as an artist so all of the albums I make tend to have a range of sounds on them. This one fits with that. There are slower acoustic solo pieces as well as some layered up larger songs on this album like usual.

Have you found being a mother has come across or been translated into the you write music? Can you hear a difference before and after becoming a mother?

It’s tricky to answer that one because I’m really eclectic and always am trying to do new things. I’m also still a new mother so it’s hard to think retrospectively about it yet. I think I’ll know more in four or five years from now and can look back and see if there was any shift or what that shift was.

When I tell folks you’re coming to town I often find myself saying, ‘she’s the most talented musician in Canada that you haven’t heard of yet’. You’ve been on both sides of the picture but seem to favour the indie versus thecorporate approach. Tell us about that.

I had some brushes with major labels in my early 20s. It was mostly a positive experience. Everyone from the industry side of things or everyone I’ve brushed up against from the industry has always said “We love what you do, but how do we market it?” because I am so eclectic and have jumped from hip hop to folk to jazz and all sorts of things. I guess I feel like when I’m in front of an audience, I have a good time and hope everyone else has a good time but the fact that I’m eclectic makes for an entertaining show. It’s hard to get bored if there is a little bit of something for everyone.

From that perspective it must be easier to stay true to yourself and provide much more freedom going the independent route rather than getting put inside a box by a major label?

 It’s a lot more fun being eclectic, independant and making music from all genres and makes for a really fun life in music meeting all sorts of people and playing all types. I can see why people have said that over the years though.

We often have meetings trying to figure out how are we selling this next tour, what will the posters look like and things like that and trying to hook up with photographers for photoshoots.  It is easier if someone is strict to one genre. Then they know what radio stations to send songs to, they know how to style a photo-shoot. It’s hard to say “You should go see Coco because you’re into Jazz and she’s a jazz musician,” The fact that I kind of fit into a number of different forms has made it trickier to market, but we’re having fun!

You’ve recently launched a new website with a blogging component. I know that, personally, I enjoy music more when I know the history and people behind it. Being that much more connected to your audience and having them “know” you better, how does that change the relationship between performer and audience?

It’s mostly been very positive but it’s hard to know where to draw the line. For example there is picture of my daughter on the cover of Play and pictures of her up on Facebook. I think every artist has a different approach to that and some are more private about their private lives. Ellie was an integral part of recording that album though and now she’s out on tour with me so a lot of the places I’ll be playing lots of people will get to met her so I’m, ok putting her up on Facebook and for the most part it has been a really positive experience having my fans get to know me better as a person.

So what’s next for Coco? What would you like to do and try that you haven’t tried yet? Is there anyone in particular that you want to collaborate with?

Good question. I have a few ideas. I love doing solo shows. That’s what I’m doing this tour; mostly solo shows all over Canada and occasionally I’ll have a friend or two join me if I know a great musician locally I’ll get to collaborate and jam with them. An ideal situation would be one of these years to bring a four piece band across Canada. That would be really great. So far I only get to do that in Vancouver or in Halifax. One of these years though I’ll take a band with me across the country.

I’d love to collaborate with lots of people. Festivals are a really great place for that. I’d love to collaborate with Beck actually so if you have some connections and can hook that up I’d be game. I’m looking forward to touring through the summer and fall and then recording again next winter. I don’t know.  I’m just always making more music. It’s so much fun. My husband and I are enjoying touring with Ellie. Luckily we have a really happy and healthy baby that seems to like travelling.  I might do a kids record in a few years perhaps. I’ve always wanted to do that so now that I have a kid maybe I can give that a try and you know hit the kid’s festival circuit and sing songs next to the face paint tent.

Sounds good. You’d be great at a children’s album. For the upcoming Rossland show though what can we expect this time?

Well I have some new songs to unveil. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s been about two years since I’ve played a BC tour so I’m really looking forward to seeing old friends and seeing old familiar places and seeing how Rossland has evolved. I hear the acoustics are really great in the Rouge Gallery too so I’m really looking forward to that as well.

Coco Love Alcorn plays the Rouge Art Gallery this Tuesday evening from 7:00 – 10:00. Tickets are $15 at the door.

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