This past June, Skye Wallace returned to Vancouver, not just as a performer but as a resident too. The Ontario-born songwriter relocated with her family to the Sunshine Coast when she was 15 years old, and for the next decade, she divided her time between the Coast and Vancouver. Most recently, she spent a year living in Toronto, where she played a month-long weekly residence at the Cameron House, and touring the Maritimes including Newfoundland where she has roots on her mother’s side.
In 2014, Wallace released her debut LP, LIVING PARTS. Like her geographical history, which has pulled her in opposite directions towards both coasts, LIVING PARTS is characterized by a transcontinental vastness. She wrote the bulk of the album while traveling across Canada by rail, riding from Vancouver to Toronto, picking up her journey in Montréal, continuing to Halifax, and then repeating the itinerary in reverse. Yet despite the album’s prominent history-based storytelling from multiple characters’ perspectives, musically, LIVING PARTS transcends a specific landscape.
During her recent travels, she revisited many of the places from her youth. But she returned on her terms, this time planting her own roots instead of relying on pre-established family connections. She reflects on one trip: “That was the first time I’ve been to Newfoundland, other than St. John’s, by myself. Other than that, I’ve been with family. This was just a completely different experience, very integral to my connection to place.”
Returning to a familiar place but with years of new lived experiences behind her – as a different person, in many ways – has led her to discovering new aspects of that place, making it new again. “I think that’s so exciting.
That’s such an exciting thing to experience, having multiple contexts for a place that you’re very familiar with.… It’s a very interesting development and relationship to have with a place.”
Skye Wallace plans to release her follow-up to LIVING PARTS this fall. The yet-to-be-titled album originated as two developing EPs, but she decided to combine them as a single release. However, demarcations will exist between the halves, “a side A, side B kind of thing,” she explains. One half, for example, will contain strings, and each side will feature different musicians. “I was at first maybe like, ‘Is this gonna work?’ And it totally has so far.… The sounds are not crazy departures from one another, but they’re definitely their own entities.”
History-based storytelling will continue too, at least on the first half. “Newfoundland was really useful, having gone there and done a bunch of research about the resettlement program in the 60s… That really sparked a story for one of the songs,” Wallace says, offering a preview. “But other than that, I’ve been experimenting writing about myself, which I don’t really do.”
Having once again relocated, now seems like a perfect time for Wallace to introspect. “I feel like I’m very transitional right now. I’m a bit rootless, ‘cause going back to Vancouver – what’s been my home – and creating a new home in Toronto and going between the two has definitely impacted where I’m at. It’s all very good. I feel very good about the transitional period.”
One may reasonably assume that after having spent so much time outside of Vancouver, often in comparatively remote areas, Wallace has absorbed regional cultural influences into her work. But “interestingly not,” she counters. “I’m a bit away from that, in a way, just trying out a bit more higher energy elements. There’s definitely a rock element.” Additionally, she says, the new album contains “a lot of different sounds, like playing with synths.”
This high energy rock element may be the most striking difference between Wallace’s new album and its cinematic, folk ballad-filled predecessor. Although, as spacious as LIVING PARTS is, a sense of taking charge or charging forward – a different but still very assertive kind of energy – surges through it as the album gallops through several triumphant moments. Musician/producer Jim Bryson, who has performed and recorded with the Tragically Hip, Sarah Harmer, and the Weakerthans, took note of this energy when he saw Wallace play at the Calgary Folk Festival last year. From then, he became determined to capture her live energy on record.
Although it’s too early for Wallace to get a feel of how she’s been fitting back into life in Vancouver (she’d only been back for a week when we spoke), she has noticed one personal change: “I’ve kind of come out of my shell in the last few years…. I’m probably going out more and… going to shows all the time…. I’m definitely having a renewed experience with Vancouver. And I’m looking to do that more so as the summer progresses.”
As for other plans, despite feeling rootless at this juncture in her life, Wallace seems to be in no rush to find her place. For now, she just wants to finish her album and continue soaking up as much local music as she can. “That’s mostly the focus. And being in Vancouver… being present.” Wallace will return to Toronto at the beginning of July to put the final touches on her album: wrapping up overdubs and “some field stuff.”
Catch Skye Wallace with her full band at the West 4th Avenue Khatsahlano Street Party on July 9. “I played like three years ago or something, so this is going to be nice to do it again. And I don’t think I played with a full band then, so this is going to be great.” She will then perform at ArtsWells Festival which takes place in Wells, B.C. from July 29 to August 1. “They book like 80 bands, and it’s the most magical festival I’ve ever played at. It’s really, really special.”
Preview Skye Wallace’s new album by listening to her latest song, “Blood Moon”.