CASUALTIES OF COOL: CHÉ AIMEE DORVAL
Ché Aimee Dorval is a Canadian singer/songwriter who in recent years garnered some attention thanks to being part of Casualties of Cool, a project where Devin Townsend is the most well-known other musician involved. (Morgan Ågren is the drummer of that project, an almost legendary super unknown artist. So an interview with him will come around as well.) This super group of sorts is not the only thing Ché has been busy with in recent years – although it’s good to know that work on new Casualties of Cool material is in progress, indeed! Ché embodies music with heart and soul, and as you can read in this interview, we can expect more than we can expect as to what music her future will bring us! This interview is not about metal at all, but it is all about casting aside all stereotypes. And most of all: it is about music and life!
Q) Hello Ché Aimee Dorval, and welcome to Lords of Metal. As you can imagine, without you being a part of Casualties of Cool, it would become very hard to imagine you interviewed in a mostly metal webzine. Still, I think such a powerful voice needs to heard, so here we are. Could you introduce yourself to the unaware reader in what you think make up the keystones of you?
A) Thanks Bart, That’s really lovely of you to say. And thanks for the thoughtful questions! Hey readers of Lords of metal, thanks for having me! My name is Ché and I’m a Canadian singer/songwriter who is mostly unknown except for in the metal world (??) which I find both unexpected and strangely comforting. I’m not sure what to classify my music as. I feel like I’m constantly growing and changing my sound. Today it leans towards cryptic folk grunge with a bit of soul mixed in but I haven’t released any of that yet so to those who have heard my past music I would probably be classified as a softer folk pop singer/songwriter through and through.
Q) As has been mentioned in the interview with Louder Than War, just like more things in (your) life your getting to work with Devin Townsend rose from coincidence. Is there any chance that by now there is yet again some time available for you and the rest of the musicians to get together again?
A) Oh ya, for sure. Dev and I are currently working on some more casualties songs for the next album. As it was with the last album, we are slowly meandering through the writing process. Leisurely going about it with no time constraints or pressure. It’s a luxury that we don’t have in any other areas of our life so writing together in this project feels tends to feel like a therapeutic vacation of sorts. I’m also working on my new album right now and have asked Dave Young and Mike St. Jean to help out so I’ll be working with them soon too! Everyone in that band is so incredibly talented and kind and they have all been so generous and quick to lend a hand when I need it.
Q) Meanwhile, your EP 'Volume One' has also been released. I think it is filled with beautiful songs, but how has the reception been so far as far as you have noticed?
A) The reception has been pretty good so far. Which honestly was surprising for me. I mean, most of the people who have heard my music are into to metal which is the polar opposite of what I do so I didn’t expect this much support for my solo stuff. Volume one, for me, felt like finally putting an old tired piece of me to rest finally. Some of those songs had been floating around for years and while I didn’t necessarily connect with them anymore it felt somehow wrong to just push them aside as if they had never happened. I actually tried to do that on several occasions and write new songs that I felt reflected where I am at now at but I ran into such an extreme case of writers block. It’s funny, when I finally put out volume one I immediately started writing again. And things that I actually liked, things I was proud to show people. Which is rare for me. I think I just needed to make room for new songs.
Q)Did the release also get you some more attention which then enabled you to perform live some more?
A)The release definitely gave me an excuse to tour. I think the attention I got was still due to casualties. That was definitely my introduction to the world and garnered some amazing opportunities. After the Casualties mini tour I was offered a UK tour opening for an amazing Australian musician Kim Churchill. We played thirteen shows in thirteen days. I went from playing maybe once or twice a year because of extreme stage fright to playing non-stop for two weeks and it was great. I didn’t fold. Ya maybe I had a bit of a private nervous breakdown after every show but I woke up every morning and did it again and I think I did an alright job. There were a couple moments during that tour where I felt truly comfortable onstage. I think that tour woke me up a bit to the possibility that this could be a life for me. That playing all the time, and dedicating myself to music might be a possibility.
Q)By now, you have done small gigs and bigger gigs. I can imagine a small gig with only you on stage is more unnerving than a big show with more musicians with you on stage, but how do you experience this?
A)Oh god, Playing small shows if fucking terrifying. I’m not the sort of person who needs people to pay attention to me. I was never the sort of person who grew up saying “I want to be famous!”. I just love singing, I love writing and music is my heart. It’s the only thing I know how to do well. I love touching people, I love making them feel things when I sing. But it scares the shit out of me being seen, watched. That’s why the union chapel show was so perfect. Devin’s an amazing frontman. He commands the audience and he loves it. Being able to let him lead the show and just play and sing beside him without all of the pressure, in the dark no less, was just so calming and perfect.
That said, I want to get to a point where I feel as comfortable by myself on stage as I did that night. And I think I can. I’ve already come so far in that respect. When I was growing up I was unbearably shy. I would only sing to myself when I thought no one was listening. When I was 16 or 17 I put on my first solo show at a jazz cafe down the street from where I lived and although was sweating bullets and generally just panicking inside I faked it through until the end and as the years went by it got a little bit easier each time. I think maybe that’s the key to life. I guess that’s why the saying “fake it until you make it’ is so popular.
Q) For most listeners, you will be "that beautiful voice". Although there is no denying that, guitar is also a main instrument for you, one on which I imagine you compose a lot of your material. How do you approach the guitar when you play it, and how has it grown on you?
A)Me and the guitar have a funny relationship. I love it and it tolerates me. Sometimes we can really make magic together but it’s usually when we’re alone. It’s a peaceful and beautiful feeling singing and playing the guitar. Hours pass while they feel like minutes. And singing is easy for me. It’s something i was born knowing how to do but playing the guitar has always been a struggle. I’m the sort of person who if it doesn’t come easy I usually don’t do it. That’s not a great trait but it is what it is. With playing the guitar though, In order to sing what I want to sing, I have to play the guitar. There’s no getting around it. I’m too much of a control freak musically to give those reins up to somebody else. So as the years have passed I’ve gotten better. I still have the view that I’m rubbish at it but occasionally when I play with Devin or others, I’m not laughed at. And that’s nice!
Q) Part of your music are your lyrics. They appear to be very personal; are they also autobiographical? And could you tell what inspires you to write and if there are subjects you feel yourself drawn to to write about?
A) My lyrics are definitely autobiographical. I used to act when I was younger and I had a hard time with it because I have a hard enough time trying to be me openly, forget adding another character onto the pile. With music, if you choose to write autobiographical songs, you are sharing your inner workings with the world. You have a platform to say whatever it is you need to say even if it’s truly messed up and people don’t listen too closely or judge to harshly because it’s a song. I’ve met a lot of people who say they don’t really listen to the lyrics, which I find completely weird, but at the same time writing with that in mind feels like you are getting away with telling a secret, getting something off your chest, without the repercussions that come with it if you had said it in a conversation for example. And when I sit down to write it’s most always about this. About getting something off my chest. Or venting. Somehow when it’s in a song I find I don’t need to think about it as much anymore. I think that’s why most of my songs are sad. When I’m happy I don’t really have as much time to write because I’m outside living and having a good time. Although there are a couple songs I’ve written that reflect whatever amazing moment I was in. ‘We go’ is definitely one. And it came from just being happy enough to sit on a porch and play around with my guitar and reflect and all of the good that is in my life.
Q) You already wrote 'Lights Out' when you were sixteen; do you feel the meaning of the texts has changed for you over the years?
A) I think the meaning has stayed the same but when I sing it now, I’m brought back to that little girl who felt so alone all those years ago but now I feel sort of like an older sister to her. She feels like a completely different person, someone I’d want to protect. I’m definitely not in the same spot now but i can appreciate what she went through to write that song.
Q) Have there been specific musicians or other artists (or art forms) that inspired you to make music when you grew up - and are there still?
A) There have been different artist for different areas where I felt I needed support or inspiration. Cat Power’s music made me believe that it was okay to write melancholy songs without a care about airplay or what was popular on the radio. She also made me feel like it was okay to be scared or uncomfortable on stage. Like It didn’t matter if you messed up a verse or you were too hard on yourself because at the end of it all it didn’t matter. A beautiful song is a beautiful song and some people just appreciate it for being.
Jeff Buckley’s voice taught me that you can sing with your whole soul and not be classified as just a voice or a soul singer. His songs were raw and unnerving and he made me want to write outside of the box a little. I’ve constantly been told I should sing R&B or soul or blues because I’m black and for some weird reason Jeff Buckley was my answer to that. Reading that back, I’m not sure why, but he was.
Nick Drake’s music affected me on such a deep level. He was so personal. Some of his lyrics were so personal and winding that no one but him could ever know what he truly meant and I like the idea of that. I also respect his struggle. He wasn’t as accepted or respected when he was alive. It took people a while to catch up to his genius and so when you hear his music it feels like you’re in on a secret.
Nina Simone was pure power and rage. She demanded your respect. She said what she meant and she didn’t apologize for it. To be young gifted and black, written when it was, was just so brave and strong. I love her.
Leonard Cohen’s book of all his songs and poetry came to me at a time when I was being led in a direction I didn’t like. It was on the coffee table of a studio in LA where people like Lindsey Lohan and Katie Perry where recording their hits and while I was waiting to meet with the people who produced them (who are all lovely and talented) I read this book. And I think it gave me permission to opt out in my mind. Like, I don’t have to do this style of pop music, I can do what I want, Look this man is doing what he wants and he’s just fine.
Q) The other musicians on 'Volume One': are they session musicians, or musicians you knew beforehand?
A) They’re some of the musicians I used for my first album. The sweetest most talented bunch of guys. They do a lot of sessions but they also have their own thing going for them. A couple of them are from the Canadian band The Odds that I loved as a kid and they are all friends of my then producer Dave Meszaros.
Q) Your first work with Devin Townsend was singing on 'Ki' (which is amazing as well!). Is it true that you entered the studio and laid down material new to you in one long session, or did I completely misunderstand that?
A) You’re sort of right! Haha! We met on the day and then we drove out to Dave Young’s basement where he had set up a little studio and laid down the tracks in like an hour or two. I’d never heard the songs or met him before that but it was really easy. We got each other right away. He was amazing to work with and I left that session feeling really positive. Like I had really accomplished something for the day.
Q) Are there at the moment specific musical plans you are working on, and perhaps a tour we can look forward to?
A) Ya! I’m actually really excited about them! Aside from the new Casualties record I’m working on a whole new batch of songs that are true to who i am right now and what I love musically these days. I haven’t felt this way in a long long time when it comes to my own music. I’m also producing it all on my own and trying, trying being the operative word here, to mix them as well. Although when I’m truly stuck dev helps with the mix because he is a genius. I’m also playing all of the instruments on most of the tracks and because there is no one else around while I do it I’m really giving myself the time to perfect guitar sounds and parts. And I have to be honest they sound great. I don’t think I have ever said that about my own music before. I’ve also started rehearsing the new songs with this rad punk drummer Mandy Idle. And it’s pretty cool. It’s just her and I at this point and yet it founds so full and exciting. I’m excited to play our first show…. I have a feeling it will go swimmingly.
These were my questions for now, thank you very much for taking the time to answer them. If I omitted some subject I shouldn't have forgotten or you'd like to go into, feel free to let me know. Anyway, the last words of this interview are all yours!
Thank you, Bart! This was lovely! Hope your heavy fans enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed answering it!