“I haven’t come out with anything since [My Prairie Home (Saved By Radio 2013)]. I didn’t want other projects taking up space. I wanted the proper amount of time to work,” says Rae Spoon. Armour (Coax), which drops on February 19, has been over two years in the making.
Immediately after My Prairie Home, Spoon spent much of their time promoting it, and had little space to write or record anything new. “[My Prairie Home] ended up having an American premiere, and it did quite well,” says Spoon over the phone. “I spent a lot of time flying around and going to premieres and speaking about it.”
I saw Spoon perform at the Sala Rosa in Montreal for the Montreal Spoken Word Festival in 2014 with only a guitar and a microphone. “My act is pretty much still the same setup,” says Spoon. “Plus some electronic effects and devices. I tour solo. Everyone I know who makes money touring goes solo.”
Like their live-show, Armour remains largely on track with Spoon’s previous electronic work. With the help of long-time collaborator Alexandre Decoupigny, Spoon’s new album marks a graduation from the curriculum that began with Superioryouareinferior (Washboard 2008).
The production quality is amazing; the tone is shiny and organic. Listeners can feel the dirt through the bass. Spoon achieves this effect by using a spectrum of percussive instruments to generate both rhythm and tonal space. Timpani thunder. Woodblocks in “Wrestles With Death” and whatever is going on in “Written Across The Sky” exemplify this effect.
Previous albums such as Superioryouareinferior and Love Is A Hunter (Saved By Radio 2010) were like the prairie towns Spoon grew up playing for: sparsely populated. Spoon has departed from this minimalism. While Armour is not melodically rich, its sonic textures evoke a diverse landscape and a distinct space.
The artist’s lyrical simplicity that stuck out so proudly as a groundbreaking voice for queer and trans rural populations remains unchanged. “If you grew up in a nothing town / where they sing the same song in every house / Then I can see / what makes you so hungry,” Spoon croons in “Stolen Song.”
“I think it has to do with my background as a country and folk singer,” says Spoon about the lyrical economy of their work. “My electronic songs are more like folk songs, which tend to have a simple message. I guess folk songs have more specific stories in them, but if I really want to be clear about it then, yeah, I’m just going to say it.”
I ask Spoon if making the transition from country to electronic was like, well, Dylan going electric. They respond in the negative.
“If you’re willing to come see a trans person perform in someone’s barn, you’ve got a pretty open mind,” Spoon says. “For awhile, around the time that Love Is A Hunter came out, my country albums were in stores and [for sale] online next to my new electronic stuff. That was weird. I must have really confused a few people who didn’t know my music.”
As a bluegrass fan, I had heard that Spoon once shared a stage with banjo legend Earl Scruggs. “Yeah, I did,” they say, “He was really cool. I love bluegrass, but I stopped playing those shows because it brought me back into the company of the people. Like, there was this one guy [in the audience of that show] wearing a shirt that read “Sex and Drugs and Flatt and Scruggs. Earl made him take it off though, that was cool.”
The nature of the country audience certainly played a part in Spoon’s decision to change genres. “Playing circuits in Alberta, you’re performing in barns and stuff,” they say. “Everyone was really kind but no one knew what a trans person was. You’re playing to rows of people in lawn chairs, and you’re like, ‘Hi.’”
Keeping with another tradition of folk, Spoon has always harboured political messages within their music, regardless of genre. “At these barn shows, I used to play atheist Gospel music. I had this one song called “Rapture” that people liked. It was about how Jesus was never coming back.”
“I wouldn’t make a big deal out of it. I wouldn’t start by saying ‘Fuck You.’ That’s not a good way to start a show. But I was young. I was 22 and alone in these situations a lot of the time. I was just trying to see what I could get away with.”
With Armour, Spoon continues to deal with their evangelical Christian childhood. “Your prayers are filling the sky,” sings Spoon on “Can’t Go Right,” And falling sideways down / and covering up my roof / and blowing all around.”
“I will always retain the symbolism of my Pentecostal upbringing,” Spoon admits.
I asked them if they were a person of faith. “Some people say I’m not religious, I’m spiritual,” Spoon says. “I’m neither religious nor spiritual. It’s too time-consuming. I spent enough of my energy doing that already.”
In “Stolen Song,” Spoon sings: “You can try it on / You can take it off / And that’s why it doesn’t / belong to you.” With those lyrics in mind, I asked them if they thought each person had some kind of authentic self.
“No, I don’t, because that assumes some kind of neutral person,” responds Spoon. “And any notion of a neutral person would be in some way oppressive. You can never separate yourself from your upbringing or your context.”
Armour is out on February 19 and Rae Spoon plays the album release, with Glenn Nuotio opening, on Feb 25 at Casa del Popolo. For tickets click HERE. $12