Five Questions With… Collette Savard
This Toronto singer/songwriter explores new musical terrain on her fourth album, ably abetted by her seasoned band, the Savants. She explains the origins of the group, her love of Joni, and more in this interview.
By Jason Schneider
For her fourth album, Toronto singer/songwriter Collette Savard wanted a fresh start and fresh sound. She found it with the help of a dynamic new band, making it entirely appropriate to simply name the album in honour of their collaborative effort, Collette Savard and the Savants.
The group comprises of some of Toronto’s most experienced and creative musicians, and the results are a brilliant folk-jazz-blues hybrid showcasing Savard’s highly affecting performances, and contributions from the aptly named Savants whose past credits include work with Jane Siberry, and Paul Quarrington. Backup singer/percussionist Rebecca Campbell, bassist and producer John Switzer, drummer Martin Worthy, guitarist Tim Posgate, and keyboardist Megan Worthy feature in this all-star ensemble.
The Savants provided a solid foundation as Savard’s songs grew out of a period of great upheaval in her life, as heard on tracks such as “In Over My Head” and “I’m Counting On You Heart.” But although the album was born out of deep sorrow, Savard views it as a testament to optimism and empowerment. As the band began jelling, it allowed her to try on some different musical hats, as on the Stax Records-influenced “It Shines” and the Steely Dan-esque “Last Cigarette.”
Collette Savard and the Savants officially launches Friday, Jan. 26 at the Tranzac Club in Toronto, and more info is available at collettesavard.com.
What makes your new album stand apart from your previous work?
My first three albums were produced by my former partner of 13 years, John Zytaruk. We invited a lot of great musicians to play on them, but I dreamed of having my own band of ringers who would get to know the songs intimately and who could help me evolve as an artist. Rebecca Campbell came into my life just as my marriage to John was ending and she helped make that dream a reality. Although this album is still a collection of my songs, it’s really a collaboration by a whole group of really talented people who honed these tunes together over a couple of years of playing them for audiences. John Switzer’s production prowess and recording the album in a real studio, Marquee Sound, as opposed to the more DIY approach of my other albums, really make this my most polished effort.
What songs do you feel best capture your current musical vision?
My writing method involves absorbing what’s around me and catching the thread of inspiration. I don’t follow the common templates that people who speak the musical language do. This makes for a really wide range of musical styles and lyrical themes. It is this, more than one specific song which epitomizes my vision. This sometimes makes it hard to choose a collection of tunes that seem cohesive enough for an album, but I think we pulled it off. Each song stands well on its own, and each plays its own unique part in the collection. I’m really proud of the lyrics in songs like “Cecil Street” and “Copper Moon,” and other songs like “Hardest Part,” with John Switzer’s funky disco bass line, are just fun to listen to even if you don’t pay attention to what’s being said. The band inserted a lot of their own points of interest in these tunes too. Tim and Megan’s solos, Marty’s rhythms, all of Rebecca’s little percussive and melodic touches, elevate each one of these songs. Then there are songs like “I’m Counting On You Heart” that give a window to my soul both lyrically and musically. There’s not one song on this album that I think of as filler. I love all my children equally!
How did you go about putting your band together?
It starts with the Tranzac Club, a unique bohemian not-for-profit arts facility in Toronto’s Annex that was born out of an Australian Anza club. It’s a long story really, but in the interest of brevity, I played there with my former duo for several years when I was asked to join the board of directors. That same year Rebecca Campbell joined too. We worked together for about a year when we each offered to play at an Australia Day event. I brought in a piano player to accompany me for a rendition of “How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee Gees. Rebecca was minding the bar and happened to have another microphone set up there. When I launched into the song I heard another voice perfectly blended with mine, singing spot-on harmonies—it was instant synergy. I later learned that Rebecca could pretty much sing anything with anyone with no notice, but at the time I just thought it was a miracle. Shortly after that, Rebecca caught me doing a rare solo open mic set at the Tranzac and we really started collaborating.
She not only encouraged the move towards the band, she pretty much single-handedly put it together. First, she invited Megan, a tremendous young pianist and singer. The three of us could have been sisters singing all our lives. Then Megan asked Martin Worthy, her dad, to join the band. I thought that was weird at first because it’s not very rock ‘n roll to play with your dad and Megan is a pretty free spirit. I knew though that Rebecca and Marty were in more than one band together and that they had both been a strong musical influence on Megan.
I met Tim Posgate at a community jazz improvisation workshop also at the Tranzac. We ran into each other again at a show and had a great chat about songwriting. Rebecca had known him a long while and thought he was perfect, which he was. As for John Switzer, the bigger story goes that he discovered Rebecca singing one night and got her in as Jane Siberry’s backup vocalist. Over the years he’s produced more than one of Rebecca’s various projects. While we were looking for a bass player, she ran into him at a concert and thought he would have fun playing bass in this band. He was into it. Once you have such a well-respected and storied producer in your group it’s really a no-brainer deciding who should produce the album.
What song by another artist do you wish you had written?
Just one? It would have to be something by Joni Mitchell, and today I’ll pick “Both Sides Now.” She had such a sober and mature insight into life at such a young age and yet still so connected with the joys and whimsy of youth. Such a wise and beautiful song. As a lyricist, Joni falls into the category of genius but then you add extraordinary vocal performances and intricate, wholly original musical accompaniment and she is without equal.
Her lyrics have become an emotional shorthand for me. Popping into my head when I’m waiting for the car on the hill, or when I’m sitting in a dark corner with nothing to talk to anyone about, stumbling around these parties fumbling deaf dumb and blind or when something’s lost and something’s gained in living every day. I could go on forever with these snippets of lines that remind me, someone else has been here and her name is Joni. If just one of my song fragments connects with people like that, I will have done my job well.
What are you most looking forward to in 2018?
I’m really excited to see what this album brings into my life. I’m hoping it’s the chance to do a ton of gigs far afield with this great bunch of musicians. You can’t predict anything but I’ve done what I can to put music I want to hear into the world and continue to make my best effort to get others to listen to it. So I guess 2018 will be a discovery in “what now?”