Five Questions With… Kristi Lane Sinclair
The award-winning Indigenous singer-songwriter releases a new EP this week. It showcases her passion for both grunge and classical music and features lyrics drawing upon emotions of anger and love.
By Jason Schneider
As modern rock continues to expand and evolve, it is artists like Kristi Lane Sinclair who are at the vanguard. The Toronto-based singer-songwriter draws equally from her Haida/Cree heritage and her love of both grunge and classical music to create a sound that challenges long-held preconceptions while telling her own unique story.
Raised in the wilds of British Columbia, Sinclair released two self-produced independent albums before earning widespread acclaim for her third collection, Dark Matter, which won Best Rock Album honours at the 2017 Indigenous Music Awards. The making of the album was also documented in a six-part series called Face The Music that aired on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN).
On her new five-song EP,The Ability To Judge Distance—out March 16 on Coax Records—Sinclair gets even closer to the bone in exploring themes of love and anger. Recorded with a four-piece band, with violin featured as prominently as electric guitars, Sinclair produced the sessions herself, intending to capture all of the raw energy of her live performances.
While the EP’s first focus track “Fire In Santa Fe” was jointly inspired by the fear and rage generated by the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the Standing Rock pipeline protest, Sinclair addresses the complexities of interpersonal relationships on “Desire” and “Starlite& Dust.” The EP closes with “Guido,” a song about being young and indigenous, and not knowing if you have anywhere to go.
Kristi Lane Sinclair launches The Ability To Judge Distance on March 16 in Vancouver at Fairview Pub, and on March 27 in Toronto at The Smiling Buddha. For more info, go to kristilanesinclair.ca
What makes The Ability To Judge Distance stand apart from your previous work?
I feel this EP has kind of a “first album” approach to it. I wrote it without direction or expectation in an isolated cabin in Ontario. The subject matter and tone jump around a bit, and I don't mind that at all.
You produced the new EP yourself after working with others on your previous album Dark Matter. What made you return to working that way?
I wanted to be once again that girl who started writing music in her bedroom. I didn’t want anything getting in the way of how I heard the songs in my head. A producer is great, and when they make a song better it’s awesome, but I guess I needed a break from that. It was nice to get back into that role too as, once upon a time, I was also a sound engineer and audio tech.
What inspired you to write “Fire In Santa Fe?”
I went to Santa Fe shortly after Trump was elected. It was a depressing time, but for the people down there, they were traumatized. Then I met a guy at a bar who said he was overjoyed. He talked of killing people in the Korean War and hoped one day he could kill again. All the time I’m thinking, this guy probably has a gun on him, so what do you say? Nothing. The second half of the song is about how the protesters were fighting back peacefully and doing everything they could to protect water and the earth. They are truly the heroes in this mess. It was a new kind of fire.
Your sound blends a lot of different influences. How do you describe your evolution as a songwriter?
In many ways I’m still stuck in the ‘90s and will always love volume and distortion. I’m also still a classical guitarist that gets lost in the pretty repetition of it all. My next project is writing a choral piece for a full choir. I guess my evolution is all about feeding the beast.
What do you recall about your first time performing in public?
My first performance was at music school, Vancouver Community College, when I was 18. One afternoon each week was devoted to performance. The only other classical guitarist and I chose to do a classical guitar duet of David Bowie’s “Queen Bitch," trading off vocals. I don’t remember how it sounded but I do remember getting the worst stomach ache of my life for the rest of the day. That would happen every time I performed for the next two years. Thankfully, that has since stopped!