We are honored here at Proglodytes to chat with the delightful Ché Aimee Dorval. You may have heard her collaborative work with Devin Townsend, first as a guest vocalist on his Ki album (on “Gato”, “Heaven Send”, and “Trainfire”) and then later as a co-writer on Casualties of Cool, which was released through a highly successful crowdfunding campaign (that was funded in 5 hours) and was one of my favorite albums of 2014 (in large part due to Ché’s gorgeous voice and songwriting ability). Ché has been busy working on various projects since Casualties was released. In this interview, we talk about her musical history, her work with Devin, and what he have to look forward to from the brilliant Ché Aimee Dorval.
Tell us about your musical history! How long have you been playing music? Was music a big thing with your family? When did you realize you were a singer/artist?
I’ve been singing and playing guitar since I was a little girl. Music was always a big part of our giant family gatherings. At Christmas or at family reunions my aunt would usually bring out a guitar and sing old country songs or folks songs and I’d harmonize with her. It was really lovely. My favourite was “Puff the Magic Dragon”, which I’m definitely going to cover someday soon. I was a very shy, quiet kid and singing was how I connected with people without feeling like I was being put on the spot. That said, I never sang alone as a kid. It was much too terrifying at that point.
When did you first start writing songs? Did you do any recordings early on? (I am aware of Volume 1 and Underachiever)
Actually I remember writing my first song in computer class in grade 6. They had this really simple recording software and we were all supposed to compose a piece for the class and then play it for everyone at the end and I was so proud of it. I remember being very excited to show everyone and when I finally did this kid accused me of plagiarizing, and I was so hurt and embarrassed that I didn’t write another song until I was in highschool. I wish I hadn’t let that stop me.
When I finally grew a pair and started writing again I wrote these terrible, lovey, mushy songs about this other kid, Jon, who I was desperately in love with. I thought, man, boys like guitar so I’m gonna learn how to play the guitar and he will for sure fall in love with me. Which was not the case, but it did sort of start the ball rolling again.
Around this time we got our first computer with GarageBand on it, and I got heavy into writing and producing songs. One of those songs was “Lights Out” off of Vol. 1. Also, at this point, I was working with this amazing local musician, Tim Readman, who was teaching me guitar and the basics of songwriting. He had a weekly night at a French bistro in Vancouver and I sang at occasionally. I think it was with him and one of his producer friends that I recorded my first demo called Lights Out that I sold out of a coffee shop for a year before eventually losing the masters. So that’s gone for good.
The next recording I did was with producer, Ryan Hauschild, called Roughing It when I was maybe like 19? I’m listening to it right now actually and it’s adorable. Not adorable enough to show anyone anytime soon but like, “Awe, Ché! You have so many feelings!” kind of adorable. Its crazy how a voice changes over time. I can definitely hear my age and I think I may have had a cold when I recorded it because I sound like Nelly Furtado.
Who would you say are your biggest songwriting influences?
For years, although it’s not reflected in my music unfortunately, Zero 7 and Portishead. Nick Drake and Cat Power have also been big influences. I like the quiet strength in their music especially since they seem/ed to be so fragile in life.
How did you first meet Devin? Were you familiar at all with his music? What were your impressions of the Ki record as you began to work with him?
I met Dev through Dave Young who was teaching me guitar at the time. Devin was looking for a female singer for a project he was working on and Dave suggested me. I knew absolutely nothing about him but I was game for anything at that time so we connected and recorded a few tracks together in Dave’s basement. We banged em out in a couple hours. Dev knew exactly what he was looking for and I had a lot of fun. I was going through a very strange time with a record label I was working with and he was great to talk to so we kept in touch and I would email him every so often to pick his brain.
Ki was unlike anything I had heard and it was lovely to sing to. I’ve always gravitated towards left of centre music so I really connected to that experience. It was however very quick and dirty and I was going through my own stuff so after we finished I didn’t really think of it until he emailed me months later and informed me that he was touring Ki in Europe and my voice was being played through the PA. That was exciting because up until that point I’d only played in Canada and only a handful of people even knew I was a singer.
The song ‘Gato’, to me, is super heavy. It just is thematically heavy, distorted, and sinister sounding. Do you like heavy music?
My first reaction was “Of course I do!”, but really, when I try and come up with examples of heavy bands that I like, I can’t really think of any? I know that there have been heavier songs and bands that friends have shown me and I know I loved them at the time but it’s not what I reach for when I want to listen to music. The heavier music I like is generally a subdued sort of heavy….a quiet foreboding…heavy in emotion. Risingson from Massive attack is my kind of heavy. Oh actually, is The Mars Volta considered heavy? I really love them if that counts?
Ki, to me, is a really powerful artistic expression, that manages to be really intense without being in your face. Did you get a sense of what Devin was trying to do while you were recording, or did it surprise you when you heard your performances in context?
I think I got it at the time. When I came in to sing everything was pretty much in the pocket. It was definitely a fully realized idea and I thought it was incredibly beautiful.
Casualties of Cool
Let’s talk about Casualties of Cool. What was the writing/collaborative process like? Tell us about how songs evolved as you passed them back and forth with Devin. Do you feel like you guys had some synchronicity (like, you’re on the same musical wavelength) or do you feel like your musical differences compliment each other?
Writing Casualties with Devin was the first time either of us had really allowed another person to have complete control of their half of the writing. There was no direction from either of us other than a very shaky understanding of what the story was going to be. It was also very helpful having the opportunity to write separately from each other.
I had never co written anything with anyone. I’m generally a bit of a control freak when it comes to music. But writing Casualties the way that we did was surprisingly freeing and it inspired me to let go. I’ve found that I’m at my best when I have someone to bounce ideas off of remotely. It somehow makes the whole writing experience less precious and it makes it easier for me to let go and commit to an idea. Most of the music I write on my own gets nitpicked to death until I just give up and never show it to anyone, but when I’m writing with someone I have this sort of detached feeling towards it so it’s easier to let it go wherever it’s supposed to go.
I also really wanted to show people who I was and what I could do with those songs. I knew that this album would have an audience, and up until that point I had never really had one before. I wanted to prove to the world, and to myself, that I was more than just a girl with a good voice.
When I was listening to Underachiever, I remember being moved by ‘The Fading Kind’. It seemed to enter into a melancholy space that I really connect with. When you wrote for Casualties, did you find yourself having to enter that headspace, or did it come out naturally?
I’m naturally a very melancholy person. I find it hard to write anything that isn’t, so Casualties was right up my alley. Writing is a way for me to work through insecurities, fears and my depression. When I’m at my happiest I find it very hard to write. I just live it, I don’t dwell on the why and I try not to analyze it because, in my experience, when I do analyze happiness it tends to go away.
We started writing Casualties when I was at a low point in my life so that record really felt like a lifeboat for me. It gave me something to focus on, a reason to be. That’s why some of the songs are so heavy. “Flight” was a way for me to imagine letting go and that was really helpful, very therapeutic. Now when I sing it I just want to hug the old me, cause man, she was such a bummer. (Editor’s note: If this song doesn’t give you chills, you should check your pulse)
HUMBLEBRAG TIME! Is there a moment on Casualties of Cool that you’re particularly proud of? Maybe a song that you feel like just came together perfectly, how you wanted or better than you wanted?
I really love “The Field”. It came out so easily and it was one of the first songs we did. The lyrics are straight out of my childhood. It’s obviously a metaphor for life, but at the same time it’s also a very literal song. From 8-19 I played on a soccer team on the west side (the rich part of town) and I was from the east (the shady part of town) and I always felt like an outlier. During games and practices, I would daydream and pick flowers on the field and just generally feel lost. The world and the future felt so vast and unknowable and everything felt so serious back then.
The album, though somewhat sonically sparse, was very atmospheric and deceptively dense. What was it like bringing these songs to the stage? Did other elements sort of reveal themselves as you performed them live?
Devin has much more experience performing live so I really followed his lead. I have zero confidence in playing the guitar but he really wanted me to so I just sort of learned all the parts and tried not to think of our shows at all until literally a moment before we were to go on stage. He’s such a showman. He’s amazing at what he does and it was comforting to know that if need be I could kind of hide behind him. That said, when the shows did come about I was surprised at how much fun it was and how comfortable I was up there.
We’ve got a show in Germany in September and it’s just going to be just him and I, much like the Dunlop video, but for a full set. That seems to really work. We play off each other very well in an intimate setting. These songs are very personal and introspective so when it’s just him and I, it sort of makes sense. That said, I miss Morgan being there. He brings so much to the songs and to our dynamic. Hopefully we’ll be able to play a couple shows with him soon.
I’ve heard that a new Casualties record is coming together, slowly but surely. Tell us about that, to the extent that you can, at this point.
It’s coming. We’ve both been super busy. It’s definitely miles away but it’s always in the back of our minds. The beauty of Casualties is neither of us want it to be a stressful experience. That project is like a musical vacation and i think that’s why it sounds like it does. So I don’t know when we’ll put another one out? Someday!
The two albums listed on your Bandcamp- Underachiever and Volume 1, have a bit of time between them. Has that been because of other commitments, or did you allow time for your creative process, or both?
I think with both of those records I never fully took myself seriously. I would put all of this work into an album and then when they didn’t turn out how I’d envisioned them or if anything went at all sideways I would just give up. I would take it as a sign that I wasn’t supposed to be doing this, that I wasn’t good enough and I’d stop writing for a bit. Which never lasted. I could never quite give it up completely and then I’d start the cycle again. It was through Casualties and through watching Devin work so hard that I realized I was being way too hard on myself and that it was important to me to have more control in the studio and to come with a fully realized idea. I admitted to myself that I was good enough, that this was what I was meant to do, if only for the fact that I’m just physically and mentally unable to put it aside. I can’t quit being a songwriter or a performer. When I try, I don’t feel right. The world loses its lustre.
This album, Between the Walls and the Window, marks the first time I have put myself fully into my own art and career. I haven’t held anything back and that’s incredibly scary. There’s a lot riding on this personally. But at the same time, if it doesn’t meet my expectations or something doesn’t work out with it, I’m not going to give up like I usually do. I’ll just move on to the next album and learn from this experience.
Do you play live very often? Where can people see you?
I really don’t…..but that’s going to change this year. I plan to tour this album everywhere. Really give it a chance out there in the world.
Actually, if you really want to hear me sing, karaoke is my jam. I like to get up there and sing just the most depressing slow unknown songs I can find (usually pretty drunk) and let the pieces fall where they may. That’s my guilty pleasure. Half the time I don’t know the song so I just make up the melody. It’s not classy.
What can we expect next from Ché Aimee Dorval?
So you’re working on a project with Bob Rock (producer for acts such as Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, The Tragically Hip, Michael Buble, and many others). Tell us what you can!
It’s great. I’m really proud of what we’re doing. We’re working on it a little bit like how dev and I wrote Casualties and every month or so Bob will come down to Vancouver and we’ll track some vocals at the Warehouse. So far we have 2 fully finished songs and one on the way. They’re beautiful, very unique…I have no idea how to describe our sound. I will say that it’s unlike anything I’ve done so far. We work really well together and I’ve been such a fan of his for so many years so getting to work with him is a dream. We’re going to call ourselves Roche (pronounced Roach) and I love it.
A new solo album is coming soon! We’re really excited to hear it. Do you feel like the projects you work on influence your solo writing much?
Casualties was a bit like going to school for me. I learned how to persevere, how to work hard and how to not suck quite so much at the guitar. I took all of that and applied it to this album. The songs I’ve written feel more like where I’m at at this point in my life but I think that’s also because I wrote these songs and then immediately went into the studio. I didn’t waste time second guessing myself.
Who would be your dream collaboration?
I would loooooovveeeeee to work with The Dirty Three. It would be so lovely to be able to do an album with them. Working with Massive Attack would be a dream. And if I could resurrect Nick Drake and work with him that would be tops.