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20 Questions With Carolyn Fe

The dynamic multi-talent talks Big Mama Thornton, Voivod, teddy bears and more.

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A couple of weeks back, singer-songwriter and actress Carolyn Fe was kind enough to share her latest release Jerusalem’s Thorns: Civilian Remix with me. You can (and certainly should) read about it HERE. Today the dynamic multi-talent is kind enough to share her answers to my stupid questions about anything and everything under the sun. And some of her answers will probably surprise you. Unless she seems like a typical Voivod fan to you. No? Then read on.

 


 

Introduce yourself: Name, age (feel free to lie), home base and other details you’d like to share — height / weight / identifying marks / astrology sign / your choice.
Hi there! I’m Carolyn Fe. I’m a dual-city-citizen of two great metropoles, Toronto and Montreal. I play gigs in both cities and in between as a singer-songwriter and actress. I’m a retired contemporary dancer-choreographer. I’ve been in the performing arts for over four decades. I’m not a spring chicken but I am proud to say that as a late bloomer in music and acting, and an older woman of colour in the industry, I am having a blast earning my stripes.

What is your musical origin story?
My musical origins come from back when I was a little sprout in the Philippines. I was given a curriculum of lessons like ballet, piano and singing so that the parental unit could sleep in on weekends. The serious stuff happened when we moved to Canada. Ballet lessons took a more committed turn, I was enrolled to a full dance curriculum that included music, staging, and stage presence. In my later teens, singing (opera) was included in the mix. I followed my dance path and made it into my first career and as the years went by, my music appreciation was expanded by folx I met along the way. Here are some of my go-to artists that I go back to on a regular basis when I seek inspiration: Big Mama Thornton (who I met and had a conversation with. She was instrumental in me singing and writing the Blues), Lucile Bogan, Bauhaus, Shostakovich, Brian Eno, Philip Glass, Bessie Smith, Cabaret Voltaire, Prokofiev, John Cage, Alice Cooper, Voivod, Robert Fripp, Gary Numan, Victoria Spivey

What’s your latest project? Tell us everything we need to know.
Just in time for Asian Heritage Month (May) and Filipino Heritage Month (June), my latest project is Jerusalem’s Thorns Civilian Remix. It’s a remix of a song from my last album, Sugat Ko (My Wound in Tagalog, released 2018). The remix has bite; aggressive in manner, combining the soundscapes of the drones of chanting monks and military tones that accompany tribal sounds alluding to a battle cry. This version, compared to the more organic sounds on the album’s version, is a painful purging of poisons and toxins while we find a way to build a new normal.

During this safe-distancing time, I’ve been collaborating online with musicians from all over the world. I write lyrics to their music and/or lay my voice on their tracks. I’ve done this before when I collaborated with Shun Kikuta (Koko Taylor’s former guitarist) on my third album Bad Taboo, released in 2014, and I’ve also helped Shun on a couple of lyrics for his last 2 albums. From Finland, I’ve worked with Sami Joensuu on his latest album Tides where I wrote the lyrics and sang to his music on You Name It. I’m also writing a play. Who knows, maybe music will be involved.

What truly sets you apart from other artists?
I don’t think it’s my position to say how I am different from other artists. We (artists) all have the same struggle to create, to be heard and to have our music shared. The industry is not like it was when it was young; Labels, Digital Distribution, Online Presence, Social Media…it’s a whole new game and it continues to morph. Folx today have easy access to any artists’ work. I believe it’s all in their perception on how they see me set apart from the others. One thing for sure is that I am grateful for those who have followed and continue to follow me from the beginning and, those who have discovered me.

What will I learn or how will my life improve by listening to your music?
Again, I don’t think it’s my position to say how a listener’s life may or may not be improved by listening to my music. I write words that are put on to music; I release the albums or singles. Once it is released, I no longer own the meaning of my words and music. Listener’s make their own mind depending on their life experiences. It is the listener’s perception of my work and, how the my words and the music affect them will make them own it or not.

What album / song / artist / show changed your life?
An artist that changed my live, hmmm, it’s a toss-up between John Cage and Philip Glass. These two artists showed me that the possibilities are endless. I was exposed to their work in my early days as a Contemporary Dance Choreographer. They’ve opened my eyes and ears to the subtlest nuances that is in any form or genre of music, even in “mainstream.”

Tell us about the first song you wrote and / or the first gig you played and what you got paid.
The first song I wrote is called The Curse. It’s on 100% (my debut EP, released 2008), Ooooohhh, was I ever angry when I wrote it. The hook in the song is “God bless your ugly soul on your way down to hell”. A lot of folx related to the song’s lyrics; anger is universal, isn’t it? (I giggle) Oh! Is that what you meant by your question “What will I learn or how will my life improve by listening to your music?” I guess in this case, The Curse would be a scream of relief when someone is angry or went through a breakup or is just ranting … but then again, I do have a song called, Rant. All those tunes are at carolynfe.bandcamp.com

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you’ve seen another artist give?
I thoroughly enjoyed watching The Blue Man Group when they came to Montreal with their show The Complex Rock Tour. I was mesmerized. Venus Hum’s Annette Strean sang Donna Summer’s I Feel Love — What a rendition! It was a like performance art for yuppies night.

What do you want to be doing in 10 years?
In 10 years, it will be five decades that I’ve been working in the industry. I hope to continue on until my last breath. The reality is that I do not have a lot of future ahead of me as the 30- or 40-somethings would. This gives me a sense of urgency to do so many things to combine all my experiences into all the arts that I’ve worked in. I’d like to continue writing, singing, performing in the energetic manner that folx tell me I do, acting, painting and maybe even go back to choreography. I just re-read what I wrote and it looks like I’m setting myself up for a rock-opera or something like that.

What living or dead artists would you collaborate with if you could?
For artists who are alive, I would LOVE to collaborate with The Dap Kings. They are slick, swell, suave and tight. For an artist who has passed, I would love to turn back time to the moment I had my hour with Big Mama Thornton when she saw me audition for a venue (as a dancer) and to make a long story short, she told me to say my dance with my voice. That’s how I got started in the Blues. Two years after that meeting she passed away. I wish I could show her how her words affected me and that we could collaborate on a whole album!

What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?
I think folx who know me, know that my range of appreciation is pretty wide; from medieval, to classical, to pop, to country, to punk, to speed metal, to death metal, to the blues, to rockabilly, to jazz, to rock, to folk, to experimental all the way to unclassifiable genres. I love to discover new artist and their new ways of expressing music.

What are your favourite songs / albums / artists right now?
For the past two months, I’ve been hooked on k.d. Lang, Voivod, Sunday Wilde, A Tribe Called Red, Measha Brueggergosman, Marjan Mozetich, REZZ and Cheese Finger Brown (RIP).

How about some other favourites? Authors / movies / painters / philanthropists / you name it.
Authors: Daphne Du Maurier, Stephen King, Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche, Aldous Huxley.
Movies: The Usual Suspects, The Platform, Get Out, Little Nicky.
Painters: Kandinsky, Dali, Tamara De Lempicka.
Philanthropists: The ones who do not say anything and remain anonymous because they are the ones who mean it when they give.
Other favourite stuff: Food – lots of good food in feast fashion on a long table with good friends that last for hours until our butts hurt from sitting down and still we go on eating, and talking, and laughing, and creating good memories.

What superpower do you want and how would you use it?
I don’t know what you’d call it but I would like to have the superpower to burn the systems that perpetuate and maintain racism and prejudice. I know, it’s pretty socio-political for a music interview but I do have a sense of humor that pops up now and then, quite often actually.

What skills — useful or useless — do you have outside of music?
I can run a corporation or be a hairstylist. Actually I did; I owned and operated a Human Resources Firm specializing in High Tech Industry. Then during my transition period into becoming an artist, I went to hairdressing school as a fallback plan. I opened up a salon and was a part-time hairstylist; gigging at the same time until I was able to stop and be an artist full time. If times go lean, I don’t think I’ll go back to corporate, I think I’ll return to being a part time-hair stylist.

What do you collect?
Teddy bears. The fluffier, the softer and the more huggable they are, the better. Life is too harsh. We all need a teddy bear to hug and tell our secrets to.

If I had a potluck, what would you bring?
Oh, nowww you’re talking. I would bring Filipino stuff: a noodle dish called Pancit Bihon (pronounced, pan-sit bee-honn), for alcohol drinkers a case of San Miguel beer, for non-alcohol drinkers a case of Sarsi (something like a root beer but less sweet, it’s like the Guinness of root beers).

Tell us about your current and/or former pets.
Hamsters. In the recent years, I’ve had four (one at a time, cause I like to give them full attention). Somehow their legal names all started with “B”, like: Blue, Butters, Burt and Big Bob (who was actually very small, a Roborovski hamster) but regardless of their names, they were all called Mouse. I’ve been thinking of getting another one. If I could, but I know I can’t because of travelling for gigs, I would love to get a French Bulldog. I’d call him Otis.

What’s the worst advice you were ever given?
The worst advice I ever received was: Do ONE thing. Only ONE thing and specialize in it. Goodness me, if I had followed that advice, I’d be climbing the walls and wouldn’t know why (now, there’s a skill to be learned).

Listen to Jerusalem’s Thorns: Civilian Remix above, check out Sugat Ko below, and connect with Carolyn Fe via her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.