Wielding a raw, no-holds-barred vocal power, East Coast singer Carmen Townsend brings her extraordinary musical talents to The Vat June 17.
Her voice has been described as one that ‘ebbs and flows, taunts and teases, rising and falling with acrobatic ease.’ Her shows also bristle with unstoppable energy, and she’s thrilled to be introducing tunes from her latest disc Waitin’ and Seein’ via her current cross-Canada tour.
“I’d rather be onstage playing live than anything. I feed off of that raw energy,” she explains. “I often get compared to other female singer/songwriters, but if these people came to see me play, they’d think otherwise,” she adds, referring to her lively three-piece rock band.
And there’s that voice – gritty, emotional and really unlike so much that’s heard today. (One only has to listen to her cover of Sinead O’Conner’s Nothing Compares 2 U to hear how gutsy her approach really is).
Born and raised in Nova Scotia, Townsend has been creating music her whole life. With all that Celtic heritage entrenched in the landscape, you’d think she just might be drawn to the charms of that particular genre. Not really.
“I do love it, and I’m inspired by the passion that inspires the stories of those songs,” she says. But this girl is a straightforward rocker – no doubt about it. And it was an interest that came bubbling up to the surface pretty early on.
“There was always music in the house. My dad had the most amazing record collection, and my mom was a really good singer. She would sing along to songs on the radio, and those are among my favourite memories.
“I also came from a very isolated rural community,” she says. “For me, it was either spin records or go into the woods and run around. I’ve always been obsessed with records, eight‐tracks and classic rock.
“Music has always been a part of my life, but after touring around with all kinds of bands and just being in the background, I decided that things were looking up enough for me to do things on my own. Sing my songs for people.
“I also really had to find my own sound because I didn’t really like to be compared to other people,” she adds, chuckling. “I was a little firecracker.”
Writing tunes came naturally as she gave herself the freedom to express herself.
“I used to record myself on a tape recorder in my bedroom, still being too shy to share my songs,” she laughs, adding she’d sing a tune like Madonna might and then quickly erase it. Other bold influences quickly came rushing in, and Townsend admits she’s more drawn to the styles of male singers like the legendary Joe Cocker.
“I also took a lot of inspiration vocally from Joni Mitchell. She really uses her voice like an instrument.”
Using all the experience she gained playing in bands in the big cities like Toronto where she lived for several years, she returned to Cape Breton in 2004 to nurture her own sound. And with the release of Waitin’ and Seein’ this past January, the time has come for her to take centre stage. The album virtually explodes with creativity and novel approaches to crafting songs.
Interestingly, the CD was recorded relatively quickly but not released for about a year and a half. Townsend wanted all her ducks in a row so to speak – including having the perfect band in place before hitting the road.
“When I first started this project, I wanted it to be a rock band,” she says. “I knew I had tapped into something that no one else around me was doing. There weren’t enough female-fronted rock bands. I’ve also done some acoustic shows where I’ve stepped up to the microphone and thought ‘Wow,’ I’d kind of forgot how to do this by myself.
“I can do both, and that’s what we wanted to do with the record: make sure every song stood on its own.”
Along with the new project, Townsend’s rendition of Everybody Knows This is Nowhere was featured on a Neil Young tribute compilation in 2008.
Her talent was also featured in the award-winning indie film Just Buried and she has put her own spin on two songs from Grammy award-winning songwriter Jesse Harris for an upcoming album. Townsend has also toured across Canada with Heart who selected her as their Reunion Tour opener, and most recently played at the East Coast Music Awards in April.
She also just returned from overseas after landing a spot with the UK’s Great Escape Festival.