Three of B.C.’s finest female singer/songwriters are streamlining their singular strengths for a powerhouse tour this summer.
‘For the Birds’ is a musical collective featuring Aspen Switzer, Elaine Ryan and Genevieve Rainey. They perform at The Vat June 14.
Presenting their tunes in an ‘in the round’ format, these women will be blending their voices to create soulful harmonies, plus they will be backing each other up via guitars and percussion. They met through a competition to play on Canadian songstress Sarah McLachlan’s Lilith tour and all three made it into the top six of the Vancouver contest.
Only one artist was ultimately chosen but Rainey recalls the whole experience as a fantastic opportunity to connect to other artists. It wasn’t long before she and Switzer and Ryan found they had much in common, and the concept of performing together soon surfaced.
They scheduled four shows last September in the ‘in the round’ format and it was apparent they were onto something.
“There was an amazing response,” recalls Rainey. “There is definitely something to be said about women musicians teaming up together. It was a completely different process than what we were used to as solo performers.”
Each one offers a fresh, exhilarating approach to her craft. And built on solid foundations of acoustic instrumentation, the women bring an authenticity to their styles that’s unfortunately pretty much a rarity these days in music.
Switzer’s influences range from folk to country to bluegrass to rock and jazz.
Her second disc, 2008’s humble but bearing no apology, was chosen as a finalist for three awards at the 2009 B.C. Interior Music Awards and she won for Best Folk/Traditional Recording of the Year and Best Roots/World Recording of the Year.
There’s something immediately charming about her tunes, from the gentle tones of Winter to the lively, compelling nature of Faded Scars.
Ryan’s material draws from such diverse life experiences as busking in Europe, studying flamenco in Spain and working in an orphanage in Guatemala. Audiences were first introduced to her unique styles via her 2007 six-song EP Sisters.
Her latest project, Songs From the River, continues to see the artist break new creative ground. Ryan’s voice is striking in its unbridled expression (check out the imaginative Diesel).
“This is the album I’ve been wanting to make for quite some time now,” she says of the CD, which she produced. “It is sparse as I wanted my voice and the lyrics I’ve written to come through.”
She points to Ani DiFranco as a key personal influence.
“I find her an inspiring character, through her guts and her thoughtful and political lyrics,” she explains, adding that seeing DiFranco perform in Ireland several years back had a far-reaching impact.
“I was still trying to form an identity, and going to Ani’s phenomenal show encouraged me to pick up the guitar.”
Ryan was also influenced by her family, one which has a distinct love of music. Performing also came naturally – a skill honed while studying drama at school. Another season of learning came through busking. “Before I even began writing songs, I had a spell of busking in Switzerland. That was good for getting over jitters, and it certainly toughens you up.”
But school was also a top priority. She earned an arts degree at the University of British Columbia with a major in international relations and a minor in political science. But the performing arts were a consistent draw. She eventually studied flamenco dance in Spain.
“I had to decide between music and dance and which one to take more seriously. I felt music was a better form of self-expression for me. But I feel that what rubbed off from flamenco was the confidence my teachers exuded.
“The sense that you can be very feminine, yet very confident and in control at the same time is what I love about flamenco,” she says. “I also love the intense emotion of flamenco, and I like to make my songs intense emotionally.”
Ryan’s confidence as a performer was boosted by appearances at Indie Week in Toronto back in 2009, the Austin Women’s Music and Film Festival, Festival de la Chanson at Mont Tremblant and at famed Montreal club Metropolis (as part of the Emerge Festival).
For more information about ‘For the Birds’, check out www.ourstage.com.