I have been speaking with Desirée Dawson…
about her new single, Just Fine, and what its story is. She discusses the musicians she counts as role models and whether we might see more material coming down the tracks – the Canadian artist reveals her favourite albums and what she hopes to achieve by the end of this year.
I was keen to know whether we could catch her tour and what advice she would give to fellow songwriters; if she has a favourite memory from music so far; which upcoming acts we need to get behind – she ends the interview with a brilliant song.
Hi, Desirée. How are you? How has your week been?
The week has been so great. Very full and exhausting but great overall!
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
I am a singer-songwriter from Vancouver, BC (Canada) which is the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Coast Salish First Nations people. My music is always authentic and my instrument of choice is my voice; although, I do support my voice with the baritone ukulele. The music I create is a deep dive into the human condition; drawing from my own life experiences and the experiences of those around me.
I have been writing and making music for a while but, since winning the CBC Searchlight Contest in 2016, things really have been expanding and growing for me in so many ways. Many of my songs have been playing across Canada on CBC Radio 2 and other stations. I am so thankful for the support as it has really helped allow the music I make to reach more people.
Just Fine is your latest single. Can you reveal the story behind it?
Just Fine is about me acknowledging these two sides of myself. One side is very fear-based: it’s scared, worried and confused and often tells me things like: ‘I should give up and stop trying to follow my dreams’. I've come to realize that this side of me is just trying to keep me safe. There is another side of me that is also trying to keep me safe, but not with scare tactics. This other side LOVES when I’m adventurous and wild. This part of me does not even comprehend playing small and is always encouraging me to listen to my heart’s deepest desires and to run, jump and dive into it!
Because both of the parts of me are trying to keep me safe, they battle all the time. Hahaha. The song is about acknowledging them but letting them both know that I’m going to be just fine. After sharing this song for the first time, I got such a wonderful response from people. They also felt the same! Every show I play I have at least two people say: "Get out of my head! How did you know I was thinking these things?!" or "I feel like you just read out my diary in front of all of these people!". I am so excited that this song allows me to express and be vulnerable, all while creating a space for others to do the same.
Might we see an E.P. or album later in the year, perhaps?
I have so many songs that are just begging to be let out into the world, so I feel like I will stick to putting out singles over the next little bit. But, I do have some E.P. plans in the works as well. Nothing concrete yet.
Which musicians inspired you growing up? Who do you count as role models?
I grew up listening to artists such as Lady Smith Black Mambazo, Stevie Wonder; Des’ree and Tracy Chapman as a young child and found myself listening to the likes of Lauryn Hill, Beyoncé; Daughter, Adele; Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen; Alicia Keys and a lot of Motown artists in my teens/early adult life. I think a combo of all of these musical storytellers, plus many of others, have helped inspire and guide me over the years.
What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?
More lovely music; more lovely collaborations and connections. Also; I have some pretty amazing tours planned - stay tuned! (Smiles).
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music – the one that sticks in the mind?
A moment that is currently sticking out is when I played a festival in my hometown of White Rock, BC. My hometown is beautiful but it's a place where I hold some painful memories. I remember being on stage singing a song that was so vulnerable and I was scared how it would be received. I almost did not sing it. I was singing so strong, from my heart; on a stage right next to the ocean and, to my surprise, the song was a hit! I was met with so much love and support.
It felt like a homecoming to my hometown and truly stepping into myself (and accepting myself). So many people that day came up letting me know how much the connected to the song. It was a really special moment. The song is called Hey Brother - off my debut album, Wild Heart.
Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?
Gift of the Tortoise – Ladysmith Black Mambazo
I was afraid of the dark as a kid and my sister and I used to listen to Gift of the Tortoise to fall asleep when we were kids. It inspired me to see music as a source of light in the darkness. This album taught me that music is a powerful healer and that a whole song can be filled with life, even without any instruments! Oh, how powerful the human voice can be. It also was a nice glimpse into a culture very different than the one I grew up in as a young child - and I am very grateful to have been able to go to that place every night as a little one!
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill/MTV Unplugged No. 2.0 – Lauryn Hill and 19 - Adele
Both Lauryn and Adele were crucial for me. Watching women express themselves so vulnerably and to tell such moving stories with their lyrics, but also with they range in their vocals, was really important for me to do what I do.
If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?
I would love to support Lianne La Havas, Alessia Cara; Alicia Keys or Lauryn Hill.
Here is a glimpse into my dream rider: peppermint tea, roasted dandelion tea; almonds, organic fruit platter; a clean floor to do yoga on, water; diffuser with peppermint and eucalyptus essential oils in it; a couple blankets and pillows for my team and myself to take a little nap if needed.
Can we see you on tour soon? What dates are coming up?
Stay tuned for dates at www.desireedawsonmusic.com.
Might you come to the U.K.? Do you like British music?
I do like British music and I hope to be in the U.K. next summer!
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
Be yourself! Do your thing! The world is in need of YOU, not another version of someone else.
IN THIS PHOTO: Alysha Brilla
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
They are not necessarily new, but I am going to send you a list of just a few of my fave Canadian artist in the scene who have recently put out some new stuff that is definitely worthy of checking out A.S.A.P.:
Alysha Brilla - Rooted (album)
Sam Lynch - Light and Lines (E.P.)
Missy D + Kimmortal - XX (single)
IN THIS PHOTO: Khari Wendell McClelland
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
Lately, it’s been pretty hectic and I don’t have much time to chill. Luckily, I have expanded my team a bit and have more hands on deck so I am able to carve out little bits of the day for myself. I like to be with the trees somewhere. I like to be in my apartment with my plants and lay on the floor listening to other people's music. I like to spend time with my dear friends and be near the ocean or any big body of water!
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Beats ‘n’ Stops - Alysha Brilla
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