Name: Madisyn Whajne
Nationality: Canadian / Whitefish River First Nation
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, pianist
Current release: Madisyn Whajne's Save Our Hearts LP is out on Summer Love.
If you enjoyed this interview with Madisyn Whajne and would like to find out more about her and her music, visit her personal website.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
I would say the impulse to create usually comes from a desire to let out my pent up emotions, itʼs the easiest way to express myself. For Save Our Hearts in particular, I wrote from a place of longing to bring me closer to what I desired. It was therapeutic and healing. I was really only inspired by my life, my choices, my path, my relationships.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
You know, there is never really any planning or visualizing of the end product! It is definitely all chance, which I love because I never know how it's going to turn out. Itʼs the best gift ever, I love surprises. My process will probably change since this is the first record and it came very naturally.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
The preparation phase is usually a car ride! There is nothing better for me than getting behind the wheel and just driving. It clears my mind and ideas just flow.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
I finish the writing process in the studio and I definitely have to set the mood. Dim lighting, candles and a clean working area are a must. And if I am being honest, a cold drink and a few smokes go along way!
I always start with a “bedroom demo” and then a band demo, which are the early versions that I honestly come pretty attached too, but luckily working with such a talented group of people I let that go pretty quickly.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
For Save My Heart I started with lyrics. A good line would come to mind and I would work around that. There is usually a melody that comes with that one line and it really takes off from there. Songs usually come pretty quickly and I would say they almost write themselves.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
It's funny, I have always been a melody person. I realized that, when I started writing songs, for a lot of my favorite songs, I barely knew the lyrics or even paid attention to them. It was the combination of the melody and the hook that stuck with me, so when I started writing lyrics they were pretty straightforward. Playing and writing with James [Gray] really opened my eyes to the importance of intelligent and thought provoking lyrics.
In my opinion, good lyrics are the best play on words that I would never think of, but most importantly, leave an emotional imprint on me. My favorite lyrics usually make me cry! As far as my own ambitions, I want to push myself past my comfort zones and not stop until itʼs better than I know I can do. That in and of itself is the biggest challenge.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
The development of the songs for this record moved pretty fast. I would write a song and bring it to James and we would work out arrangements and additional hooks, as well as lyrics depending on the song. We would then bring it to Jay [McBride] who would lay down a bass line and then Bobby [Bulat] would just take the song to the next level. I love every step of the way and seeing the natural evolution of each song.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
I definitely donʼt have a strict process! I follow where the song leads me. There is an openness I really have to succumb to. I tune into something greater than myself and let myself be led. I act as a vessel and it's an incredible feeling. Sometimes I donʼt feel like the songs are even mine!
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
Any new ideas that flow in during the process are always explored. I do get attached to my original version but I have learned to get over that! The songs usually get better that way and often take on a whole new meaning. "Never Give In" was particularly like that. It morphed and changed so much from the original demo and I love how it turned out.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
Ahhh the creative state, my happy place! It is a very spiritual place for me indeed. I feel connected to a higher state of being and it's euphoric. I am always so grateful during the whole process because I feel I have been given a gift, to be able to translate something in the ether to this plane of existence. Being thankful and humbled by the experience is a direct relation to The Great Spirit for me.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
Some songs are written so quickly that I know where the song ends organically, like "One Shot" and "Donʼt Walk Away". Whereas "Dagger" and "Sweet Talk" we just kept layering vocal over vocal and coming up with new melodies, and the guitar tracks that we recorded for Dagger that never made it on! Oh boy, a fun process but it was easy to get lost.
With songs like that we went the distance, sat back and then reeled it in until it felt “just right.”
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
For me, I tend to know right away. I donʼt really sit on things or let them lie, all that creative process happens in the moment and we write pretty quickly and efficiently. I like to work on one song at a time and we work on it until I am satisfied … like that day!
It was a little different recording because we would lay the tracks down, run out of time and listen back the next day, but those were more for the “right takes” on the overdubs. However, being in the studio and with new ideas coming up, we definitely recorded some fabulous things in the spur of the moment, like the one note piano banging away in "Killing Desire". So I think if we feel like something is missing in the song we find some extra percussion or instrument and it's pretty instantaneous, we all just go yessss thatʼs it! That's a wrap!
I think it's easy to get caught up with perfecting a piece, so I had to let that go pretty early on and accept that things could always be better. And as an artist, are we ever really truly satisfied?
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
Production is everything to me and I sit there for every single step of the way. I love the whole process and having control over each and every little sound is heaven for me. From the recording and placement of mics and instruments and amps to every effect and pan in mixing, I am there putting my two cents in!
Itʼs so easy to get lost in mixing because the control we have, it blows me away. Working with Shae [Brossard] was such a thrill because he works fast and effeciently and he seems to know whatʼs in my head and just “gets” what I am after sonically.
Mastering is whole other ballgame and was a harder process for me. I loved the mixes so much and mastering does change it enough that I had a hard time accepting the final product. However, I got over that pretty fast ... Blasting the masters in the studio or my car and those mixes were very soon forgotten.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
I am very lucky to say that I have not experienced that at all! I feel so full and so blessed with every new article that gets written, every interview and radio play that it really feels me up with joy. Perhaps when that all dies down I will feel some emptiness, but I have begun writing for the new record and it fills me up, so I hope to keep the momentum going. I am so lucky the record has been so well received and every single day I am grateful for that.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Creativity really does mean different things to different people. Is writing a song inherently different that making a great cup of coffee? No, I donʼt think so. If it is made with love then it doesnʼt matter how small or mundane that task is, its really about the feeling of pride after that counts.
Being a songwriter though, making a fabulous meal from scratch with veggies from my garden brings me great joy, but I donʼt feel I express my deep inner emotions that way. Really, only in a song can I do that. I canʼt do that through dance or painting as someone else might, so in the end I think it depends on the person and their skill set. Their creativity.
When I write and get a song out, it really is a gateway into my personal psyche, and there really isinʼt any other way for me to express myself that deeply.