By Kyle Mullin
Julie Doiron takes a deep belly breath, but not to settle her nerves or ease a bout of stage fright. She may be a lauded songstress and beloved acoustic performer, but right now she’s simply trying to strike a perfect pose.
“I do yoga to get grounded. I have a very hard time being focused, and yoga allows me to do that,” the New Brunswick-born songwriter says of the stances she learns and sometimes teaches at a Toronto studio/fitness club just around the corner from the Tranzac venue she frequently gigs at. She adds that measured respiration not only helps her remain calm and confident onstage, it also helps her project her voice thunderously through the air, adding: “Breathing is totally the key.”
Doiron hopes her songwriting holds the same holistic qualities. Her latest album, the recently released So Many Days, features wrenchingly tender strummed numbers like “Can’t Make It No More”, “I Thought I Could Do It” and “Another Second Chance.”
“Basically, I woke up one morning feeling really super depressed,” she says of the circumstances that sparked that latter song. “The idea behind it is realizing that I haven’t really taken the opportunities that I’ve been given. I have been very fortunate to be able to do what I do. But I guess I felt that this time, if I had another chance, that I might finally feel like making the most of it. I would be most grateful for any chance to do things right.”
That description is akin to her lyrics — frank and heartfelt, relatable because it’s so loose and universal, to the point of being a bit vague. Occasional opaqueness isn’t the only critique she’s received over the years. The regret she described above reaches all the way back to her former band, 1990’s alt troupe Eric’s Trip, which was dropped from legendary music label Sub-Pop.
The troupe broke up not long after that, in 1996. Doiron even has minor qualms to this day about their final gigging arrangements. She was dwelling on it back in 2002 as well, when told the now equally defunct U.K. fanzine Comes With A Smile: “I was the only one who wanted to keep the tour going, but the rest… the guys didn’t like crossing borders and they were afraid of the States. I was, too, we’re all kinda homebodies and so we we’re really comfortable in Canada. There’s not many cities in Canada that are scary. You know, when you come out of a club, for the most part, no one’s going to hassle you.”
Today, Doiron admits those old outlooks were completely wrong — and like a muscle that’s grown elastic from yoga classes, Doiron says she’s stretched past those stiff, rigid beginnings.
“Who’s Eric’s Trip?” she says with a coy, sarcastic smile about her former band, before elaborating about those touring anxieties: “No, I don’t think I’ve ever really been hassled anywhere, I personally love being on tour in the States, and everywhere. We were just young at the time and felt more comfortable at home.”
But nowhere has she shown more growth than in her songwriting, bending flexibly between her native Acadie tongue and English, avoiding the supposed pitfalls of both languages that used to inhibit her lyricism. As she told Comes With A Smile in that same interview about her first all-French album, 2001’s Désormais:
“A lot of people who do speak French were quite relieved when they heard the record, that it was still as intimate as my English stuff. They were worried that I’d start doing typically French, y’know, stories and stuff, which it’s not really, it’s very personal.”
She tries to explain that outlook today, even though such a description seems tricky—like a pose that leaves her reaching past her grasp.
“I think what I meant was I wanted to keep the same intimacy as the English-language songs I had written, and not have the French ones be like the traditional ‘folk’ style narrative storytelling, which I’ve grown to love,” she says, adding that she hopes to write and record more French tunes soon, before admitting with a laugh that she has trouble articulating what exactly could inspire those songs.
“I hope to always be growing as a songwriter. I guess I do believe that I’ve gotten better. I’m just not very good at explaining about what it is I do.” M
Thurs., Nov. 15, 8pm
Tickets: $20 at Lyle’s Place and Ditch Records
By Nick Lyons
Julie Doiron has made a career of writing songs so candid and confessional, we are forced to wonder how transparent she can possibly get: with every album we learn more about Doiron and, by extension, ourselves. Too Many Days continues this tradition: it steals our hearts though at times it also threatens to break them. Too Many Days is Doiron at her very best.
“Homeless” is the album’s best example of Doiron’s evocative, terrifying beauty. Just as the song’s speaker has been stripped of everything including food, love and her home, so too has the song been stripped away to its bare bones, consisting of Doiron’s sparse vocals and a bass-line alone.
A triumph of human spirit emerges: we discover that Doiron’s weaknesses, once filtered through a gestational process of song and songwriting, are her greatest strength. As she says on the album’s opener “Cars and Trucks”, “I’m writing this song just to prove to myself that really I can write songs… because this thing is mine”. Thankfully, Doiron is generous enough to share.