Creating music out of chaos is a hallmark of singer/songwriter Andrea Ramolo’s creative style. That being said, the last 18 months have been fertile ground for the Toronto songstress and the result is her latest studio album, “Quarantine Dream”, a collection that oozes emotion with gorgeous, haunting melodies and lyrics. Andrea talked with us about the inspiration for the songs and how an online support group of friends made a huge impact on her latest release.
You just released a new album “Quarantine Dream”.
Sure did, yeah.
You had a show at The Aeolian in London. How was that?
Oh, it was lovely. It’s one of my favorite stops in the country. I’ve been playing there for years and I have a lot of personal memories of that place. I fell in love with one of my exes at that place. I toured with my old band, Scarlett Jane at that place and I shared the stage with Madison Violet and Lee Harvey Osmond and Amelia Curran, so it just has a lot of personal connection for me. I love the people there, including the volunteers who run the space, everyone is just so lovely. I feel so welcome when I go there, and I love the fact that it’s a little bit haunted.
My music, some of it’s pretty moody and kind of dances in that David Lynch zone so I just get a little bit extra spooked in a really beautiful way when I’m on stage there. There’s a thickness in the air and the crowd is always so lovely and receptive.
And, you know, a really nice listening room, which as a songwriter, you really appreciate because people are actually paying attention to what you’re communicating with them and it becomes more of a conversation than a spectacle.
It’s been such a tough time for all of us involved like venues and fans, music lovers, and of course, us artists. This was my first run of shows actually into almost two years. It started in Toronto, then I headed to London and Ottawa. It was a bit terrifying. I’m not gonna lie.
It was kind of like an album release party.
Yeah, it’s strange to call it a tour because back in the day I used to play over 200 shows a year and those were tours, but it was a tour for this day and age. And for what we’ve all experienced post pandemic, this three show run was definitely a mini tour and it was in celebration of the new record.
Toronto was just, I mean, this is my hometown, right? So it was incredible. We did it at the Paradise Cinema which is this newly renovated art deco state of the art theater that used to be an old nudie house and then before that, it was an Italian cinema in the 50s. So it’s really cool inside and I had some special guests.
Then London of course, which is my favorite stop. I hope to come back there in the New Year even as an opener. London’s always on my map when I’m booking shows. And then Ottawa at the NAC, the National Art Center. What was really cool was my producer who lives in London, (Sarah MacDougall), shared the bill with me both nights in London and Ottawa.
It was a really nice celebration because she got to hear her production live with real musicians playing because we didn’t get to do that. We had to do everything remotely.
That’s amazing. I didn’t realize that Sarah was from London.
Well, she lives in London, she’s actually from Sweden. She was living in the Yukon. She’s been living everywhere. She’s definitely a world traveler but she’s been living in London for the last couple of years and she has her studio called The Dream Ship in London which was a perfect place to record my record “Quarantine Dream” at The Dream Ship. I was like, this is totally meant to be.
It sounds perfect. You were in an online group this last year and a half, is that kind of where the seeds for this album sprouted from this group?
Well, definitely, it was the thing that supported the ideas that were coming. The songs were already being written. The minute we went into lockdown, I’m pretty sure I started writing that week because I had no choice.
I don’t write as an artist, I wish I did. I wish I had a regular routine where I get up, have my coffee or whatnot and then I write a song, I don’t do that, I can’t do that, and it drives me crazy that I can’t. But the good thing about life is that there’s always these moments of trauma and struggle, and challenge and I don’t even need to think about writing in those moments, it just kind of pours over me and happens really, really fast, so all this material came out.
I think I wrote about close to 20 songs and 10 made the record.
In this group, it’s where I rekindled my acquaintance with Sarah who has since become a dear friend. She was a part of this group as were tons of wicked, female non-binary artists that I look up to.
We used the group to share some personal stuff about how we feel about our careers and this pandemic and what it’s doing to them. But then it got really, really personal.
We shared personal stories and struggles that everyone was individually going through and it was literally like a giant hug and it was so good for all of our mental health.
I don’t think I would have made it through because I endured the pandemic completely alone. Until of course, I got my COVID Kitten, because I think a lot of people got their pets during COVID to keep them company.
The group was essential for me remaining somewhat sane and feeling like I was still a part of a community and a musical community.
Sarah and I hit it off and I asked her if she would produce this record. She said yes, right away. She wanted to also mix and engineer it so she took on a huge load and she did it all. She also played on it too, such a multi-talented lady.
You knew most of your collaborators before this past year then? Through shows that you played?
Madison Violet, I opened for them on a mini tour and they became pretty good friends and we just became closer from this group that we’re speaking of. Kinnie Starr and I, we met in Toronto maybe 12 years ago and she came over to my apartment and we hung out, Scarlett Jane, my band and her.
She was watching an online stream show I did last year in the pandemic and she was writing to me about it and she really loved it.
I was like, man, what an honor to get a compliment from her because I’ve been a huge fan of Kinnie for years.
I just reached out and said, “Hey, do you want to write now that it’s a pandemic and people are writing virtually on the computer?” and then we ended up writing our tune “Free” which features Kinnie with another producer, musician named Hill Kourkoutis who’s killing it.
She’s just incredible.
She’s working on “Digging Roots’” new album now and Amanda Rheaume, a bunch of talented cats.
I’m just really lucky that I’m surrounded by all these incredible women and really they took the forefront on this production.
I made sure that there was a woman in all leadership roles, whether it be the directors of my official videos that all came out, my publicist, my producer, my mastering engineer and then a lot of the guests on the record. Kathryn Calder from the New Pornographers, she plays piano on a few songs. She was so generous to do that. Just a lovely crew of people, I’m really happy with this production. It’s way more fresh sounding and contemporary.
My last few records I loved as well, Michael Timmins from the Cowboy Junkies did them and I love and adore him and I like the way he works. Sarah took my songs into this really cool contemporary realm that I actually enjoy listening back to and I feel like it’s helped my sound evolve. It’s where I wanted to be and it was really fun to work on this with her.
You started out doing Americana Folk Music.
I was 23 when I first picked up a guitar. It was this old beater in my parent’s basement and it was during the time when my mom was first diagnosed with her first cancer.
She had stage three breast cancer and it was a really scary time because I was terrified that I was going to lose my mom and I couldn’t process it very well. I’m a pretty sensitive person and I needed an outlet and I didn’t know what to do.
I picked up the guitar and I ended up teaching myself how to play the guitar and then I just needed to write songs.
I’d written songs as a kid, I loved poetry, I studied literature and theatre at university so I was pretty well versed in writing poems, writing lyrics let’s say, but to then accompany myself on a guitar, something that I didn’t play very well until maybe the last eight, 9 years.
The first bit of it I only played a few chords and that I think is what lent itself to me sort of existing in the folk Americana realm. It was that good old country song, what do you need, you need three chords and the truth, right?
So that’s what I had and that’s all I had. And I love all types of music. I love folk music, I love old country music, I love blues and roots and all of that, but I also like hip hop and R&B. I love rock and roll.
I grew up listening to Janis Joplin. She was the reason I wanted to be a singer when I was 13 years old. And that’s another thing that Sarah McDougall and I have in common, we were both obsessed as kids with Janis Joplin. We both had the box set and literally I listened to all of her records in and out, I knew every single lyric to every song so that’s why I started later.
I think that’s why my first few records took on those forms in those shapes because I knew how to write a simple song but I didn’t quite have command of my instrument yet and I was learning what I wanted my voice to sound like, what my true voice was. It was young and fresh and pitchy and all of that.
Seven records later I’ve grown up now in music even though I started in my early 20s. I’ve grown up and here we are 20 years later and I only play an electric baritone guitar now.
It’s interesting how things come full circle because my mom was diagnosed with her third cancer weeks before “Quarantine Dream” came out and she ended up having a double mastectomy on an album release day which, it was tough for sure, but it has been stressful ever since I found out that news because this is the third time she has to suffer.
The greatest news is that she came to my show Thursday night, and I was a wreck and Friday morning she got the results that the operation got all of the cancer out and she’s once again in the clear.
It’s almost like music is my medicine and it comes into my life, it’s almost forcefully placed there when whatever the higher powers be known that I need it and I think that music is medicine for a lot of people, right?
I’ve had so many people come up to me, write me notes after these last three shows, sharing very personal stories with me. And these are strangers sharing that they were bawling their eyes out on a particular tune or that they really felt that and it’s just really nice because that’s how we connect.
Being able to do this again brings back the joy of being able to connect with other human beings and we were missing it for so long two years is a long time to not do what you love and what you were sort of meant to do.
Your music definitely evokes a lot of emotion. I watched your videos from the new album and I found myself feeling emotional watching them as well. Your video for ‘End of Time’ with Madison Violet is such a simple production, just you and the other girls looking out the window while the song is playing. You can really feel the emotion of that song and what it’s about because we all went through that and are still going through it to some degree.
Absolutely, you felt it so those lyrics could be yours. They could be your ideas and your feelings and your words. I think that’s what is a bit different about this record for me is that it’s definitely more inclusive and global. The breakup of the life we used to know is really the theme versus a personal heartbreak or loss or any personal growth.
I do speak to personal growth as well and specific experiences but it definitely touches upon how we’ve all been kind of quiet and sitting in our silence and realizing that we might want to live life a little bit differently than we have been and make better choices and treat other people better and treat this environment better, the world that we live in, so that we can look forward to a future that’s bright, that’s healthy, and free for everybody.
So a lot of deep realizations and I think I just needed to put them into music in order to really feel them and process that all for sure.
Music is a kind of therapy for people obviously and it’s a therapy for you to write these songs, because a lot of them come from a dark place, but they all seem kind of hopeful as well.
I like that, because I don’t want to keep people lingering in that dark place because it can be a dangerous place, and I will say that tune ‘Carousel’ on the record is a pretty dismal tune. I remember writing it.
I wrote it in like 10 minutes and it’s in a moment that I was lying in my bed during COVID, and I was staring up at the ceiling and I literally felt like I was about to disappear, like I wasn’t going to exist anymore and part of that was a relief for me in that moment.
Now looking back I’m so glad I didn’t disappear and it was literally a fleeting moment, and they pass. That’s really positive to recognize and remind ourselves that these tough times do pass.
That’s definitely painted a very dark picture for me that particular song and it was one of the harder songs to write, but it definitely oozed out of me pretty quickly.
They all send really strong messages, even the one that you did with Kinnie Starr. The message is pretty clear in that with everything that’s been going on. What was it like recording that? Did you collaborate on the lyrics?
It’s interesting, because that song was written right after George Floyd’s murder but it seems that it was written perhaps also after many of the unmarked graves were revealed.
I never would have gotten the George Floyd inspiration out of that.
Yeah. We came together in this sort of sisterhood and we are all very passionate about human rights, and we were just like, effed up about everything that was kind of coming, not to the surface, because these things have been living on the surface for many people that experienced them on a daily basis, but we wanted to use our voice for good.
We wanted to come together to speak out against these things. The whole chorus is ‘we can’t be free because we’re not all free’ and it’s true, freedom is a façade. We are so connected as human beings that somebody cannot live a life of freedom where somebody else doesn’t, there’s a lie somewhere in there. Until everybody is treated like a human being, with respect and love, until we can lead with our hearts always, we’re all suffering.
This notion of otherness and of separation is false. It doesn’t really exist. The video was one of the most powerful things I got to work on because Kinnie and I both directed our parts alongside, eight year old Emilee Ann Pitawanakwat and Emilee has become literally like my daughter. She’s basically my family now. We bonded and clicked immediately as if we had known each other in another life. Her mother’s like my sister, we’re just so close.
Before we weren’t that close, we connected at a march for the children on July 1 in Toronto, and she danced on a whim in front of thousands and thousands of people in front of Nathan Phillips Square at eight years old.
She’s the most courageous, brave, bright, young person I know.
I teach at school and I meet a lot of young people, I love children. I connect with youth all the time, and I see their power.
This particular young woman is just beyond and I had a dream that she was in the video and I was like, “Em, do you want to be the star and co-direct this video with us?”
We work-shopped together some themes and things that she wanted to do in the video, because we talked a lot about freedom and what makes her feel the most free. And it’s really special because she’s now 9 but is a young, talented, smart, indigenous woman.
She likes to be called a young woman now, because when I call her a kid, she gets mad at me.
It was so interesting to have her input and to actually be led by a child because they’re brilliant and we don’t actually listen to our children enough.
The video turned out gorgeous,
I love watching it myself. I’m just like, wow, her eyes at the end, that one last final shot where she’s just glaring into the lens with this knowledge and
this wisdom, and she knows that she’s going to make a difference. She knows that people haven’t been listening to her, so that’s all in her eyes, and she speaks stories through her eyes.
Since then she’s gotten hooked up with a really cool agent in the city and I’m here to support her and her family and her career and whatever she wants to do, but she actually danced at my Toronto release, she came live and danced for everyone so it was such an honor to have her.
Tell me a little bit about the Leonard Cohen album. How did that come about? You spent some time at his house. How long ago? Was he still around? Or was this after he passed?
So this was when he was still alive. I’ve now stayed at his house a few times because I befriended his old pal Hazel who shares the courtyard in their backyard with the people of Montreal. But it was in my band Scarlett Jane, we were hired by Adam Cohen, who’s Leonard’s son to perform sort of like The Webb Sisters were for Leonard as his harmony, vocalists.
We got to join him on stage in Montreal with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. It was one of the coolest gigs I’ve ever done, for sure. I walked out onto the stage with all this gold everywhere and I started crying because it was just too overwhelmingly beautiful and magical.
We ended up staying at his house for two weeks prior putting the show together and it was really special to be there. I always used to peruse through his little library of books that he still had in Montreal and his hat was hanging in the hallway exactly how you think it would be. I think that was probably one of the seeds planted for the record.
Another seed planted was that the week he died, I was in Montreal doing a huge show at the Corona Theatre and it was a multi artist event and he had just died.
We were honoring The Band’s “The Last Waltz”, the 40th Anniversary, so I got up and I sang with a bunch of guys and then myself and the lead singer from The Wooden Sky, we decided to whip together Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye in the green room because we wanted to honor him.
They did a whole collage video behind us and we just did it on a whim and you could hear a pin drop, it was so moving. And people were crying because I mean, Leonard was their icon and this is his hometown, and it was a very sad day.
I actually had passed by the house before this particular gig to pay my respects and see Hazel, and it was glorious.
They had to put up Plexiglas because so many people were lighting candles they were afraid that the house was going to burn down.
There were all these bears and notes and guitars and letters and everything. So we sang that and I loved the song and I’d never sung it before. It just did something to me emotionally.
I started closing every show on that tour with that song because I was on my record tour for “Nuda” then, and I played a house concert near Toronto at this old pal’s house, George, and he said to me, “Hey, that was gorgeous, that last Cohen song.
He’s a huge Cohen fan and he said, “Would you ever consider coming back here one night and just do an entire evening of Leonard Cohen songs?”, and I said, “Actually, I would love that, because I’m a huge fan of Leonard Cohen.
I would love to sing his songs and interpret them in my way, musically, you know?” And that’s when the light bulb went off.
I was like, wow, wait a minute. I want to do a record of Leonard Cohen songs. It was not a plan, It happened really quickly. I asked Michael Timmins if he wanted to produce it, he loved Cohen too, and we did it. It was the hardest thing because I had to listen to every single record in and out and choose 10 songs and you know how many great ones there are.
That’s pretty amazing. You also wrote a song last year in tribute to your parent’s home country Italy during the lockdown. Tell me a bit about that, and you’re starting to do some Italian songs now which is nice.
Yeah, actually Colin Linden from Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. I was backstage at a show once and I was playing a mandolin and singing in Italian and he had to stop me and he’s the one that made me realize this.
He said, “This is your voice. When you sing in Italian I can feel your soul even though I don’t understand a word that you’re saying. This is you, this is amazing. I was like, oh, interesting that I’d never sung in Italian before. So I started covering songs in Italian.
I did put Caruso, which is a famous love song that I grew up listening to, via my dad; I put that on my “Nuda” record. And I did write a poem in Italian over my rendition of ‘That’s No Way to Say Goodbye’. So I was just dabbling, getting my feet wet.
But then over the pandemic, when I heard that Italy was being hit and we knew nothing about this virus or anything, it was really scary, I literally thought that the entire country was going get wiped out and I have a lot of friends and family there. So to honor them I wanted to take on the challenge of writing a love letter to them and I wanted to write it in a language that they understood which is Italian.
It was challenging because it’s not my first language, it’s my second language. But it was the first time I recorded from home because we were in lockdown and I actually produced and engineered and put out the song all on my own so it was a huge learning curve.
I really just did it out of love so all of those new experiments came out of the process. I ended up raising a little bit of money for COVID Relief Fund overseas in Italy through the Canadian Red Cross and donated all the sales of that song just to help out a bit and then of course the virus moved this way and here we are a couple years later with lots more music and a bit more strength I think and resilience.
You did do another more lighthearted song about Italy on your album as well. I love the video for that one.
It was a lot of fun to make that video, Joanna Glezakos, another powerful wonderful female director. She and I had so much fun. She found this really retro cool, made for cinema trailer in the woods somewhere in Northeastern Ontario and it was like a movie set.
All we had to do is book that on Airbnb and we shot our music video and it’s my dreamscape song.
It’s my song that I wrote myself into a vacation overseas in Italy where I get to rejuvenate, be at the sea, get back to who I really am and feel alive and vibrant again. Because a lot of us were feeling dead inside and that Joie de Vivre definitely was nowhere near and so I wrote myself into this escape and it’s really a bright song with a lot of 80’s sounding synth and guitar and it makes you want to dance.
It definitely makes me smile every time I sing it, really cheers me up, and I’m not used to writing songs that do that so that was interesting. I know that a lot of people when that song came out, they loved it. They thought it was so catchy. So it was really fun because it brought listeners joy and brought me joy to write and to sing it.
The video was just so silly and so fun. It was basically me stuck in this retro trailer, not being able to get overseas really, but hey, no one’s gonna stop me in my imagination.
I pretend I’m in Italy and I just bust out of the trailer doing this retro Italian fashion show, you know, eating figs and sipping on Aperol Spritz in the sunshine. Basically pretending I’m in the Riviera somewhere, when really it’s just an old trailer and a fake patch of grass.
I love the imagery of it. And once again, it still comes from a dark place, doesn’t it? But it’s definitely a lot brighter and different. I need to ask about one other song, ‘Dust’, because you’re also a dancer as well.
Well, I’ve always wanted to dance again and I was so outside of my body this whole pandemic. I danced since I was three years old and then I didn’t, and I was terrified that I couldn’t even move properly but I knew I wanted to do a video with dance and I collaborated with old time friend Nikki Ormerod who’s an incredible director and photographer and she’s always wanted to also direct a music video with dance in it.
We ended up holding auditions for my male partner, my significant other I guess in the video, this sort of lustful engagement, this human interaction that happens.
We auditioned, I don’t know if there were about 70 or 80 people that submitted and we fell in love with Jera Wolfe. Jera Wolfe is basically famous and we didn’t know it. He’s one of the National Ballet of Canada’s choreographers.
Did it blow your mind that he auditioned for this?
It did blow my mind and honestly, he’s the most amazing human being. He was incredible to work with, he’s just like a unicorn of a human and the best partner I could ask for because I hadn’t danced in a long time and I hadn’t danced at that level in an even longer time, not even talking about the pandemic here.
We were doing full on partner lifts, things that I would have done when I was 15 or 16 years old. I’m not going to tell you how old I am right now but I’m way older than that. He was just so strong and so supportive and a pleasure to work with, we had so much fun.
Shawn Bracke choreographed it, he’s amazing as well. We had two days of choreography, four hours each day and then we stepped on set and we had a glorious 16 or 17 person crew. Of course we had the dust which was this non combustible flour that was definitely hard to work with.
I had to swallow a bit of it at first and I couldn’t see a bunch of it but and then we had a real life snake come in, we actually had two snakes, but we only chose one of the scenes that we shot.
It was just to me a gothic opera.
She did an incredible job, her vision as a director. It’s just so powerful in those slow motion scenes as he’s twirling me and lifting me around with all this dust being thrown at us and ricocheting off of our bodies and shapes and forms.
It was like a dream come true.
That video is next level for sure. I actually was feeling so embarrassed that day because I felt like when you have imposter syndrome.
I felt like the video was bigger than me, but when I watched it I was like, wow, we did that.
I would love people to check that one out for sure. I’m really proud of all of these projects that were spearheaded and led by women, brilliant creators and visionaries.
Do you have any plans on releasing vinyl?
Absolutely. So the vinyl were supposed to be ready for the release and I’m really sad about it because I buy vinyl and I know that lots of people are listening to stuff on vinyl.
It just sounds so much richer and warmer.
The vinyl factory supposedly that all of us North American musicians actually order from burned down during COVID. So everything is backlogged four to five months.
My vinyl will be coming in probably in December; I’ve had a lot of pre-order so far.
You can actually pre-order the vinyl off my Band Camp and of course there’s shipping and taxes involved but I urge everybody to do that and I’m actually starting to wonder if I should do some sort of little pop up show, even if it’s like a half show where I can make the vinyl available so that people can come and just get a copy there.
For more about Andrea Ramolo, visit www.andrearamolo.com.