Christa Couture: Creating Beauty from Grief (full interview)

Interview by 
Rachel Thompson

In Room 36.1, we printed our interview with Christa Couture in the BackRoom section, but didn't have room for all of her insightful answers. Here is our full interview with her...

Christa Couture survived adolescent cancer and the loss of two sons in infancy. Her indie-folk music faces grief with vulnerability, beauty, and wit. She won a Canadian Aboriginal Music Award for her album The Wedding Singer and the UndertakerThe Living Record is her latest release.

Are there writers or musicians whose work helped you overcome grief and loss? Joan Didion’s book “The Year of Magical Thinking” felt like the first kindred spirit I’d found after my first son died. Since my second son died it’s become harder to find work that I can continue to relate too—but maybe by making my own I’ll find others.

You create such beauty, sonically and lyrically, from grief. Do you ever feel conflicted about this? Yes, it can be hard to reconcile. After the most recent tragedy in my family I wondered if I could ever return to making music at all—as important as writing and creating is to me, as much as I enjoy it, three years ago I was on a very different path, and it’s one that I desperately ache for now that it’s gone. Making these little beautiful works felt like a distant second to what I wanted, but at the same time, I’m so grateful to these little beautiful works for being there in the distance regardless, for giving me something to pour my energy into, even if it isn’t what I had planned.

Is performing your music difficult? I don’t find it difficult, though it can be emotional. At its best it’s cathartic and freeing to release some of these stories every night by telling them over and over. It helps me continue to process and learn about the experiences I’ve written about. Sometimes the emotions are too close to the surface, or the audience isn’t totally on track with me, and then I feel too vulnerable, but I can play different songs when I need to, depending on how I’m feeling. Mostly I like to pour my heart out though and I’ve already drawn lines on what I’m willing to reveal and not when I chose which songs to record for the album.

What is is like to have three "permanent records" filled with the people in your life who shaped you, especially those you have lost? It is meaningful to me that the songs make their way into the world—I feel sometimes by sharing them, I’m really just asking a big “know what I mean?”, looking for that conversation that can happen through sharing music and hopefully the reply “yes” so that we can all feel a little less lonely. Like anyone, I am comforted by finding common ground with others—grief in particular can be a kind of exile, so when a person lets me know that they connect with my work, it helps break down those feelings of isolation, for both of us.

I admire your ability to be vulnerable when you tell your story through music and interviews. Is there anyone you admire for this? Any writing or music that inspires bravery in you? In my teen years, which were also my early writing years, I listened to a lot of Tori Amos and Ani Difranco. That’s likely a predictable fact for anyone who’s heard my earlier work. They have both inspired me as honest, brave, willing, trusting, vulnerable and intelligent songwriters. Amanda Palmer is another artist who inspires me in the way she talks and blogs about her work, thoughts and experiences. She’s incredibly generous that way and has inspired me on numerous occasions not so much through her music, but just how she engages publicly.

How do you approach songwriting? Songwriting for me is like night vision—how you can’t see an object by looking directly at it and only by looking away does it appear peripherally. I write by feeling, not thinking, and to aim for a song is to miss it—they just come, whether I’m ready or not. I worry that if I become too analytical about my relationship with the muse, I’ll scare her away. Which is all very artsy-fartsy, but true! Not that I can’t be practical about the craft of songwriting, but the songs I create and eventually share are all ones that came as gifts, in those creative, meditative, unexpected moments, which are often while I’m driving, just falling into or waking from sleep, or noodling absentmindedly on my piano or guitar.

 

Author, editor, and member of the Room collective, Rachel Thompson, sends out free weekly letters to writers to help illuminate their writing lives. Sign up on Lit Writers.

 

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