Raine Hamilton is on tour with American Sign Language interpretation
Josh: Hello Raine, my name is Josh Forbes, and I’m coming to you today from Calgary, Alberta. Where have we found you today?
Raine: Hi! I just finished sound-checking at a show in Langley, B.C.! I am outside. There is evening sun.
Josh: Can you tell today’s readers a little about yourself?
Raine: I am a singer-songwriter from Winnipeg, MB. I am a prairie person. That comes up a lot in my work. I grew up playing violin and fiddle, and I write for fiddle and voice, as well as for guitar and voice. I tour and perform solo a lot, and I also love to tour with my string trio, which is me with a cellist and a bassist. So many strings, and that’s how I like it! We call our style chamber folk, like a string quartet vibe in the singer-songwriter genre.
Josh: Have you always been musically inclined? Was singer songwriter always the dream?
Raine: I grew up in a musical family; my parents met in a rock and roll band in the 70s, and, as they say, the rest was rock and roll history. I was always musical, yes. My dad just unearthed sound recordings he made throughout my childhood, including weird gems like a three-minute song I improvised on mic about Christmas when I was six. It even rhymed. I laughed, confronted with that evidence. I guess I’ve always been this way.
Josh: As I listened to the album Night Sky I was wondering about your influences. Who were your influences growing up?
Raine: My musical parents are big influences, especially my dad, who I saw write and hone and practice all the time. Songwriters of their generation were big in our house: Dylan, The Beatles, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell. From the contemporary scene I would say Sarah Harmer, Andy Shauf, The Fretless, Sparrow Quartet, and Chris Thile. On the classical end, I’m a big Debussy fan, Clara Schumann is awesome, and the unaccompanied Bach suites are amazing.
Josh: If I was able to sneak a look at your personal playlist today, who would I find in your Top Five?
Raine: Spotify reports the following: The new Tune-Yards album, Andy Shauf’s early stuff, Debussy string quartets, Rae Spoon’s My Prairie Home, and Craig Cardiff’s new single.
Josh: What was the inspiration behind your latest album, Night Sky?
Raine: I really trusted the songs in the creation of that album. I trusted that the ones that showed up were the ones that belonged together. So in a way, I was inspired by that process, by the practice of trusting. And I am really glad I did. When we were done recording, I sat back and listened to the songs, looking for the thread that connected them. And there it was, the night sky, showing up in so many of the tunes, making the title of this collection known and telling me to look out, way out, into the beyond.
Josh: When you were writing songs for this album did you write them with a full string arrangement in mind? Or was that a decision made afterward?
Raine: The plan was always to arrange the songs for strings. The string parts are a collaboration between myself, cellist Natanielle Felicitas, and double bassist Quintin Bart. Our established process is for me to bring a song in, and then for us to work the arrangement and form out together. Those guys are great players, collaborators, and pals! I am so happy to know them.
Josh: What is your songwriting process like? Do you start with the lyrics or the melody?
Raine: For me the songwriting process can go so many ways. I have started with words, melody, chords, or with all of those together. Again I come back to trusting; I try to trust the song however it shows up.
Josh: Is that a cello I hear in your arrangement? I love the contrast between the rich full sound of the instrument and your high, almost bird-like vocal. “Robin Hood” is definitely one of my favourite tracks on the album because of this contrast. Can you tell me how this track came to be?
Raine: That is a cello! Isn’t it great?! The “Robin Hood” track is one of my favourites too. For me, this song was an interesting departure from my typical approach. My friend Theresa Thordarson of the Winnipeg band Bicycle Face wrote a stunning song about Snow White. “Huh,” I thought. “How cool is that? A song about a fairy tale?” And I wanted to be cool like Theresa, so I gave it a shot. I don’t usually write with a specific idea like that. Usually the idea just kind of emerges.
Josh: Do you have a particular song on this album that you consider to be special? Maybe a favorite to perform?
Raine: The song “For Hildegard” is a favourite for sure. I have an MA in medieval musicology, and I got to put those skills to use here. The song is inspired by the medieval nun Hidelgard von Bingen, and it uses some medieval and renaissance elements, like the phrygian mode, and the canon structure. It is very challenging to perform live, because I play violin and sing at the same time, so it always brings me really present and focused, and that is such a good feeling.
Josh: Do you write collaboratively or do you prefer writing alone?
Raine: I would say I prefer to write alone. For me it is such a vulnerable process that I like to keep that part to myself. I love to work with others in the next steps of arranging, producing, performing, all that good stuff.
Josh: I have heard that on your tour you will be using a sign language interpreter. I think this is a fabulous idea. What inspired you to do this?
Raine: I learned from members of the Deaf community that there was interest in more sign language interpreted shows. I had never thought of that before, but it made sense to me; live music is so powerful, and the connection of being in an audience and community of people sharing an artistic experience is awesome. Art and live performances have been pivotal in my life. Those places are where I find belonging, connection, and expression, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like without them. So it made me really sad to think that some people don’t have access to those experiences, especially when creating access is totally possible.
By performing alongside an American Sign Language interpreter, the show becomes accessible to Deaf and Hard of Hearing folks who use ASL, and then Deaf/HH and hearing people in the audience can share an artistic experience together, and it is just the best. In consultation with the Deaf community, we have been presenting some ASL interpreted shows since 2017, and this is our first ever tour with ASL!
Adding ASL interpretation to events is totally possible, and I encourage other artists and presenters to do it. A good first move is to reach out to Deaf organizations in your community to see how the community wants to connect.
Josh: Do you have any other ideas that you would like to incorporate into your music and your shows that help make them more inclusive for all your fans?
Raine: There are other barriers to access I would like to see move, for sure. For those looking to plan more accessible shows, a good first step is to reach out to organizations in your community, and ask how you could help serve that community.
Josh: Well this has been fun. I want to thank Raine Hamilton for a wonderfully insightful and honest look into her creative process, not only creating music for her latest album, Night Sky, but also her upcoming tour featuring American Sign Language interpreters. As a person who lives with a disability myself, it is incredibly exciting to see a performer like Raine Hamilton strive to create an inclusive experience for all people. All barriers need to be removed so that the joy of all art can be experienced by everybody. Thank you, Raine Hamilton.
Raine Hamilton in concert (with ASL interpretation)
- Oct. 2 – St. Stephens United Church, Hudson Bay, SK
- Oct. 3 – Station Arts Centre, Rosthern, SK
- Oct. 4 – Norman Ritchie Community Centre, Kindersley, SK
- Oct. 5 – Sky Centre, Swift Current, SK
- Oct. 6 – The Bassment, Saskatoon, SK