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Five questions for Rae Spoon

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Singer, songwriter, author, and trailblazer for trans and gender non-binary folks in the arts scene, Rae Spoon has evolved over the past 20 years from an indie alt.country act to a singular singer songwriter on the contemporary scene, whose voice – pure as mountain air – and subtle blends of pop, folk, electronica and even punk defy easy categorization.  Rae released their newest album, bodiesofwater, on Sept. 7, which happens to be the 20th anniversary of their first ever concert.  I spoke with Rae about the album over Facebook messenger. 

RMC:  Tell me about the theme of bodiesofwater. I’ve heard it’s a metaphor for gender fluidity.

Rae:  The theme of the album is connection. Connection between bodies and nature, as well as the connection between how bodies are expected to conform to legal categories and how land is taken care of by the people in power. I wanted to look closer at how forming connections between people (including settlers) and the land around them could help us find more personal freedom as well as take better care of the environment.

RMC: The lead single “Do Whatever the Heck You Want” is kind of an ode to being who you are — male, female, artist, gay straight, none of the above. What inspired you to write it at this time?

Rae: I wrote the song to be recorded with a post-punk band in England called Jesus And His Judgemental Father. I was thinking a lot about the genre of punk and how it was a great way to look at identity. I often need to be reminded that I can do what I want, and I assume everyone else has these moments too. The original version with the band will be released in December with an EP. It has about fifty f-words in it. When I play the song at festivals and such, I change the word to heck. I thought it would be great to release both versions.

RMC: Songs like “It’s Getting Close” (about impending climate disaster) and “You Don’t Do Anything” (about the lack of political will to change our ways) are also laden with social commentary. Were you feeling a sense of urgency to speak out about the state of the world on this album?

Rae: I think it’s always been the end of the world for someone, somewhere on earth. Especially since the huge uptake in globalization has entrenched disparities between rich and poor people. I do think we are at a point where the planet can’t take much more and sustain human life. It feels like an emergency especially with all of the smoke that has been in B.C. due to climate change related forest fires the past two summers.

RMC:  This album feels “rawer” than, say, Armour or My Prairie Home. That is to say, some of the soundscapes seem less lush and reverby and a bit more gritty. Is that fair to say? What was your vision for the sound?

Rae: I want to stick to having the drum kit set the groove for the album instead of a computer or drum machine. My co-producer Laurie-Anne Torres played drums in my band when I lived in Montreal. She also played all of the keys on the album. We started each song with the drums and guitar and then tried to fill in the rest of the arrangements where they worked. I wanted the album to feel relaxed and spacious.

RMC: You’ve been a real pioneer in terms of educating people about gender identity and gender expression. I’m wondering if you’d be willing to talk about how yours has evolved over time – I notice you’re sporting longer hair and lipstick these days – and how your own evolution has influenced and been influenced by society’s as a whole.

Rae: Most recently I’ve been identifying as gender non-binary meaning that I no longer assign importance to traditional ideas of masculine and feminine to my appearance. I have been using the pronouns “They/Them,” and it’s been really freeing to take the pressure of the gender binary off of myself. Previously I identified as male and used “He/Him” pronouns. That never totally fit me, so I was happy to discover that there was a way to live without being a part of the binary.

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