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How Shawna Caspi marries music and visual art on her new album

Shawna Caspi photo

After extensively touring in support of her 2017 album, Forest Fire, Toronto singer-songwriter Shawna Caspi thought she’d never record another album. Instead she’s just released her most challenging record to date. While Shawna has always used her original artwork for her album covers, with Hurricane Coming, the plan was to create a piece of art for each song, which helped convey the emotions of the lyrics.

“I toured pretty heavily, to the point where I kind of lost my bearings,” she explained. “I had been on the road for so long, and it was so chaotic. I never expected to make another record. But towards the end of that time period I went to The Banff Centre in Alberta and was part of their singer-songwriter residency. I went up there for three weeks; all I had to do was write songs. Just that pause and that ability to take the time to focus on myself and music really opened my eyes.”

The experience gave Shawna the desire to make a new record using a new methodology.

“What I really needed was to sit in silence for a while, reflect and have a look at what I’d been doing in life, and try to look inward for a change.”

An honest, truthful self-examination can bring you face to face with aspects of your life and personality that may not be the most flattering to deal with.

“That kind of internal work is something that a lot of us avoid, and certainly I was avoiding, because of how uncomfortable it is,” Shawna said. “A lot of this record is about sitting with that discomfort and that unease and then figuring it out and pushing through it and getting to the other side that’s more peaceful and bright.”

Shawna’s approach to putting Hurricane Coming together was different from her previous albums. And it had nothing to do with COVID-19!

“Usually I would make an album of songs that I’d been playing live for a while,” she said. “I’d write these new songs, go out on the road, people would ask me where they could get them, and eventually I would make that record. But Hurricane Coming is a case of me starting the idea of the record before I had even composed most of the songs. I brought the concept to my producer Joel Schwartz in the fall of 2019. I wanted this album to be very coherent and very connected. Part of that was writing a lot of songs all in one period or time. I think there’s this thematic cohesion to [the album] as a result, which is what I was looking for.”

As was mentioned before, Shawna’s concept for the album was to match a piece of original art with each song. So just as many songwriters will go through creating countless songs before determining the final line-up, for Hurricane Coming, Shawna created painting after painting before deciding on the ones that best matched the songs.

Abstract art

“That’s something I’m super excited about,” she explained. “It was an idea I had because the cover for my last album, Forest Fire, was an abstract painting, which is something I really didn’t do at that time. My paintings are mostly literal landscapes from nature. But because I had tried abstract painting that time, I thought it would be great to try another for this [record]. Then I thought, ‘What if I took it further and did an abstract painting inspired by every song on the record?’ It’s a ton of paintings considering, much like songwriting, not all the paintings make it to the final project.”

While the COVD-19 pandemic brought an end to touring, it did provide one benefit to Shawna: time to paint!

“A lot of us, certainly in Toronto, were on lockdown, which is a great opportunity to stay home and paint,” she said. “I didn’t really know if I was going to be able to accomplish it but I managed to do it. It was a really fun experience. I learned a lot of new painting techniques.”

Just to add a further twist to the idea of matching a painting to a song, each painting is inspired by a different art or craft form, like pottery, quilting and pyrography (wood burning).

“All these craft forms had some tie to the song,” Shawna said.

As an additional marketing tool, Shawna has turned each painting into a postcard with a download code, for those who want the record but don’t have a CD player.

“It’s a strange time to be putting out an album because I have no live dates connected to it.” she said. “It feels weird because I’ve never released a record like that before. But I’m really happy focusing on the art in this case. I’m hoping people enjoy [the album] for that. I’m really leaning on the visual art component and just enjoying the music and push that forward as much as possible. When it’s safe again and we can play live shows without too much trouble, hopefully we can celebrate the record then.”

For more on Shawna Caspi, go to shawnacaspi.com.

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