In 2006, Vancouver-based singer-songwriter Ché Aimee Dorval won David Foster's Star Search competition in British Columbia with a last-minute rendition of "If It Makes You Happy" by Sheryl Crow. Opting out of the mainstream route to musical stardom such a win might have facilitated, in 2009 she moved back home to release her first record, Underachiever , a pretty pop-folk debut that established her as a promising new talent on the indie scene. Six years later, she released her second album, the darker, more confident Volume One, and gained a cult following in the metal community after the acclaimed release of Casualties of Cool , a collaboration with legendary metal musician Devin Townsend that earned high praise on the respected punk-music blog Sputnikmusic.
With layered, evocative vocals that oscillate between pretty and haunting, complementing her contemplative, old-soul lyricism, Ché's sound is almost uncategorizable — at once folksy, bluesy, and atmospheric; aching and lovely and raw. Imagine a dreamy fusion of Nina Simone with Bat for Lashes' Natasha Khan. This winter, Ché will release her third studio album, Between the Walls and the Window, featuring her trademark ethereal vocals hardened by layers of guitar, polyphonic soundscapes, and an almost-industrial flourish.
Over the phone, we talked about her first single off the album , "Buried"; her inspirations and artistic evolution; and the fight women are still up against.
Mila Jaroniec: Talking about Between the Walls and the Window , you've said: "Lyrics are important to me, and I've found that instead of only talking about lost love and feelings of helplessness, I've started to comment on social issues. These songs have something to say." What was the pivotal point that led you here?
Ché Aimee Dorval: I've done a lot of growing up in the past five years. I've gone from being fearful and unsure to someone very centered, partially due to the people I've chosen to surround myself with. It's easy to drown in your neuroses when your surroundings are chaotic, and it's always been hard for me to avoid conflict. These days, my relationships are healthier and I'm rarely insecure — unless I'm holding a guitar in public [ laughs ]. So I've been able to focus on issues that have a greater reach than my own backyard.
MJ: You could've easily become a pop star, and you didn't. Why was that? Did anyone try to point you in a different direction?
CAD: Everyone tried to point me a different direction. And I get it: the music business is hard. You have to take opportunities. But I knew then, as I do now, that I am only able to do things I connect with. Writing and singing are how I make this world gentler for myself, so I decided to try and create music that made sense to me. Eventually, it led to Casualties of Cool. And it led to working with Bob Rock. And it led to writing Between the Walls and Windows, the truest representation of me in my solo work to date. I truly believe that if I had gone the recommended route, I wouldn't have had the stamina to keep going.
MJ: Let's talk Casualties. Experimentation is to be expected from Devin Townsend, but this album, which sounds like "haunted Johnny Cash songs," was a shock to fans who thought they had placed his sound, and that's thanks to you. What was the most edifying aspect of this collaboration?