Canadian songwriter/musician/singer Veda Hille releases her thirteenth albumÂ This Riot Life, this Spring. The album is being released worldwide on Ape House, the label owned by XTC leader Andy Partridge. The release will be followed by touring in Canada, the UK, and Europe.
Â Â Â Â This Riot Life is full of lush sounds, funny and warm quirky words and great storytelling. It’sÂ intense, densely orchestrated and at times ferocious exploration of how people survive what life throws at them, in part prompted a year where her death, serious illness and birth in her extended family. The album is centered on a cycle of six songs based on hymns, some notably altered, others left primarily intact, all were drawn from her late grandmother’s copy of The Hymnary, a United Church staple from the early 1900’s.Â So this is her interpretation of ecstatic religious music channeled through her ownÂ singular creative lens.Â Songs runs from a hurtling, lighthearted look at the life of Jesus in “Ace of the Nazarene,” to a dreamy romantic paean to her husband in “Sleepers,” to a startling artsy take on Paul Hindemith’s setting of Shelley’s “The Moon.” I’m hoping you’ll give the CD a listen and consider covering via feature or CD review
Remarkable collection of “religious” music from Vancouver songwriter. Sometime musical theatre arranger Hille went through a personal crisis two years ago and in search of uplift turned to the Bible. However, rather than becoming a born-again Christian, she extracted from the texts all of their strength-finding and inspirational qualities for her own idiosyncratic and secular purposes. These songs harness the energy of gospel hymns, choirs and exhortations from the pulpit.Â Songs like “Book Of Saints” with their elaborate, 12-piece arrangements are meta-religious marvels. The apotheosis is “The Moon” a prime example of Hile’s intelligent music touch. Uncut
These days, family life is as present in Veda Hille’s music as it is in the interviews that she clearly enjoys doing. An hour or two on the phone with Hille is an immersion in the rich, bustling life vibrating all around her. “This is my interview,” she giggles to husband Justin Kellam as we begin our phone call, and she gently shoos him out the door.
We’ve spoken before and it usually runs this way, punctuated by her quick errands down the street, or unseen banter with her stepdaughter and Kellam, a fellow musician. This particular evening, just as we get down to the nitty gritty of how records ought to be filed (by release date or alphabetically), the banging door signals his return from the store. “Oooh, he came home with ice cream!” she exclaims suddenly, like an exuberant teenager. She rummages through the bag. “Ice cream and a Vanity Fair – AND Nylon! He does love me.”
Domestic concerns inform Hille’s new record, This Riot Life, an intense, densely orchestrated and at times ferocious exploration of how we survive what life throws at us. It is also the best album of her 16-year career. Though the lightness of our conversation might suggest otherwise, the riot alluded to in the title is not the banal daily bustle that I’m getting another glimpse of on this snowy night. “There was life and death in my family in the last couple of years,” she explains simply. “And I had not experienced that level of grief before.”
As we talk she is still working through how much of this story she wants to tell, conferring in asides to Kellam, and occasionally even asking my advice. The trust she places in those she tells her stories to, on record and on the phone, is extraordinary. And humbling.
Hille began the process of working through some profoundly distressing experiences in the last few years, and found the seeds of new songs in an unexpected place: her grandmother’s United Church hymnal. And while her earlier flirtations with religious texts were usually secularized, this time around it was the ecstatic potential of devotional music that she was after.
“I’d been dipping into [the hymn book] the last 10 years or so, and I’d always known I wanted to do that more seriously. It was what I needed: to find the ecstatic elements of life again. Grief puts everything into such ridiculous clarity.”
Not that this is a mournful album. With great confidence she mines the sublime and the ridiculous – from a musical-Âtheatre number set in a Japanese bathhouse to one about the “patron saint of embroidery and television.” The latter song (“The Book of Saints”) was commissioned by a friend for an art piece and became a kind of cautionary tale against martyrdom.
“It’s a ‘keep your chin up’ kind of song,” Hille says. “I don’t want to be, and I know I probably never could be, a saint. I just have to get on with being a human being.” Six songs in total are derived from hymns or parts of hymns; the lyrics of “Oh Come On” are all cobbled from the opening lines only, a kind of flip-book of prayer. “Poetry 101,” she laughs.
Still, Hille’s relationship to Christianity remained ambivalent. Because she was raised without any religious inclination, she found the material was less loaded than it might have been otherwise. But to openly explore religious language made her feel vulnerable. Inspiration to do it anyway came through the music of Judee Sill, a long-neglected 1970s-era songwriter whose music was sent to her by her label owner, Andy Partridge (of XTC fame).
“She was this really bookish-looking San Francisco chick, but she was also a junkie – and she wrote and conducted all these amazing orchestral arrangements as well.” Sill also frequently incorporated Christian traditional music, which helped Hille get past her apprehensions. “Normally I take the word ‘Jesus’ out because I’m not Christian and I don’t want to mess with anyone’s faith.”
The centrepiece of the new album is a striking song called “Ace of the Nazarene,” and Hille found it mildly terrifying to sing at first. “It’s almost completely a traditional lyric,” she explains. “It’s just so over the top. It felt really transgressive, but the words felt so good. I found myself singing about Jesus, and it felt great!
“I didn’t understand why – and my manager’s still slightly upset with me -?but it feels unbelievably exciting.”Â Helen Spitzer/Eye Weekly February 20 08
A SAMPLING OF PAST PRESS:
Veda Hille sinks her teeth into life so hard that she’ll need dentures by the time
she’s 50. Fast Forward Weekly, Calgary, Jan. 2004
able to consistently create some of the most beautiful music and write some of the
most intelligent lyrics today Concert Review, Kimberly Day, Discorder, BC, May 2004
Escape Songs e un disco articolato come non pochi , un lavoro tinto al stesso tempo da tradizioni folk ed elettro-acustica . . . da sprazzi di musica contemporanea, dalla repetizione minimalista . . . e dall’uso di melodie
velatamente pop. www.sands-zine.com Italy Sept. 2004
Best Vancouver vocalist.Georgia Straight Critics’ Poll 2003
Hille proved again why she is one of Vancouver’s most beloved artists . . . whether wielding the axe for some of her harder-rocking songs, or tickling the ivories on slow-burn numbers. Concert review, Exclaim! June 2003
If they’re not the best band in Canada they’re the certainly in the running; while their leader is as gifted a songwriter as this country has produced-and that’s counting ex-pats like Neil, Joni and Leonard. Alexander Varty, The Georgia Straight, May 30, 2002
An adventurous musical excursion worthy of the vast landscape which inspired it. Xpress, Ottawa, Canada, May 2001
A stunning series of songs about science and nature.Time Out, NYC, USA June 2001
Simple, powerful, and deeply evocative, Field Study ranges from the whimsical to the haunting, echoing everyone from Joni Mitchell to Keith Jarrett while still managing to be wholly, distinctly Veda Hille. John Threlfall, Monday Magazine, Victoria, Canada April 2001
Hille is possessed of an artful braggadocio, a wild and ravaged sense of passion and distress, dissonant beauty and dissolved fury. Ross Fortune, Time Out, London, UK June 2000
With label-defying compositions and intriguing lyrics, Hille draws from the basic elements of the world and creates music that echoes the essence of life. Gutsy. Uptown, Winnipeg, Canada, October 2000
Fact is, Hille’s incessant work schedule has seen her release through the nineties, six elegant, capital-A Artistic (and unabashedly so) albums, the last of which, You Do Not Live In This World Alone, is as forthright and beautiful as
anything ever released by a Canadian. See Magazine, Edmonton, Canada, October 2000
Alt.pop meets Stockhausen. Monday Magazine, Victoria, Canada, November 1999
Some of the most creepy and consistently compelling music in the indie loop. Eye Magazine, Toronto, Canada, November 1999
Extraordinary records, inventive enough musically and honest enough emotionally to stand with Joni Mitchell’s Blue, Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, and the collected works of Nick Drake. Alex Varty, The Georgia Straight, Canada, March 1998
Her music is raw, intelligent, challenging and creatively arranged, and her lyrics take no prisoners. The Album Network, USA, September 1998
outlines plainly and poetically the scary precariousness, and sometimes the beauty, of life and love. Eye Magazine, Toronto, Canada, September 1997
Lyrical fortitude matched by bristling, cinematic production.Now Magazine, Toronto, Canada, November 1996
Rhythmic force and fascinating unpredictability. Rif-Raf, Belgium, February 1996
Complex, intelligent, and intensely personal. Pacific Current, Canada, January 1995
One of the most complex minimalists you’ll ever hear . . . alternatively jarring and soothing . . . it’s music on the outer limits of the mainstream. John Mackie, The Vancouver Sun, Canada, July 1994
One of the most genuinely innovative musicians in Canada . . . seethes with honest conviction and musical rewards.
Larry LeBlanc, Billboard, November 1994
A remarkably delightful cassette . . . borrowing from the most bizarre sources. Exclaim!, Canada, May 1993
Songs about people and buildings is generally accepted as one of-if not the-best independent releases in Vancouver over the last year. Vancouver Echo, Canada, December 1992