Canadian songwriter/musician/singer Veda Hille released her 13th album This Riot Life, earlier this year. The album is being released worldwide on Ape House, the label owned by XTC leader Andy Partridge.
This Riot Life is full of lush sounds, funny and warm quirky words and great storytelling. It’s 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. So this is her interpretation of ecstatic religious music channeled through her own singular creative lens. 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.”
Artfully drawn and packed with intense aromas, Veda Hille’s latest finds her doctoring Christian hymns, trimming their angel wings and bending harps in a way that’s perversely more spirited, more impactful than most churches can manage. This Riot Life (Ape House) cries, “Heaven and Earth, it rocks, it rocks, it rocks,” as “a sacred heart bleeds all over everywhere.” This Vancouver, BC outsider fixture finds great footing here, where she buzzes with some of the mildly bent, neo-classical arc of Jane Siberry and Mathilde Santing and the arrangements smack of Carla Bley and Van Dyke Parks tinged with something endearingly folksy. Yet, there’s the biting grip of hard rock grumbling below what are largely gorgeously complex constructions. Just deciphering the flow of language and imagery will keep one busy, and you may find yourself frequently lost in her sharp, winging voice or the rise & fall of strings. While not a name familiar to many Stateside, Veda Hille makes consistently thrilling music and This Riot Life is her most fully formed effort to date. Dennis Cook/Jambase.com 12/11
This week’s featured track of the week at RockOm is by Canadian singer/songwriter/musician Veda Hille. We caught up with Veda this week who shared with us about some of her inspiration, her career and the non-Christian approach to Christian hymns on her latest album, This Riot Life. [This audio from this interview is also available in a new podcast, released today.]
RockOm: Your most recent album is entitled This Riot Life and let’s just start with a general description of the album – how did the project come to be? Is there any particular story about the motivation behind it or the process of recording it?
Veda: I had a commission to write a set of new songs for this great festival in Vancouver called the Push Festival. They gave me free reign to write a bunch of new stuff to premiere at their festival in ’07. That coincided with a period of very intense feeling for me where I suddenly had a lot of very personal things to write about. So it was nice that it didn’t become an academic exercise, because sometimes with those commissions you have to search for the things to write about. But I based it around a set of hymns from my grandmothers’ hymnbook that I rearranged as new hymns. I consider that to be the core of the album and am attempting to have a portrayal of ecstatic feeling in music.
RockOm: As you discovered that book and started to dive into it, what spoke to you in there?
Veda: I really loved the language. It’s the United Church hymnal from 1930 with a lot of old hymns from the 1500s and 1600s. I loved that the language was so gusty. It’s really visceral, it’s almost sexual in its passion for Christ and godliness and all those things. It really moved me even though I’m not a Christian; I didn’t find that it needed to be that specific for me to be moved by it. And that in conjunction with these fairly sweet melodies, it’s really blood and guts stuff in those old hymns but then is tempered by this great simple beauty.
With songs like “Book of Saints” and “Ace of the Nazarene,” there’s no doubt that the spirituality from this hymnal is part of the record. Tell us about one or two of the tracks in particular that were most influenced by the book.
Veda: “Ace of the Nazarene” is probably one of the strongest. The interesting thing about that one is that it’s a hymn about Jesus – and most of the time I try to rearrange it so that it’s a little broader, a little more secular. I almost felt naughty. I just loved singing about Jesus when I found those words: “Faint for the flaming of thine advent feet.” It’s so devoted and I found it really enthralling to sing those words. But then I put them over top of an 80’s Casio rock beat. I didn’t want to be too puritanical with it and wanted to bring out the fire and the sexuality of those words. That one is often quite surprising to people.
RockOm: The first track on the album is entitled “Lucklucky” and is the RockOm Featured Track this week. Musically, it’s playful and whimsical with a lot of fun layers, but I was hoping you could speak a little to the meanings of this song or your inspiration for this piece in particular.
Veda: I went to art school way back when and one of the things I remember most was this course called “Creative Processes” and the teacher telling us that “the map is not the territory.” The whole idea is that there is the world and then there is the map of the world that we overlay on top of it in order to navigate it. The world is too big for us to take in so we have these series of maps. [“Lucklucky”] is about the city I grew up in – or that anyone grew up in. I’ve lived here for 40 years and so everywhere in this city I can see the physical realities but I also see all the things I did in every place – it has become a huge memory map. So it’s about that but also about stepping forward and finding the new stuff – fighting the good fight out there.
RockOm: Lastly, besides your songwriting and performing, you’re also involved with theater and film. What sorts of projects are you involved with currently or what’s on the horizon, either with your music or in one of these other arenas.
Veda: I’m just finishing up my first opera, which is quite exciting and a bit of a stretch for me. It’s an opera about trees called “Jack Pine” for children. I’m workshopping that this week. I’m also working on a version of Peter Pan, I’ll be writing some music for that for Christmas in a couple of years. I belong to a band that makes rock songs for kids called “Duplex.” We put a record out in 2005 and I think we’re going to get together and make another one of those. You can always find out what I’m up to at VedaHille.com. Trevor Harden/RockOm.net 11/30