Thu, Jun 6, 2013.
It's been an interesting year for Scarlett Jane, since the Toronto duo's first album came out last May. Called Stranger, the release caused an immediate impact on the roots music scene in the country. Backed by a demanding tour schedule, Scarlett Jane went from start-up to one of the most in-demand and loved groups in the indie-folk scene. At a time when most groups would be getting prepared for a follow-up disc, the new music world realities have changed. It turns out the duo are just getting started, with a lot more big plans ahead for both the album and their live shows.
Scarlett Jane has already become a popular draw in New Brunswick, and the duo are just starting a huge series of dates that will see them on the road for months. The shows began last week in Quebec, and they should be crossing the border at any moment to begin the East Coast swing. I caught up with both members after a show in Trois Rivieres earlier. Andrea Ramolo and Cindy Doire were already established solo artists before teaming up. The idea was the old "two is better than one" approach, but with the added benefit of being close amigos. "We amalgamated our fan bases from the get-go," explains Ramolo, "but we came together because we missed each other. We're great friends, we sang on each other's albums. We do everything together now, we share the workload. We share an apartment. We go through two sets of hearts when we write. It's sharing ideas and being creative together. We have each other, there's no doubling up."
Cindy Doire says the friendship has made their songwriting better, too: "We both challenge each other. We push each other, and sometimes one of us is in the fetal position crying. It's not always easy, maybe one has an idea that doesn't match with the other's vision. We've been working on really being open to each other's ideas."
The Stranger album introduced a new blend the pair came up with. The songs have a lot of mystery in them, stories that are sometimes personal, but without all the details spelled out. There are questions unanswered, dark corners hinted at. It even came with a colour scheme, the women often dressed in black, with a nod to pre-rock and roll fashion and beauty. They called it folk-noire. "It's such a cross-over album," says Ramolo. "There are so much genres in it. We draw from roots, old country, folk, rock, all of that is present in our songwriting, no more than each other. It has this sexy edge to it that most folk music doesn't." Doire continues: "We try to write in a way that people can listen to them and personalize them. We want them to take what they need from a song, leave something out that makes it too much information, not too specific, a little vague and mysterious."
So a year later, and the group are ready for phase two in their carefully thought-out plans for Stranger. "This album has really been doing great for us," Ramolo confirms. "It got us a manager, Jake Gold (Tragically Hip, Adam Cohen), it got us a booking agent, there are talks of actually re-releasing it. We've travelled far and wide with it, but the "team" feels that the songs are great, there's lots of life in them."
"It's exactly what we'd hoped for," says Doire. "When we joined forces, we wanted to do some team-building. We said we'd spend a year and work our asses off, and we did. We developed our vision and sound without anybody working with us, and that happened and now we have our team together, which is what we wanted. We wanted to build something solid, we didn't think we'd blow up overnight. I think we're there now, with our sound moulded."
For now, it's back on the road, which they love. "We are kinda workaholics," admits Ramolo. "We love what we do, we're road dogs, we always were on our own careers. This current run we're on is kinda insane, we'll be gone from our apartment for five months."
Scarlett Jane play the Red Herring in St. Andrews Friday and Saturday nights, June 7 and 8, and then head to Plan B in Moncton, Tuesday, June 11.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).