Wheeling interview: musician Rae Spoon on home, cancer and their love of Montreal

You know how your conversation wanders when you are wondering too? Electroacoustic queer icon Rae Spoon and CBC’S Aimee Louw move through Little Italy as they reflect on Rae’s recent move back to Montreal, slow touring, writing songs about cancer and what home means to them.

Songwriting, living through cancer, ageism and slow touring are all part of this wandering conversation

To the left, a person with a long black jacket, bright yellow hair sticking out from under a lime green tuque walks alongside a blonde woman in a wheelchair with a yellow scarf and black jacket.
CBC journalist and community columnist Aimee Louw speaks with Canadian electroacoustic pop icon Rae Spoon in a wheeling interview in Montreal's Little Italy. (CBC)

Rae Spoon knows about movement. They've toured North America on Greyhound buses, lived across the country and beyond. 

But after undergoing cancer treatment British Columbia during the pandemic, the electroacoustic Canadian pop icon recently moved back to Montreal — a city where they feel seen and unseen all at once. 

You know how your conversation wanders when you are wandering, too? In this wheeling interview, Spoon and CBC'S Aimee Louw move through Little Italy as they reflect on living in Montreal, slow touring, writing songs about cancer, aging and what home means to them.

Here is a transcript of that interview. 

— Mellow synth organ music

Aimee: So, when I invited you to go for a walk you said, "Let's meet in Little Italy." Why did you want to meet here?

Rae: Because it's very near my house [both laugh] and I love this neighbourhood, obviously, that's why I live here. There's always something interesting to look at.

Aimee: That's true!

— People chatting in the background

Rae: I started playing shows in Montreal in 2003, so it's a place that I feel very familiar with. When I walk around, I think about all the different ages I've been sometimes, somewhere. It's like you go to the same place but you're in a different place, you know? I've always felt at home here and I'm not sure why, but, you know, I think it's hard to explain home. 

Obviously, I feel rooted in Treaty 7 territory in Alberta, where I'm from, in some way, because I grew up there, but, yeah, this is where I want to be. 

— Low oboe and twinkling piano music

Rae: I did spend the beginning of the pandemic immunocompromised by chemotherapy and radiation treatments. So having that experience during the pandemic really made me think a lot about what's accessible because I had to live and be very careful. And I couldn't go to anything that was inside at all, ever.

This walk is interesting because I actually couldn't walk more than two blocks when I first moved back here. And a year ago, I was still in the hospital in Victoria. 

Aimee: Yeah.

Rae: All I wanted to do when I was in the hospital was come to this neighbourhood and walk [laughs].

Aimee: Really?

Rae: Around here, yeah. So, it means a lot when I first got here I was like, I just felt like, "Oh I actually got here." I didn't know if I ever would again.

Aimee: You made it!

Rae: Now, like, if there's a windstorm and it's raining — the other day it was raining, there was a windstorm and my friend was like, "Are you OK?" I was like, "No man, I'm totally fine! Because I walk around here, I have this huge grin on my face, there's water. You know, it's very dramatic when you don't know if you ever get to go somewhere again. I never get bothered. "Yay! It's raining! I'm in Montreal!" Everything I'm doing here, it's just really what I wished, I hoped, I could do again. 

Aimee: Has your world gotten smaller? Do you think of it in that way?

— Siren in background

Rae: It doesn't feel smaller at all because from all the years of travelling, I made all these connections and somehow managing with online, I've been keeping those connections with people. 

— Mellow synth music with drums

And also, it changed how I look at place and engaging with place. A few of my friends are talking about doing something like slow touring, where you go for a week and you engage with community, and you think about whose land you're on and you maybe play a show during that week, but it's not just about playing the show for people and being a musician and going to the next cities the next day, you know? So that's something to think about.

Aimee: That sounds lovely too, like, as an experience. 

Rae: Yeah, and more accessible for me, for the way my body is now and also for climate change, you know, not just spending jet fuel every day. 

Aimee: And It might give you ideas for what you're working on, too. 

I think when there's lots of different kinds of people, it's always safer to be different.- Rae Spoon

Rae: Yeah.

Aimee: I mean, I know when I travel that's the most times that I'm writing, the most times that I feel creative. 

Rae: Yeah.

— Mellow synth music with drums

Aimee: I often think about your song… [Sings] "Do whatever the heck you wa-ant." [Both laugh]

— [Excerpt of Do Whatever The Heck You Want] 

Do whatever the heck you want

Do whatever the heck you want

Don't tell anyone what the heck to do

Do whatever the heck… [Music fades out]

Aimee: Because I hear it as something that a good friend would say, you know?

Rae: Totally.

Aimee: It's something that, when you call someone up and you're like, "Should I date this person? Should I try to go for this job? Where should I live?" How does that song resonate for you now, given everything that you've been through?

Rae: Yeah, I think the song — that song is me reminding myself. I think we always forget that we can just do what we want, right? There's always things in the way, but when you figure it out, it's yourself, you know? That's always nice.

— [Recording of end of song] "Do whatever the heck you want."

WATCH | Rae Spoon and Aimee Louw wander through Little Italy 

Wheeling interview: Rae Spoon on home, cancer and their love of Montreal

3 months ago
Duration 6:09
You know how your conversation wanders when you are wandering too? Community columnist Aimee Louw wheeled along side electroacoustic queer icon Rae Spoon who recently returned to Montreal.

Aimee: What is it like for you to move through the space in this neighbourhood? Like, you were mentioning before: being in Victoria, you felt a bit like people didn't get your style, that kind of thing?

Rae: I grew up in Alberta. I think you also grew up in Alberta and I came out as queer in the 90s there and trans in the early 2000s. So, Montreal, I always found people just look at me less in general. Like, don't notice me. [Laughs] You know? Where, at some places, based on how I dress or who I am, there's more attention. I think when there's lots of different kinds of people, it's always safer to be different. 

— slow piano chords 

I'm 41 now and I think it's nice that, here, it feels that you could go out to an event — in other places the ageism can be really bad. There's so many different ways to be every different age.

Aimee: But I like that, I like that this age feels right for you here.

Rae: Yeah! And also, having my cancer experience and not knowing if I was going to live, then I wanna live where I wanna live [laughs]. You know? 

Aimee: Hell yeah!

Rae: I'm just like, "Where am I gonna go? I'm gonna go where I wanna be."

Aimee: Oh, yeah.

Rae: There is no like, "I'm saving up for this or that." I'm like, who even cares. Just go, be where you want to be.

Rae: These boots are made for strutting in Little Italy. Who knows, is your soulmate around the corner? Maybe [laughs] do you know where your soulmate is? [Both laugh]

— piano music fades out