'You sometimes feel helpless': Alessia Cara on making music in the time of COVID-19

The famed singer-songwriter says she has a new appreciation for the simpler things.

The famed singer-songwriter says she has a new appreciation for the simpler things

'I've been finding inspiration in this transitional period, and looking at the bigger picture,' Cara told q's Tom Power. (Alessia Cara)

It was 2 a.m. in Saskatoon when Alessia Cara got the news.

Like thousands of musicians, producers, presenters and music fans, the Canadian singer-songwriter had flown into the prairie city for the Juno Awards — but she was actually hosting the event.

It was March 15, and Canada had begun shutting down schools and businesses because of COVID-19.

"When we landed, they were like, 'We don't know if this is going to happen. Just hold for a couple hours, we're going to figure it out," says Cara in a new interview with q host Tom Power.

Then the word came down: the show would not go on. "I felt so awful because I was so excited for it. But obviously, safety first," she says.

"I just had high hopes for it. And then obviously it didn't work out. But hopefully we can figure something out after this all ends."

Now Cara is at home in Toronto, doing all of the things she normally doesn't have time for when she's on tour: cooking, catching up on movies and TV shows, and reading books.

More recently, she's also started returning to the creative process.

"At first it was difficult. But I think the longer you sit with yourself and reflect, the easier it is to pull from that," she says.

"And I've been finding inspiration in this transitional period, and looking at the bigger picture, and thinking about the repercussions of our actions as people and what that means, and pulling from that."

'It's the least we can do'

Last weekend Cara performed as part of Stronger Together, an online benefit concert that involved some of the biggest names in Canadian music, among them Céline Dion, Justin Bieber, Michael Bublé, Geddy Lee, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Sarah McLachlan, Bryan Adams, Drake and many others.

Top Canadian actors including Ryan Reynolds, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler and Mike Myers also made appearances.

The show raised funds for food banks across Canada, and also paid tribute to the country's frontline workers.

"When you're stuck in this circumstance like we all are, you sometimes feel helpless because you don't know what to do. So I think doing our part as people in the public eye, it's the least we can do, using our resources to help out," says Cara.

Cara says she wanted to help cheer people up, but also wanted to pay tribute to the frontline workers. 

"They are like risking their lives every single day just to save lives. It's crazy what they're doing. And you see all this stuff going on on the news and you see how physically it's affecting them — and I can imagine emotionally and mentally," she says.

"And from home, it's the least we can do in a time where you feel kind of helpless."

'We take so many things for granted'

Cara says she hopes we come out of the COVID-19 crisis with a new appreciation for simple things — being able to see people in person and traveling.

Canadian singer-songwriter Alessia Cara was supposed to host this year's Juno Awards in Saskatoon, but they were cancelled last-minute. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

"I know it sounds kind of cheesy, but we take so many things for granted, and then it takes something as huge as this to for us to be shaken up a little bit and realize the reality of what we get to live every day," she says, adding that she can't wait to get back to traveling and seeing different parts of the world.

"At the very least, I hope that happens, that have a new appreciation for simplicity and things that we always take for granted."

Any type of melancholy or sadness is valid no matter what, especially in this time.- Alessia Cara

In the meantime, Cara emphasizes that people shouldn't feel bad about feeling bad — and that honest expression has become a cornerstone of her songwriting.

"There's a way to be positive and bring some sort of escapism to people. But it's also important to show the other side and let people know that any type of melancholy or sadness is valid no matter what, especially in this time," she says.

"You've got to give yourself time, no matter your circumstance or room, to feel crappy sometimes."

Written by Jennifer Van Evra. Interview produced by Mitch Pollock. 

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