Whitehorse-based, Swedish-Canadian songwriter Sarah MacDougall has a new album, Grand Canyon, with some dark, intense lyrics, mixed against pop-inspired folk music. It’s not a departure from her previous music, so much as a progression.
MacDougall says, “I think the last album [the West Coast Music Award-winning The Greatest Ones Alive] was on its way to that. I used strings, and there were songs that had more of a pop arrangement, although five of the songs didn’t have drums. On this album, every song has drums.”
The arrangements may be pop, but the songs are still very personal. Two of the songs were inspired by Malmö, Sweden, where MacDougall was born and lived in until she was 19. ”I Want to See the Lights (Lost From Your Eyes)” was partially inspired by a series of anti-immigrant shootings that occurred in Malmö between 2009 and 2010. “It’s kind of what sparked the song,” MacDougall says. “I think what made me write it was that there is a real extreme right-wing movement growing in mainstream Swedish Parliament right now, and in Europe in general. It’s kind of a scary time right now.”
In the song, she sings, “I take the long way home like I used to do before we started being scared… I pull my hoodie up over my hair and stay away from the streetlights.”
Her feelings towards her hometown are refined in “Malmö i mitt hjärta”, (Malmö in my heart). “It’s kind of about coming to peace about where I come from,” she explains. “I kind of have a love-hate relationship with my home town. It’s not really hate, hate is a strong word, but I have always mixed feelings about it. The city has a lot of amazing things about it and a lot of darkness. A lot of resistance to art, to speaking up, all that kind of stuff.”
Accompanied by Jesse Zubat’s string arrangements, the song is haunting, but rises to a triumphant conclusion. The video, available on her website, focuses on the singer’s face and is both intense and cathartic.
Balancing out this darkness is “The Story of Pippi and Lionheart”, a lighter, fun song, inspired by the works of Swedish author Astrid Lindgren, which MacDougall grew up on. “It’s really a song about wanting to be a superhero.”
The song makes reference to RoboCop and Avatar. ”Baby, It’s Only Rock n’ Roll”, ironically, is one of the least rock n’ roll songs on the album. The song features a string quartet, arranged by Matt Rogers, which beautifully takes over for a full minute after the other instruments fade out.
The title track, “Grand Canyon”, was a late addition, recorded in Whitehorse with Jordy Walker. “I wasn’t sure I was going to include it, but it totally fit. Sometimes it happens that way.”
To support the album, MacDougall has played throughout Canada with the East Coast Music Award-winning Newfoundland folk trio, The Once, and she’s currently on tour through Europe. For some of those shows she’s accompanied by a band recruited from the Netherlands, which she hasn’t heard yet. “I have good references for them and they’ve been cool,” she says. “They’re basically learning the parts from the albums. But I won’t know until the actual show.”
Grand Canyon is available on iTunes, through her website, SarahMacDougall.com, and locally at Triple J’s Music.
Outstanding tracks: “Grand Canyon” and “Malmö i mitt hjärta”.