‘Success’ from a culture of isolation

Seeing Melisa Devost perform at The Old Fire Hall Friday, April 16, or at Atlin’s Globe Theatre on the 19th, you will be contributing to her “success”.

“I can ride on my skills to travel and see family,” she explains over the phone. And, while she has recently contemplated what she considers “success” for a musician in Canada in an age when the Internet has changed everything, this is the definition she is leaning toward.

From her home base in Vancouver, she is able to play at The Railway Club one night, wake up “stupidly early” the next, and fly to the Yukon for an evening show.

And, while she is here, she can visit with her brother, Jesse Devost.

Yes, she says, it is hard to be a “successful” musician in Canada these days, “but it depends on what you are trying to do.

“A lot of musicians consider success as monetary, but you will be in trouble if that is your definition in Canada because Canada is so vast, you incur a lot of costs to tour.

“And a town may be indifferent or if you are competing with a hundred other bands.

“We do it because we love it and we feel compelled to, and the process of writing and touring and recording is what we need to do.”

Devost’s show, which she shares with Jenny Mitchell (a.k.a. Jenny Omnichord), will be a solo performance. “I haven’t done that in a while, so I’m really excited.”

She explains that she normally performs with two or three others. And she and her band share space with four or five others and there is often the sharing of members, but, “I’m not much of a jammer.

“Most of my musical experience has been very solitary.

“I like to know what is going on … it can be terrifying, but exciting.”

For instance, she tells of the time she was on stage with Ken Whiteley and he announced to the audience, “We are going to play a song that Melisa has never heard before.”

“So, I just watched his left hand and … “

Whitehorse and Atlin audiences will hear mostly songs she wrote and some traditional gospel covers. And there will be surprises that she doesn’t want to divulge.

Many of the songs are from her most-recent album, A Sudden Shift of Existing Light. She explains that the title came to her while on a ferry, and she realized that answers to some of the biggest questions are right there in front of us, but something has to shift before we see it.

Her music is often informed by the types of people she meets. Many of them are from her home on Hornby Island which, like the Yukon, tends to attract people accustomed to being Canadian, but isolated.

“I appreciate the culture of isolation of places,” says Devost. “So I’ve always been drawn to them.

“The people there are intriguing.

“And the places are outside the norm and there are challenges to that.

“I just talked to my parents and they haven’t had electricity for two days and that is not uncommon.

“I like the different perspectives of these people and it gives me something to write about.”

Now living in Vancouver, she finds it difficult to find space to write, with all of the activities swirling around her, but she has found a community of musicians who are “fantastic … very supportive”.

Tickets for Devost’s and Mitchell’s show, Friday, April 16, at the Old Fire Hall, are available at the Yukon Arts Centre Box Office, Arts Underground and www.yukontickets.com.

They appear again at Atlin’s Globe Theatre on Monday, April 19 at 8 p.m.

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