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Coco Love Alcorn

Heaven on Earth and Other Deep Stuff: The Coco Love Alcorn Interview

Coco Love Alcorn is back with a 'heavenly' new album and she's going to make you sing your soul out.

By Jim Dupuis

The first time I saw Coco Love Alcorn was at the Komasket Festival outside of Vernon, BC, many years ago. To say she blew me away is an understatement. Her genre bending songs with beautiful lyrics got me listening to every word and bopping my head in glee. When I had a second to look around and take in the rest of the audience, I noticed a group of young women in front of the stage that were just mesmerized. That is the effect Coco can have on you. She is very accessible as she has been a relentless cross-country tourer. She hits the big cities, like Toronto and Vancouver, but you can also find her in the Vernon, BC and Bedford, NS. Yet, she hasn’t been around as much over the last few years. Someone named Ellie came into her and her husband’s life and the job of Mother, took precedence and this precipitated a move to a smaller centre. While at home she started exploring a looper and the resulting video went viral with, of all things, choirs! But now Coco is back with an album called Wonderland that has made her an accidental choir leader and is literally sweeping the choral community. While I have always considered her a soulful performer, she has exceeded my expectations with this new album Wonderland. I recently chatted with here after Ellie’s bedtime. She was at her home in Owen Sound, Ontario, where she was taking a break from her busy cross-Canada tour.

JD: I’m told you took some time off and had a daughter. What’s motherhood like?

CLA: Motherhood’s amazing! My daughter’s name is Eloise. We call her Ellie and she is six, now. When I’m not away on tour, I am living in Owen Sound, Ont. and spending lots of time with Ellie.

JD: That sounds nice. I guess while you were at home you put together a video for a song that you wrote called “The River,” and it went viral. Tell us what happened.

CLA: I made a video of “The River”, almost two years ago. I used my five track looper to build all the vocal parts live off the floor as I was making the video. It’s exactly the way I had written the song. I had written it on the looper layering my voice. I didn’t really realize it at the time, but I had accidentally written choral music (laughs). People started picking up the video. Then it got in the hands of some choir members, and they started telling their choral directors about this video they had seen. They choirs started covering the song. More than 30 choirs are covering The River now. It’s pretty incredible and there are more learning it all the time. I’m not even keeping count any more (laughs). The album was just released. There were already 30 choirs covering it before the album was released. I never had anything like that happen before. People already singing material from the record before the record was out. It’s quite an incredible experience.

JD: That’s awesome. At one point it was being sung by over 1,000 people across three countries and those numbers have gone up since then. I guess this pre-publicity has helped. Just this week your new CD Wonderland was number one in the Folk, Roots, Blues charts all across Canada.

CLA: Yes and I was number one on the Folk, Roots, Blues charts last week, too. The really cool thing is when I look at it—the this week column and the last week column has 1 on both of them. So that’s pretty cool (laughs). Ya, and choirs have been covering some of the other material from the album as well. I think there are six or seven other songs that have been covered by choirs, too and I have also been invited a lot of the choirs to join me on my cross-Canada tour concerts. I had a number choirs join me on the BC tour and we’re heading to Nova Scotia in a couple of weeks and we’ve got a few different choirs joining us in the Nova Scotia tour. I hope to carry that forward. I hope to keep collaborating with choirs when I can. My shows have more singing along that I used to. I very much wrote this material to be sung. I love singing these songs and I love it when people join in and sing it with me. So, something I’m starting to do is a sing-along show. I’m doing one just outside Halifax in a few weeks. The show is being presented by a local choir that has 375 members. I’m just going to get up there with my band and we’re going to sing songs and invite them to sing along on almost every song.

JD: It sounds like a lot of fun. Now, you are used to performing with maybe three or four people on stage at a time. What’s it like to have all these other people around?

CLA: It’s amazing and I love the dynamic range that the concerts can have now, because there are still moments as intimate, as me lightly strumming the ukulele and just my voice. There are no other sounds in the venue and you can hear a pin drop, all the way up to 300 people singing together. That’s the range that’s been happening on some of these shows. It’s a pretty incredible experience.

JD: Yes it would be. It sounds very spiritual. This, in fact, is a very spiritual album. It some respects it harkens back to southern American church music. Did you spend time in church choirs as a youngster?

CLA: Yes, (laughs) very little time. In grade three, funny you would ask that question—no-one else has asked that. In grade three I went to live with my grandfather and grandmother in Antigonish, Nova Scotia and my grandfather was the organist for the United Church. I was a member of the church choir, but I kept sleeping in (laughs) and never showing up to the rehearsals. By my recollection, I was eight at the time, I made it to a few rehearsals and a few of the concerts or something. You know, I was gifted, coming from a musical family. I was gifted with a good ear and I understood some of the working of reading music. I would sort of be looking at my neighbours music and using my ear. If there was no music to look it, I would do this trick, where if I had no music to look at and didn’t know the song I would sing the vowels and skip the consonants and try to sing along (laughs). Actually that is one of my favourite things to do. At folk festivals, they put you on these stages called Round Robin Stages, where there will be you and two or three other singer songwriters and you kind of try to join in on each other songs, that you’ve never heard before, once you have a sense of what’s going on. I hadn’t thought about that grade three United Church choir experience for years until you just asked me, but I realized that’s what’s kept me on those folk festival Round Robin Stages. I’ll hear someone sing a chorus one or two times and then I’ll know it well enough to kind of half sing along. I’m having a realization moment.

JD: I’m not going to try to confuse spirituality with religion. That being said, what part does spirituality play in your day to day life.

CLA: I think some days I don’t even notice it, but it’s always there. The spirit, or whatever we call the spirit is like that, and you’re right, this album is a celebration of the human spirit. I think music has that power to help us connect with each other and connect in the moment and connect in deeper parts of ourselves and I try to really hone in on that as much as possible with this album and bring that more to the surface. But the word spirit itself can be something that people feel uncomfortable with. I’m calling this project The Spirit Sessions Project and I don’t even know how to perfectly define whatever it is that’s inside us that enables us to connect like that. I think there is something in us that enables us to connect and it’s all there. You might walk down the street and run into somebody you haven’t seen in a while and have this amazing quick little conversation where you manage to talk about something real in two minutes and you go on about your day separately and you’ve both been lifted by the experience. And to me that is tapping into that place, whether we call it the spirit or your nougaty centre or your soul, whatever. Everything is all connected, whether there’s a bit of your heart and your brain was involved as well. Ya, let’s use the spirit, for lack of a better word (laughs), and I think it is always present and always part of us. There’s something within that is guiding us, or along for the ride, depending on the moment. Ya.

JD: Ok. This album is called Wonderland. Is there any significance to that title?

CLA: Hmm. It’s the name of one of the songs. How that song came about—one day when Ellie was about four at the time and I cleared some time and space in that day to be able to try to write a song, so all of sudden—tick tock—it’s time to write a song. Oh my God what am I going to write a song about. I started to thinking about the concept of Heaven, which is supposed to be this magical place—I don’t think magic is the right word—but it is supposed to be this place that we go to after we passed on if things go well. It is supposed to be really great. All the things you could want. I started to think that things are pretty amazing right here where we are on earth. There is so much to be thankful for right here. So I went online to a thesaurus app and looked up the word Heaven and other words that meant something similar to Heaven and I saw the word wonderland and I thought, “There we go!”  I’m going to write a song about where we already are and what we already have. It’s sort of like Heaven here on earth and I called it wonderland. It felt like a fitting title for the album. I think the album acknowledges some of the struggles we all go through, but in general the album has a very positive outlook. Very hopeful, very thankful—a celebration—it’s like being able to see the sadness and acknowledge it, while also feeling positive and hopeful.

JD: I’m speaking with Coco Love Alcorn and I’m wondering how we can get this CD?

CLA: Great question! (laughs) If you go to cocolovealcorn.com and go to the Music page, you can buy the album right from there and if you go to the Tour page you can check out where I’m playing and you can come to a show where I will have copies. You can also buy it digitally from i-Tunes. From my website you can choose the physical or the digital download version. And, we also have the Wonderland Song Book: An Invitation to Sing. It’s twelve art card prints that you can hang on your wall, if you so desire, and on the back of each card there are all the lyrics and chords for the songs on the album. So that’s another option too, if you don’t want to do the CD thing, you can buy the digital download and songbook and have a pretty special companion to the music.

JD: And you could bring the songbook to one of your concerts and be one of the cool kids as you know the words when the sing-along begins.

CLA: Ya, I’m so proud of this songbook. It became apparent that people were going to want to sing these songs, which is such an amazing honour. So I created the songbook and right in the title, An Invitation to Sing. I’ve tried to make it accessible as possible and I’ve had people who are not professional musicians excited, because it is clear and easy. I’ve had some people say they can take these to their voice lessons and put it down on the piano and my teacher can play the chords for me and I can sing the song. I had a piano player in Saskatoon that played with me and he said, “This is great. I can use them as charts for the gig.” I think they make sense. From a novice all the way up to a professional musician—that was the goal to make it so anyone could understand the chords.

JD: I think you have succeeded. Now I’m going to ask you a question that has nothing to do with this, because it is very current. Now you are a composer and write lyrics. Lyrics are certainly poetry. In the last couple of days Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature (I mistakenly said poetry).

CLA: That’s amazing! Well, we were talking before about connecting. I think that’s one of the most powerful forces there is, that we have this ability to connect with each other in so many forms of art and expression that enable us to connect with each other and also ask questions in new ways to explore new thoughts and ideas. I think it’s a great idea. Ya, he’s certainly inspired so many people and he’s a huge cultural force for a couple of generations now. I guess it’s a surprise. Something can be a big surprise in the moment and then a day, a week or a month later—however long later, when you have that time to reflect you go “Oh, ya that is a fit.” You just didn’t see it coming.

JD: Ok. Thanks for talking with me this evening. The new CD by Coco Love Alcorn is called Wonderland. Have lots of fun on that tour.

CLA: Yeah! I’m going to play in Vernon in May, so maybe I’ll get to see you if you come to the show from Kamloops.

JD: I’ll be there. Thank you.

Coco Love Alcorni’s website is:   http://www.cocolovealcorn.com/


Rehearsal run through of "Trouble" and "My Day" from winter 2016

 
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