Diamond Heart, Ladies of the Canyon’s sophomore long-player, finds the Montreal-based quartet rocking their hearts out on a cluster of songs about love, sex and mysticism. The first single You and All Your Famous Friends, a jangly gem that brings to mind The Bangles, sounds like a sure fire hit up until the point that lead guitarist/vocalist Maia Davies drop’s the album’s only f-bomb.
“Don’t worry, there’s a clean version for radio,” Jasmine Bleile, the band’s other guitarist/vocalist assures on the line from her hometown. “You know, people mention The Bangles and Fleetwood Mac, but we have a ton of influences. What you’re hearing is just a mash-up of all of our influences coming together, from Bob Dylan to Leonard Cohen to The Rolling Stones and The Who. We have such diverse influences in our writing and our songs are pretty eclectic, from folk to rock. We never modelled ourselves after anyone.
The group formed in Montreal in 2005 and they began by trotting out their folksy sound in the city’s coffee houses and downtown bars, naming themselves after a Joni Mitchell album. Their 2010 debut album, Haunted Woman, was twangy enough to garner them a Canadian Country Music Association nomination but since then they’ve mostly dispensed with their softer side and embraced a pop/rock sensibility. The turning point for the band occurred in Nashville.
“We thought about cutting a country album and we did a showcase for two of the country labels in Nashville,” Jasmine begins. “They really loved us but they wanted a couple of more commercial sounding songs for radio. We spent a bunch of time writing songs but in the end we just decided we were putting ourselves into one place, making ourselves super country, and that’s really not what we are. There’s an undercurrent of folk and roots in what we do and a couple of tunes are alt-country, but more along the lines of The Byrds. Forcing ourselves into a country disc wasn’t gelling, so we scrapped it and made a rock record.”
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The one remnant from their stay in Nashville is the song What We Had, a riveting duet ballad written by Jasmine, Maia and bassist Anna Ruddick (drummer Tara Martin is the band’s only non-writer), along with east coast legend Jimmy Rankin. The track features a superb vocal turn from Max Kerman of The Arkells, who injects just the right amount of sentiment. This is the only throwback to the old Ladies, however, as they clearly distance themselves from the past with their atmospheric acoustic cover of Led Zeppelin’s Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.
“We just recorded that on a whim,” Jasmine explains. “I was strumming a guitar in the studio and producer Mark Howard asked what I was playing. He said ‘We’re recording that; that’s what we’re going to do today’, and he set up the studio and we worked out the arrangement. It’s a little more eerie, like Moroccan women chanting in the background. Mark sent it to Robert Plant and he loved it.”
The eeriness of the Led Zeppelin cover is just one of many places on the record where the band shows off their darker side. Although the title track suggests a positive vibe, it still has an other-worldly feel to it and Jasmine attributes this to the song’s creation process.
“Maia and I wrote that one and it has a lot of darkness but it’s about finding this beautiful thing in all of that darkness. It’s a unique song; I think we were extremely hung over when we wrote that and we were drinking Chinese tea to make ourselves feel better. It just came about by Maia and me humming and mouthing different words that just popped into our heads. We created lines and phrases from that and built a story around it. It was like conjuring a spirit; it just kind of happened.”
Another track that put the band’s dark side on full display is Black Water, which was again written by Jasmine and Maia. The genesis of the number, however, came from producer Howard who provided the beat and asked the Ladies to build upon it, and the end result is a song that has an almost voodoo-like feel to it. Howard, who previously produced records for Lucinda Williams among many others, may have contributed to the album’s sombre tone but Jasmine say that “he didn’t bring total darkness to the project; we’re pretty good at doing that ourselves.” What Howard did bring to the recording sessions were some pretty amazing toys.
“It’s fun to sing on a microphone that Neil Young sang on last.” Jasmine enthuses. “Mark has all sorts of crazy gear that he carts around with him. We recorded at a barn close to Burlington and that barn has a wonderful stage set-up and we cut everything off the floor with monitors. It wasn’t headsets in the studio; we were on stage playing together, knowing that Emmylou Harris rehearsed there just prior to our arriving. She loves to sing in that room. One time we were laying down some things and I was strumming Gram Parsons’ Gibson J-200 guitar; it’s the most beautiful acoustic guitar that I’ve ever played. To have that kind of history in your hands and be surrounded by it is certainly an inspiring situation.”
One of the more inspired numbers on the album is Jasmine’s Let’s Take The Night. While the song glides along on the surface, it has a very personal reveal about its writer and also captures her views on romantic relationships 101.
“I wrote that song about meeting my boyfriend,” she admits. “I finally found a person who is really inspiring to me. The song is about not rushing into things and taking the rest of your life to get to know the person, but at the same time seizing the moment and hanging on to it. It’s saying ‘I’m not going to jump into bed with you right away because I met you and you turn me on’; I’m not going there. I worked in a bar and I would have constant suitors and men just expected you to, you know. People don’t really date any more, they just hook up. Relationships start with hook-ups and I personally didn’t want to do that. It kind of freaks me out the way society has gone.”
Although Jasmine appears to have found Mr. Right in terms of a relationship this doesn’t mean there are not a lot of distractions on the road in the form of Mr. Right Now. Jasmine is quite candid about the matter in the song Dear John, and makes no bones about the fact that there are a lot of temptations when you’re away from home.
“We’re fully allowing ourselves to go where these temptations are; you’re not even denying it happened. It’s not like ‘Sorry baby, I met some other guy and spent all of our money and didn’t call you’. I think it’s more honest; it’s about taking control of things and not being apologetic about it. It’s saying this is the way I am, and I hope you love me enough to hang around.”
In the New Year the band takes to the road with the Barenaked Ladies on what Jasmine jokingly refers to as the Barenaked Lades of the Canyon tour. They met the Barenaked’s Kevin Hearn at a Massey Hall gig in Toronto a while back and they’ve kept in touch and forged a musical relationship. Fans who saw the Canyon Ladies previously may be surprised by their new found edginess and one wonders if this could constitute a name change to, say, the Jagged Little Pills.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Jasmine laughs. “I think there’s a lot to be thankful for in Laurel Canyon and the women that Joni Mitchell was writing about. There’s a big diversity of artists so I think it’s still appropriate. I think we have become the Ladies of the Canyon, there’s no denying that.”
Stream 4 new songs here from the new album here