Exclusive Interview with Folk Singer-Songwriter Catherine MacLellan

JUNO award winner Catherine MacLellan returns to music after a four-year break, where she set aside her own songwriting to celebrate the life and legacy of her late legendary father, Gene MacLellan. Her sixth yet most anticipated album COYOTE, which will be out in October, is a travelogue through heartbreak, loss and the joy of life. 

I got the chance to talk to her about how her dad’s career inspired her music, her new album, what she’s currently nerding out about and so much more! Keep reading to see what she had to say! 

Tell me a little bit about how you first got into making and performing music.

Growing up in a musical family, I was always singing and playing around the house. My father was a songwriter and people were always dropping by to play music with him. It wasn’t until I was in my teens that I started writing my own songs. By my early 20s, I had thrown myself into a career as a musician. 

Was there a specific moment or person that made you realize that music is what you wanted to pursue professionally?

It was my first manager, Lloyd Doyle, who helped me consciously make that decision. During the release of my first album, I was starting to tour extensively and I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. Lloyd would drop by all the time to chat about what I wanted in my life and I was worried I’d have to give up my fledgling music career. I decided then that I didn’t have to choose one over the other, that I could do both. Pursuing my passion adds to my abilities as a mother.

Over the last couple of years, you set aside your own songwriting to celebrate the life and legacy of your late legendary father, Gene MacLellan. What about him and his career inspired you musically?

My dad died when I was fourteen, and he became a bit of a mystery to me. As I got older, I wanted to know more about him, so I spent time tracking him down by interviewing his friends and colleagues, going through archival footage and learning his songs. I didn’t know anything about his career, and as a musician, there is so much I would have loved to ask him. This process of recording his songs, writing a stage play of his life and being part of a documentary about his mental illness has taught me so much. He still lives on in his songs, despite his absence, and that is where I feel closest to him.

Let’s talk about your new album, COYOTE, which is set to come out this October. First, what made now the right time to release this album?

This album has been waiting patiently for me. Most of the songs have been in my head for a few years. After taking time to focus on my father’s work, I am eager to get back to my own story, my own path and my own songs.

Where did the name of the album come from?

When I wrote the song “Coyote”, I knew immediately it was going on the record. The inspiration of that song came from the packs of coyotes around my property. You can always hear them but you never see them; they are like ghosts, and they intrigue me very much. I like the mystery of their wild nature.

What was the recording process like for this album? How long did it take for this to come together from start to finish?

I started and stopped the process a few times. I was always waiting on my engineer to be available, or for there to be enough time in my schedule. Finally, I picked a release date as a deadline to make me dig in and finish it. The last few weeks of recording were very intense and focused. We brought in a bunch of amazing musicians and let them express themselves naturally. It is the combination of players and sounds that make this record really special to me. From start to finish, I think the album took about 2 years.

One of the first singles from the album is “Out Of Time”. What inspired this song?

“Out of Time” is about the end of a relationship. I had been waiting for things to change, and working hard to make things better, but it just wasn’t happening. Finally, I realized it was time to close that door and move on. Once I made that decision, I felt a sense of urgency – like there was no more time to waste. I feel that urgency generally in my life these days. I’m not sure if it’s my age or the changes happening in the world, but these are times of action not complacency.

I always love hearing about the songwriting process so I was wondering if you could give me a glimpse into what it was like specifically for this song.

This song came out as many of mine do, in a flash. I sat with my guitar on my bed looking out at the forest surrounding my house and it just spilled out. Emotionally, I was going through so much at the time and the song was born from that, to help me release those feelings and that relationship. It was done in maybe thirty minutes. 

Are you someone who always has to write by yourself or do you like collaborating with others?

In the last few years, I’ve been doing a lot of co-writing and it’s been great. I’ve had some fun writing with James Keelaghan, The Small Glories, Del Barber, Meaghan Blanchard and so many more. Generally though, I’m a solo writer. I like the intense focus that comes from writing and I get distracted by other people. When I’m writing alone the songs come out fast and almost fully formed. Often my co-writes take much longer and with more editing.

Were there any major changes made to “Out Of Time” once you got into the recording studio, whether it be in the lyrics or something sonically?

“Out of Time” was actually one of the songs that wasn’t going to make it on the album. We had tried recording it a few times but the groove never seemed right. In the final few weeks of recording, we listened back to the original demo and decided it had to be on the record. We re-recorded the whole track with Clare MacDonald on drums, Pastelle LeBlanc on accordion, Remi Arsenault on bass and I played the lead guitar part on it – something I had never done before.

What do you hope people take away from this album?

I hope people see a bit of themselves in the songs. The songs are inspired by personal experience, things that everyone goes through in some way or another. There are songs about heartbreak, travel, love, loss and I have yet to meet anyone who hasn’t experienced those things. Connecting with people through music is my whole reason for creating music.

Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner nerd so what is something that you’re currently nerding out about?

I’m currently nerding out about two things – gardening and sewing clothes. I grew 75 tomato plants from seed and am in the process of transplanting them now in the garden. And sewing is something I love and am terrible at, but hope to get better. I love my old Singer sewing machine that is built like a tank and looks like a rocket. I could go on and on about both those things for days!

For more information, make sure you visit Catherine’s website or follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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