Love doesn’t live miles down the road. She’s lying in your bed, waiting in arms of a song— “Macondo,” Place Holder (Coming: November 10th, 2017)
VISSIA’s suggestive new album title Place Holder makes you wonder—what or who is standing in place, and for what?
“It’s partly about the emotional subtleties between people. I am notorious for my lack of openness about how I feel, face to face, but my songwriting is lyrically-driven. I start with a handful of words, usually about a person, and I feel I can place my trust there. Also, the album took four years to write and each song holds a meaningful moment or place from that time.” This compelling theme winds through Place Holder—Song as a stand-in for the mysterious, tenuous bond between people, holding in place the fleeting, beautiful, particular now.
It takes fierce energy, talent, and experience to hold together a diversity of loves, all of which VISSIA brings to this new album. While each of its nine songs is pop length, and can broadly be called Americana, Place Holder draws from a rich assortment of sources and sounds: vocally, instrumentally, and production-wise. Whether it’s the opening sexy, full-band rocker “Mountaineer” about a loved one prone to wandering; or “The Kind of Good” live-off-the-floor ode to old hotel rooms and the single life; or the dreamy, torchy “You Should Be Sleeping”, about a passerby in a legendary Edmonton bar—each track has its own distinct mood to match its particular, intimate content.
“Each song on Place Holder is a different creature, so I don’t follow any formula or rules.” A native of small town Alberta, steeped in folk and country, VISSIA does, however, credit studying music in Edmonton for introducing her to jazz and blues and a whole new world of sounds and harmonies. Whatever the influence—a nod to Wilco or Neko Case, a seventh chord change-up, or some big t-rex/Visconti-like backing vocals, it always sounds natural and right and you go with it, happily—a testament to VISSIA’s decade and a half engagement, perseverance, and curiosity in all areas of making music, from composing, to recording, to album art and design.
“In some ways this feels like my first record.” VISSIA reveals, quizzically—this is, in fact, her third solo project, a culmination of but also a break from everything that came before. Starting early on piano, and continuing with classical voice and guitar lessons, she began playing with with her sisters as the Vissia Sisters from 2000-2010. Together the young pop-folk/country trio showcased at Canadian Country Music Week, earned two Canadian Folk Music Award nominations (2006, 2007), played the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, and toured Japan. “We had some pretty incredible experiences together, considering how young we were at the time.”
Then in 2011 VISSIA struck out with a solo career that in some ways found her beginning all over again, under the name Alex Vissia, with the full album A Lot Less Gold. Young Love followed, an EP of three originals and three covers. Her interpretation of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown” already exhibiting her ability to experiment with influences and bend genre; however, it was her own songs that caught the attention of critics. Hard won but satisfying solo success earned VISSIA festival attention, where she shared stages with Lindi Ortega, Whitehorse, The Skydiggers and Harry Stinson, among other greats. “Both albums were formative for me as a solo artist, but making a name shift to VISSIA a little over a year ago, my career has felt like it’s been given a new beginning.”
This next beginning is a huge step up from VISSIA’s previous releases, including collaborations involving instinct and measured risk. VISSIA chose to record with Emily Bachynski at BitterNorth Studio in Edmonton. “I wanted Emily because she is fearless, creatively, and works with so much care.” VISSIA herself took great care to edit down and distil the nine songs until they were clear and just what she wanted. At the nudge of her other band, The Hearts, who know she is a big Josh Ritter fan, VISSIA asked Sam Kassirer, Ritter’s producer and longtime bandmate, to work on the mix. It was a leap of faith, sending the album off to Great North Sound Society in Kassirer’s remote farmhouse in Maine, but VISSIA shared Kassirer’s core beliefs that one should always incorporate your influences, and that everything on a recording should be essential.
“The mix is what I’m really excited about. I really dig the vocal sound and how all the backup vocals sit.” The mix highlights the soaring strength and subtle nuances of VISSIA’s heartfelt voice (backed by her sister and Bachynski) and also her studied sense of measure and euphony. Surprising sonic shifts inside satisfying melodies connect you to VISSIA’s signature sound while reminding you of all your most favourite private feelings and imagined landscapes.
This album feels like a work of love, for all involved. Where VISSIA’s music is now makes it smart enough to satisfy a close listen, and warm enough to accompany your daily routine. Distilled to one word: it is joyful. A placeholder is something that reserves a spot for the thing to come. With this album, VISSIA is at the table, poised at the exciting beginning of just that.