AMANDA RHEAUME FINDS HER PLACE
As a teenager, Amanda Rheaume scribbled feelings in her diary. Years later, these angst-driven dribbles ended up as lyrics to original songs she sang with her rock ‘n’ roll band – in between cover versions of other people’s music – to beer-swilling audiences at Ottawa’s Zaphod Beeblebrox. Playing gigs at bars five nights a week, the artist followed this muse, thinking that was it, but a pair of epiphanies told her otherwise: As an artist, she had a bigger role to play.
The first one occurred in the early 2000s. Rheaume, crammed into a van with a group of aspiring musicians, played house concerts across the Southern U. S. One night, while performing in front of a group of strangers in this intimate setting, her heart spoke. The singer-songwriter realized that she was wasting her gift singing songs with little substance.
The second epiphany came not long after. Rheaume travelled to Afghanistan to perform a series of concerts for Canadian soldiers; again, her heart sent a message. Though she rocked out, and the men and women in uniform enjoyed her shows, what meaningful words had she given to these heroes?
Ever since, Rheaume has turned inward – and outward – in her art. She now writes from a personal space and comments on universal themes. As a citizen of the Métis Nation and a proud member of the LGBTQ2S+ community, she knew she could no longer ignore her truths.
“I want to say something that matters,” says Rheaume. “I believe I have a responsibility, when I’m onstage, to make a positive impact on people. After those two epiphanies, I made the decision to stop singing about my broken heart and write more about deeper things: my identity, my family history, and how that translates into my lived experience. As an artist, it’s critical for me to sing my truth, and the truth of the Métis Nation.”
Rheaume has released five albums over the past 15 years. Keep a Fire (2013) was nominated for a JUNO and won a Canadian Folk Music Award for Indigenous Songwriter of the Year. This search for truth and deeper meaning continues with Rheaume’s latest, The Spaces In Between. Produced by Hill Kourkoutis, It’s set for release May 27, 2022, on Ishkōdé Records, the label she co-founded, and co-runs, with Shoshona Kish, to foster and amplify Indigenous voices. “I’m so proud of this record,” she says. “It really feels like my favorite. Stylistically, it’s my most personal, and really reflects who I am.”
The first single, “100 Years,” is a rallying cry inspired by the words of Louis Riel, one of Canada’s most famed Métis leaders, who said, “My people will sleep for a hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists that give them back their spirit.”
The Spaces In Between also includes four spoken-word interludes from Tony Belcourt — a Métis leader, activist and founding president of the Native Council of Canada. Throughout the record, Rheaume retrieves more of her spirit, which guides her muse to find the right words. On the title track, she sings,
I’m just trying to find my place
Trying to find some empty space
Where I’m comfortable enough to say the things I need to say
The song was co-written, via Zoom, with Kourkoutis and Serena Ryder. “A lot of the songs are about identity, and how I fit into the landscape around me and tying that thread back to the history of the Métis Nation,” she says.
During her formative years, Jagged Little Pill was a touchstone. These days, the songwriter is inspired by Lucinda Williams, Ani Di Franco (her lyrics more than her music) – and more recently, Joy Harjo, the first Native American poet laureate in the U.S., with whom Rheaume took a masterclass.
“As artists, we’re already living on the fringes … carving our own paths and going against the grain,” she says, addressing the overarching theme of The Spaces In Between. “We’re making and finding our own spaces to create, succeed, grow an audience. and connect with people. None of that is laid out for you… You need to just do it and find your own way. To sing about, and to express, the spaces in between, you need to first love yourself, and come to terms with the fact that you don’t have to live in this one place. You can continue to grow and re-define who you are.”
Searching for Songs: Rheaume’s top three tips
1) “Write a minimum of five (timed) minutes stream-of-consciousness every single day. Keep your pen on the paper, or fingers typing. Doesn’t matter if it’s nonsense. As with a pipe in the winter, you’ve gotta keep the water running! Ten minutes is even better, first thing in the morning is best… It’s the discipline that encourages greatness and mastery of a craft.”
2) “Keep a list of titles and ideas, either in your phone, or in a notebook you carry with you. Ideas flow into our consciousness all the time. As much as we try to remember, it’s much easier to keep track of everything.”
3) “Finish the song. Not every song is going to be your best. Sometimes we need to write one to get to the next one. Creativity and ideas are abundant.”
This story originally published here: https://www.socanmagazine.ca/features/amanda-rheaume-finds-her-place/