Fellows explores the spinster experience
jason halstead photo
If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it…
“It probably makes the most beautiful sound,” Christine Fellows says, soulfully, before punctuating the thought with reality. “But you never got to hear it, so who knows.”
Fellows probably doesn’t — she’s happily married to John K. Samson, lead singer of The Weakerthans, so it’s a curious concept to write an album as an homage to spinsters and one that explores the question, “What if there was no witness to your life?” But the record isn’t about Fellows: Nevertheless is loosely stitched on American poet and spinster-by-choice Marianne Moore.
“I worked a lot in conversation with her work and her life and drew from other sources,” Fellows says. “There was an element of wanting to get inside that idea of a spinster — I wanted to have fun with it, as if it wasn’t tremendously sad or a terrible way to be. Especially with Marianne Moore, who made the decision to be alone, and she was so gregarious and successful in life.”
Nevertheless, the Winnipeg-based songwriter’s fourth release captures this winking delight in its own solitude — both in the spinster theme and in its departure from every other record you’ll hear this year. Fellows’ songs slowly unravel on a spotty film reel with images of sunlit kitchen scenes, dusty parlours, housecoats and coffee mugs. It’s always alone but never lonely.
While Fellows admits her Winnipeg home is her fortress of solitude and she’s often felt like “the odd shut-in,” she rarely flies solo on stage. In addition to the recent accompaniment of a modern dancer at a few shows, Fellows’ live experience is entwined with visual artist Shary Boyle’s art projections. Fellows explains that her love of “interplay” onstage isn’t balking at playing by the rules, but by not having any rules to begin with.
“I still kind of think of myself as something of an outsider to the music in the first place,” she says, “and maybe that just makes it easier for me to incorporate other elements because I’m not really hard and fast on what I do. I don’t even know how to define it half the time.”
As for the spinster’s fate: What if there was no witness to your life?
“Maybe it doesn’t really matter,” she says. “Maybe everybody’s just sort of working towards putting good things out into the world. Maybe that’s all that matters.”
See it live: Christine Fellows, with artistic collaborator Shary Boyle, plays The Music Gallery tonight.