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Photo credit: Félix Bernier

Getting To KnowBeachglass


I’ve realised that it’s like a therapeutic process for me, and almost necessary if I want to be in a healthy mental state.
Alternative Melodies Canada - Published: 24th July 2017 - - Words & Questions: A Lonely Ghost Burning -

If you happen to be seeking respite from the barrage of pressure that the world and, perhaps with even greater persistence, your restless inner self would appear to insist upon applying, Beachglass might just have you covered. The anxiolytic project of Canadian multi-instrumentalist Andrea Cormier featured on volume six of our Alternative Melodies series, her debut EP, Clouding, having quietly and humbly garnered attention by offering listeners a temporary relief from whatever weight lay heavy on their shoulders along with an exceedingly pleasant breeze to subsequently float away on; a chill, dreamy journey of psychedelic comfort and mellisonant escape. A Lonely Ghost Burning spent some time getting to know Andrea, learning of her struggles with self-discipline, the importance to her story of finally finding a truly encouraging support network, and how she's come to recognise the leading role that anxiety, and the attempt to escape it, plays in her output.

Refamiliarise / Become Acquainted ?

The Interview

For how long have you been writing songs, and what was it that inspired you to start?

Andrea: I started writing songs when I was nineteen — so seven, eight years ago. I don’t know what drew me to that; I guess, as a younger person, I always respected musicians more when I found out they wrote their own lyrics and music. I’m not sure why. I just felt like it was something that seemed very difficult to do, and I kinda wanted to see if I could do that. I just remember sitting in my parent’s garage and trying to write lyrics and melodies. For a long time, it didn’t work, actually; for a few years, I really struggled. It’s really hard at first.

Was there a specific point where things changed and you started to believe it could work?

Andrea: Sometimes I don’t even feel like I’m quite there yet. Something did click, but it took a really long time. I guess I started writing more seriously like three or four years ago. I felt like I was getting somewhere; I was like, “Okay, it’s getting easier.” I moved to Montreal around that time, so maybe the change of scenery was inspiring. There was some adaptation too, and some hard times, so that can fuel creative energy. So, it might just have been the change in my environment. I still feel like I have a lot of work to do; it’s something I work on every day if I can.

What is your process as a songwriter then?

Andrea: The melody comes first for me, always. I consider myself a musician before a singer — I don’t identify myself as a singer — so what comes naturally to me is the melody. I have these moods sometimes when I’m in a bit of a dream state — off in this other world… I can’t explain it, but I’m able to recognise that feeling now, and when I have it, I’m like, “Okay, I need to pick up a guitar and play around.” So, I just mess around on the guitar — usually, some chords come out of that and then the melody. I’ve noticed that I have different chunks of melody that come at different times and, at some point, I just try to combine them and turn it into a song. Usually, the way I know if it’s the melody I should be using is if I wake up the next morning and still have it in my head — then I know I have to do something with it; if I forget it then it usually means that it’s not good. I’ll usually just record little bits on my iPhone then go to bed; when I wake up, whatever I have in my head, I use that as a base for my next song.

The hardest part for me is the lyrics because I find it quite difficult to articulate what I’m feeling or thinking, which I usually do through melodies and sounds — it’s very hard for me to mirror that in words. So, the lyrics usually take me anywhere from two weeks to six months. It’s ridiculous. [laughs] I know some people are very good at just sitting down and disciplining themselves and writing the lyrics to a song in thirty minutes — I don’t have that gift, unfortunately.

Do you do anything to try and improve your lyrical capabilities?

Andrea: Yes, actually: I read a lot. It’s funny, but I never used to read that much because I have a very short attention span; I couldn’t sit down and just read. Maybe about four years ago, I started reading more — in English and in French — so that’s been helping a lot. I’ve been doing a lot of writing exercises; I actually took a creative process writing class last year, and I find that that really opens some doors for me. I try to keep up with those exercises, but it’s very hard to be disciplined and to do that every day. I go through phases, but I try to write a little bit every day, whether that’s a journal entry or poem, or just a sentence that came into my mind at some point. Every time I have an idea that comes at a weird time, I just make sure to write it down right away because I’ve noticed that I usually forget it. I’m really sad because I sometimes put it in my notes on my iPhone, but I accidentally deleted all my notes the other day. [laughs]

Oh, no! That’s not good!

Andrea: It’s not meant to be; that’s how I have to see it. I usually try to write in an actual notebook, but it’s not always the case, like if you don’t have one on you or whatever. Anyway… So, that happened. [laughs]

You mentioned that you’re now able to identify the moods that will allow you to achieve better productivity. Do you do anything to encourage those moods into being, or is it a case of ‘they happen when they happen’?

Andrea: Well, for a long time I saw it as something that happened when it happened, but after the creative process class that I took — it was focused on writing, but it also, I felt, was applicable to music and art, and in general — I’m kind of at that point where I’m trying to figure out how I can inspire those moods. I’ve definitely noticed that, for some reason, meditation really helps. I’m a pretty anxious person, so I find that when I’m in a calmer state of mind, I open myself up to the world more: to my inner world as well as the outer world. So, I’ve been doing a lot of meditation. Also, a lot of the work is actually just finding inspiration and then those moods come more frequently. There’s been this shift in the way I see the world, and I think it helps that I’ve been doing an arts degree. I went back to school and it’s been really influencing the way I perceive things — it’s great. I’ve been more aware of my environment, trying to go to more exhibitions, reading more, watching movies, and just feeding my soul, basically. Since I’ve been doing that, these creative moods are more frequent, and I’m actually realising that they’re even controllable. I’m not quite there yet, but I feel like, at some point, I’d maybe be able to identify it and be able to sit down and use it. Maybe eventually I’ll be able to do it at specific times of the day, but I’m not quite there yet; it’s still quite random, but I’m working towards that.

What sort of mood do you tend to find yourself in when you have had a period of productivity?

Andrea: I usually feel very satisfied. It’s kinda funny; it’s the same feeling for me as when I do a sport or workout — which, I have to admit, is something I don’t do very often. [laughs] I feel at peace after; I feel like I’ve said what I had to say. I also get an excited feeling, where I’m like, “I can’t wait to get up tomorrow and keep working on it.” So, it’s kind of a mixture of feelings, but usually satisfaction and eagerness.

Are there any especially prominent creative obstacles you face?

Andrea: Oh, God — I feel like it’s a constant obstacle. It’s really hard, actually. Finding the self-discipline is where I struggle a lot. I find that when I’m in school, in the winter, it’s very easy because I have a schedule and I’m forced to be productive; I have deadlines, and I find that I’m already in that beat. It’s easy for me to stay in that beat for music, for example, but in the summer, I find it very difficult to just give myself specific times every day where I work on something. I know that the best way to be productive is to work on your project a little bit every day, but some days I don’t get around to doing it. So, self-discipline, definitely, is a huge part of creativity and it’s probably where I struggle the most; I think a lot of people struggle with that.

Then there’s the confidence thing, where you create something but you’re like, “Oh, it’s shit, so I’m just gonna throw it out.” There’s a lot of stuff that I’ll create but never share with anyone, so that’s a constant obstacle. What else? I mean, there are tonnes. It’s so difficult. I don’t think it’s realistic to produce all the time, but I admire the people that seem to be very much in their element and producing and inspiring and inspired. I feel like I do have phases where I’m like that, but mostly… I’m gonna be honest — it’s mostly a struggle.

How easily then are you able to convince yourself that the work you do produce is worthwhile?

Andrea: That’s something I ask myself every day: I’m like, “Why do I do this? Why am I putting all my time and energy into music and art?” I’ve realised that it’s like a therapeutic process for me, and almost necessary if I want to be in a healthy mental state. It’s an outlet for me. I notice that, when I don’t create, I turn into this monster; I get very irritable and I just don’t see the world in the same way, so it’s like I have to do this for my mental health. It’s stronger than me, and I need it.

Does being a writer ever force you into contemplating things you’d rather not?

Andrea: For sure, but like I was saying: it’s an outlet for that; for the things that make me sad or angry in life. I’m not just talking personally, but like, what’s going on politicly and all that kind of stuff. It’s a way for me to reflect on all that, so even if I might not want to talk about it or face it, writing is my way to deal with that. So yeah, it forces me to think about things that I don’t want to, but at the same time it helps me tackle them.

Has the political climate of the last twelve months affected your art at all?

Andrea: It’s definitely given me a sense of purpose. If anything, it’s made me feel like I’m a part of some sort of movement. I’m like, “Okay, I have to start using my art as a way to speak about these things.” I’m not sure if it comes through yet, but it definitely influences the way I tackle it. I don’t necessarily want my work to be political, but I want for people to find some kind of solace in it. So yeah, it’s definitely made me question my role as an artist.

I try to stay informed, but I’m also hesitant to get too informed. I know I should be more aware of what’s going on. I feel like part of me has always shut out the media, but at the same time, right now, I feel like I need to be more informed with everything that’s going on. I try to stay up-to-date, but it’s very depressing.

Is there anything that irritates or frustrates you about the style of music that you make?

Andrea: For sure! Actually, the songs on the EP are songs that I wrote when I was 23, so it’s been almost four years. It took me a long time to start showing my music to people because I didn’t have the confidence I needed, so when I felt ready, I was like, “Okay, I have to start with these songs that I’ve been putting off for years.” When I listen to the EP, there’s part of me that’s really happy with it, because I’ve been wanting to materialise these songs for so long, but I’ve also evolved a lot since then, and I’m kinda taking a different path in music. As much as I love psychedelic music and shoegaze and alternative, I’m at a crossroads; I have a background in folk music, so I’m trying to combine the two right now and I feel like my music is becoming more melodic and more multi-faceted. I feel like the songs on the EP are very simple and naive, in a way. Right now, I feel a bit frustrated in that sense; I feel like that EP does not represent fully where I am right now as a musician. But I imagine that’s something that every musician feels when they release an album. It’s representative of a specific time, which is cool — it’s kind of like a diary — but then people assume that that’s where you’re at now, and I think that’s the struggle for some musicians.

Do you have any fears that being an artist brings into greater focus?

Andrea: If you’re talking literal fears then the only thing I’m really afraid of is death, dying, change, time passing; I mean, for me, it’s all the same thing. That’s something I’m really afraid of, and I find that’s something that comes up a lot in my work: like, being caught in a dream or trying to escape reality and being in this dreamworld that I’ve crafted as a defence mechanism or something. So, my creative process has definitely revealed how much that affects me and scares me. But, being an artist in itself, I find, is terrifying too: for emotional reasons, but also for practical reasons. It’s a path that I’ve chosen but, at the same time, I have no idea where I’m going with this, so it’s terrifying; I probably won’t even be able to live. [laughs]

This question sounds very dramatic, but is it a path you’re treading alone?

Andrea: I guess, for most of my life, I felt like I was alone in that; I felt like I didn’t really have anyone who understood where I was going or helping or pushing me. But, I’m beginning to find my community in Montreal. I’ve been here for almost five years now, and I feel like it took a long time for me to find my niche here, but there’s definitely a really strong artistic community. Most people — I mean, I can’t say everyone — but most people who are artists will encourage other artists and give each other opportunities. I find, more and more, that my friends who are musicians will be like, “Do you wanna play a set at this show?” or “Would you like for me to include your photography in this?” Just having a support system — someone who’s living the same thing and understands what it’s like — is extremely important, and I feel like that’s what it took for me to start doing shows and start recording music. Also, I’m very lucky — my partner has been hugely important in all of this; he’s totally turned me around. It’s amazing! I’ve never had anyone who’s encouraged my passion. I really needed that support system and at least one person who believed in me and was going down a similar path; my partner happens to be a photographer too, so he understands the artistic struggle.

So, I don’t feel like I’m alone anymore, which is why, I think, I’ve been more productive in recording and getting myself out there. But, it took me a really long time because, for the majority of my life, I was alone.

You mention live opportunities. Are you able to play shows often, and do you enjoy that element of being a musician?

Andrea: More and more. I’m not doing that many — this year I’ve done five or six shows. I’ve just recently put a band together but, before that, I was on my own, so I was just doing solo shows. That was hard because I feel like the EP is totally different from what I was playing by myself, live. I’ve been doing shows since I was like seven because my dad’s a musician and he encouraged me and my sisters to start performing at a very young age but, unfortunately, I feel like it kinda traumatised me in a way. We were put on this weird pedestal where he’d be doing his thing then at the end he’d invite his daughters on stage and everyone would be like, “Wow! His daughters!” I mean, I was very shy, so it was hard. I like being on stage, but it’s extremely vulnerable and almost embarrassing sometimes because it’s like you’re naked in front of a bunch of people. It’s so weird and really hard, but I feel like I’m starting to get used to it more, especially performing by myself. I’m excited to start performing with my band; I think that will be a completely different experience.

Whilst you mentioned earlier that you feel like you’ve moved on from the EP, I imagine it must still be quite exciting to know that you’ll be able to play those songs as they were intended now that you have put a band together. I mean, the record seems to have had a very positive reaction online.

Andrea: Yeah, I was actually very surprised about that. I really didn’t expect that my music would be listened to and played internationally. [laughs] Which is really weird. So, it’s still really exciting to be able to play those songs with the full band, because like I said: I was playing them by myself, in my room, for years. It’s a completely different experience to have them come alive like that. For sure, it doesn’t represent me much anymore, but it’s still a liberating feeling.

You also have an interest in photography, right?

Andrea: I don’t know if I can call myself a photographer but, around the same time I started learning music, I took some dark room, black and white photography courses, and I fell in love with the process. Since then, I’ve been doing photography on the side — well, I’m doing a degree in fine arts now, and I’m doing a major in photography. I actually have another degree that I never ended up using, but photography is my other passion. I’m also really into poetry, so what I’ve been doing is making these little photography booklets with text — that’s what I’ve been doing at school for a while.

So, is there any overlap between your passions?

Andrea: That’s really interesting because it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I realised that my photography is essentially the visual component of my music — or just my creative process in general; I feel like it’s the visual representation of the things I express in my music. It’s similar imagery, similar mood, similar colour palettes sometimes. I find that my music brings me to this weird, dreamy world, and the photos that I take are the visual representations of that. When I look at my photography and when I listen to my music, I feel like it’s essentially the same thing for me — it’s just different ways of expressing that, I guess.

Could you see yourself combining the two: heavily delving into your own photography for album covers, inserts etc?

Andrea: That would be cool, but I find what I’m more interested in is giving other artists a chance to contribute. For this first EP, I was kinda stuck so I just used a collage I made, but for the next album, I’ve already chosen people to do the album artwork: the jacket and stuff. I find it’s so easy to get wrapped up in your own ‘this is my moment, this is my art’, but I want to give the chance to other people to have their voice heard and just give them a little bit of exposure, maybe, and share part of themselves. I see art as something very communal, and I feel like it should be inclusive. So, I don’t know if I’m necessarily interested in making my own album artwork; I’d rather do an album with someone else’s art and then show my photography and poetry in a different context — like a book or an exhibition.

Okay, so what makes you smile?

Andrea: People, I think: their actions. I find when people say something really encouraging or really touching or really meaningful then it’s like a genuine smile that I have. I feel the energy of the other person and the compassion or empathy or whatever it is they’re expressing.

I have these encounters with strangers, more and more, where I’ll be walking down the street and someone will just come up to me — someone I’ve never seen before — and they’ll say something extremely inspiring, and I’m like, “Where… Where… Where did you come from?” [laughs] It’s really strange. I don’t know what’s going on but this keeps happening lately, and I find those are moments where I feel genuinely really happy.

That sounds very much like the pilot for an eerie TV drama…

Andrea: [laughs] It’s so weird. I’m not sure what it is; maybe I’m just more aware or open to these things than I was before. Before, I would probably have been like, “Who’s this weird person talking to me?” and walked away. I’m not like that anymore. But, anyway… It doesn’t happen as much as I’m making it sound. [laughs] But it happens, and those are moments that really make me smile; not just my face, but internally.

Is there anything that you specifically hope to communicate to people through your work?

Andrea: For sure. I like the idea of being able to communicate something, but I think it’s a complex question because there’s a lot of things that I want to communicate. My work is very autobiographical, in a way. What I’m realising is that a lot of my work is about my anxiety and depression — I find that people who deal with anxiety often have both. It’s something that I communicate a lot in my work, directly or indirectly. I really want people to recognise themselves in that: to find that other people are dealing with these things, and I want to inspire people to find their creative vessel; their way of dealing with this. It took me a long time to realise, but my work really does speak to anxiety, so I would hope that people could find some comfort in that.

To what extent has anxiety affected you as an artist and performer over the years?

Andrea: Hugely. I think that’s the major reason that I took so long to start sharing my work. For a long time, I would refuse opportunities to play or record; I would turn down jam sessions or possible collaborations, or sometimes I just wouldn’t show up or answer messages. That was a while ago, like in my early twenties, but honestly, if I’d continued that way, I don’t think I would have made this EP and I wouldn’t be doing shows. I’m not sure where it changed or what clicked; I think I just got fed up and was like, “I have to stop letting this control my life.”

Finally, to what extent would you like your creative output to define you as a person?

Andrea: That’s a really hard question… I guess I want it to define me almost completely. I don’t know if that’s because I’m trying to hide behind it or something. I guess I just want people to be inspired, so if I can be a person that’s inspiring to someone because of what I’m creating then that would be the ultimate feeling.

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