Interview: Edmonton Journal

Singer makes personal connection in her diverse emotional territory

By Roger Levesque

Some tunesmiths create material out of thin air but for the singer who calls herself Vissia, the songs on her new album are closely identified to a particular point in her personal story. That’s how she explains the title, Place Holder.

“It’s a collection of songs that run in the same vein but it wasn’t conceived that way. I look at each song, or even when I play them, I remember the moment or the experience that I was writing about, so I think of each song like like a Polaroid photo that holds a place in my overall experience.”

Edmonton’s Vissia has been making music in some fashion most of her life but this new third release is her most accomplished, varied, thought-provoking effort, yet in a folk-rock-Americana style with words that connect directly.

“I was a little nervous because some of the songs are extremely personal, like The Kind Of Good, about a rough patch in my life when I happened to be at a Folk Alliance conference. I hid it away for a long time because I wasn’t sure I would even be able to play it live. It was recorded live off the floor with with just my guitar and vocal but most of them are with the full band.”

 

In contrast, she calls the closing track You Don’t Know Her “a snarky song” inspired by observing another relationship. That only hints at the dynamic breadth of the album and the way Vissia’s voice stretches to cover that emotional territory.

Place Holder has been coming together for two years now. Vissia plays guitar and piano but credits lead guitarist Brayden Treble for adding a lot, with bassist Kurtis Cockerill and drummer Nich Davies (both friends from MacEwan) setting the grooves. Backing vocals include her sister, Andrea Vissia, and album co-producer, Emily Bachynski. It was recorded at Bachynski’s home studio.

Like many before her, Vissia admits that penning lyrics has a built-in therapeutic value and since she started around age 11, it has been easier for her to conjure up material from the darker side of life.

“I had some rough times growing up as a kid and that was kind of my way of coping, but those songs are quite different than what I’m doing now.”

For Vissia (born Alex Vissia), growing up in Stony Plain included piano, voice and guitar lessons, learning bass and singing in her church choir. But it was the fun of singing with her two sisters that got her into professional performance. Their country-folk trio, Vissia Sisters, performed for a decade, later changing to The Plain Janes on their full-length album in 2009. They sang at the Vancouver Olympics and were nominated in the Canadian Folk Music Awards.

Vissia moved into Edmonton eight years ago and enrolled in writing at MacEwan but gravitated back to music and switched to the music program, finding like collaborators and putting together her first band. She did her spare solo album A Lot Less Gold in 2011, followed by a more experimental E.P. Young Love in 2013. Now, Place Holder feels like “a new beginning,” not only because she chose to adopt the single stage name Vissia.

“I guess I took the time between records to settle into myself as an artist. It’s a more guitar-oriented album but it feels like there are a lot of possibilities.”

Following an official release in Toronto in November, she has already toured both sides of Canada to promote the album which will soon be available in vinyl as well as CD and digital. Place Holder is one of the first releases on Hurry Hard Records, the label Vissia co-founded with friend Nich Davies this fall. She keeps busy in Bad Buddy, the indie rock outfit she shares with Jeff O’Brien, Emily Bachynski and Andrea Vissia.

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Alex Vissia