20 Questions With: Celeigh Cardinal
Métis singer/songwriter Celeigh Cardinal has won an Aboriginal Youth Role Model Award, participated in the Banff Centre for the Arts’ Re(Claim) program, been named Cultural Ambassador for the Arctic Winter Games, and received an “ATB Listens” grant from ATB Financial.
And that was all before the release of her dazzling debut album, Everything and Nothing At All (2017).
She has since attended the Indigenous Music Residency in Manitoba, performed at Folk Alliance International in Kansas City, and earned a 2018 Indigenous Music Awards nomination for Best Pop Album, a Western Canadian Music Award nomination for Indigenous Artist of the Year and a whopping seven nominations at the upcoming Edmonton Music Awards. She’s also scheduled a European tour for later this year, and started work on her second album. If it’s anything like the first, we can expect a soulful blend of roots, folk, rock and pop alongside some seriously powerful vocals (not to mention a ton of acclaim).
Between local gigs and songwriting sessions, Celeigh recently made time for an interview about all things music. Get to know her in the 20 Questions below.
How and when did you know you wanted to be a singer?
My first time singing solo on stage was when I was four years old. For as long as I can remember, this is what I’ve wanted to do. I feel very lucky to have unquestioningly known my passion from a very young age.
How would you describe your sound, and has it changed over time?
Eeee. Hardest question. I would say my voice is influenced by blues and Motown music, while my songwriting is influenced by folk and singer/songwriters. So it’s a mixed bag of genres.
Do you have an artistic agenda? If so, what is the story you’re trying to tell through your music?
Songwriting and performing for me is my emotional release (also therapy), and all that matters to me when I do these things is if it evokes an emotional response from others.
Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?
I think the first song I wrote was when I was 12, and it was called, Pass the Bread Around the Table, and it was about sharing. It’s not my best work, and it is awash with Christian subtext (I used to be religious).
Walk us through your songwriting process.
When it comes to songwriting, I have many different approaches. Sometimes a melody comes to me first and I build a song around it. Sometimes I have an outpouring of lyrics, and later create the music. I even write songs in my dreams and wake up and record them into my phone as quickly as I can.
Do you prefer songwriting or performing?
I would say I prefer performing. It’s my favourite thing to do. Writing doesn’t come as easily, and I tend to prefer things I am naturally good at.
As a performer, how important are the musicians you play with? Is talent enough, or do you look for something more?
Though talent and skill are very important, one must never underestimate the importance of a good hang. Travelling with people you don’t get on with is THE WORST. You’re in a relationship with the people you play music with, a very special one. It’s imperative that you work well together.
Do you have a pre-performance routine or any superstitions?
Typically, I try to have a bath before performances. I still get a lot of anxiety and adrenaline from performing, so I try to stay as calm as I can before I perform.
Best gig you ever played?
Opening for the Beach Boys.
Who’s your favourite artist to cover?
Right now, Stevie Wonder. So funky.
You’re banished to an island with only a Discman and unlimited batteries. Which three CDs do you take with you?
JT – James Taylor, When the Pawn – Fiona Apple, Greatest Hits – The Band.
What are you listening to these days?
Though I am a 90s girls in a 90s world, I have been adding new music into my catalogue these days. I’ve actually been listening to a lot of my Indigenous Canadian peeps, cause they’re making such good music! A few, but not all, examples would be Jeremy Dutcher, Sebastian Gaskin, Wolf Saga, Digging Roots, Lacey Hill, and so many more. But I am also listening to Theo Katzman, Vulfpeck, Erin Costelo, First Aid Kit. Oh, and the Fugees made it back into my playlist.
We first met you at the Indigenous Music Residency in Manitoba earlier this month. What was that experience like, and what’s the best piece of advice you picked up?
That was a profound and life-changing experience for me. I was raised in a very white Christian environment. My father grew up in foster homes. I’ve never felt like I belonged anywhere until I met these other musicians, everyone so unique, talented, and Indigenous. The support and community I felt, I had never known before. The feeling of belonging is so important. It was amazing. I’m so grateful for it, but also wish I could have had it at a younger age.
Some Indigenous artists choose to embrace their culture, while others completely ignore it. Others fall somewhere in between. Tell us a bit about your roots and the role they play in both your day-to-day life and your music in particular.
I’m somewhere in between because I don’t come from an Indigenous community, besides my immediate family, who are Metis and who were all raised in foster homes. I can only speak to my experience, so when writing that is the place where I come from.
What do you do when you’re not making music?
Eighty per cent of my time is spent working on the admin aspect of a music career: social media, website, booking, etc. Ten per cent performing, five per cent writing and five per cent having baths.
You also have a podcast called Learning To Listen. Tell us about that.
Ooooh, so the podcast came about when myself and a good friend/sometimes musical collaborator, Quinn Clark (he has his own group as well, The Give ‘Em Hell Boys), decided that our conversations were funny enough to share with a niche group of people who also like podcasts and probably have hilarious conversations with their friends. We both liked similarly styled podcasts, mostly just conversational, and put this together. We just sit down at Quinn’s kitchen table, sometimes over a beer, sometimes over sparkling water, and chat with other musicians about anything and everything that comes to our minds.
As a musician, how do you define success?
Honestly, just being able to live off of it. I feel successful in that sense, but I suppose more sustainability, and maybe some medical benefits would be nice.
It is also very important to me that I’m contributing some representation in music for younger Indigenous artists. When I was growing up, I never saw anyone like me playing music (except Buffy, who I didn’t relate to musically) and I know how important it is to be able to relate and have role models. If I can do that, I feel I’ve done something.
What has been your biggest struggle or challenge, either personally or professionally?
Balance. That is my struggle with everything. I have an ‘all or nothing’ complex, so I’m either working so hard I can barely keep up, or I’m doing absolutely nothing and in recovery from that. However, I’m self-aware enough to say I’m working on it.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned along the way?
You have to do what you love. I cannot do anything else; most other jobs make me miserable. If I was in the constant pursuit of a career in music, I would be very unhappy, and I’ll never settle for anything less than happiness again. Life is way too short.
What are you currently working on, and what’s coming up for you in the next year?
Touring, touring, hopefully a new album (grants have been written) and more touring! I’m headed to Sweden, Denmark and hopefully Germany in the fall, and I really want to go to Australia and New Zealand next year. I love travelling!