A series of Jim Reilly's interviews with players, fans, and the people
behind the scenes of the Chapman Stick. These interviews can be heard
regularly on CFBX radio, 92.5 FM in Kamloops, B.C. Canada.
"The best music always defies categorization."
May 18, 2003
Dale Ladouceur defies categorization. Her bio calls her "a Chapman Stick singer songwriter with many recordings to her credit, both of her own and with other artists." She's also a journalist, an activist and an environmentalist. In The Edmonton Sun, Mike Ross wrote, "(Dale is) one of Edmonton's most outspoken environmental activists."
Turning to her music for a definition doesn't help much. She describes her just released album (Dale Ladouceur and the Broke Ensemble's 'Brimstone and Clover') as "an indefinable blend of folk, rock and jazz." I hear many things: intelligent lyrics, vocals with a Linda Perry edge, shades of 'Dream of the Blue Turtles' era Sting, Canadian folk sensibilities like Bruce Cockburn and Spirit of the West. But most of all I hear a woman and a group that is comfortable in it's own skin.
The Canadian press has picked up on Dale and they're excited. The new band and new album has received rave reviews both in print and on CBC radio.
Dale's previous solo project (the Mavens' album 'To You') was an excellent debut. At it's heart was Dale's voice blending with her singer/songwriter influenced Stick playing. This new album has taken that many steps further. Her Stick playing is on a new level, they've added a sax player, the vocal arrangements are thick and rich and there is a sense of contentment and passion. It's as if DL and the Broke Ensemble have nothing to prove, their music is there and it's strong and it's going to wrap itself around you like a warm blanket even if you weren't expecting it to.
I like Dale's Stick playing because it's almost as if it's not there. Dale's a great player, rock solid, but she's not wrapped up in the pyrotechnics of the instrument. The Stick came to her as a means to write songs and when I listen to her play it feels like every note she plays serves only to strengthen the song.
In conversation, Dale's passion and lust for life comes through loud and clear. As do her sense of humour and the sense that while she takes herself, her music and her beliefs seriously, she doesn't take them solemnly. She's purposeful and direct but still maintains a childlike sense of humour and mischievousness.
So what category are we going to put Dale into? We're not going to put her into any category. Like all the best music we'll leave categorizing alone and just enjoy it for the wonderful music it is.
Jim Reilly: Let's start with the new stuff. Tell me about the new album and the new band and the new name…
Dale Ladouceur: The new band is Dale Ladouceur and the Broke Ensemble. It's like my old band, the Mavens, with a sax player added. Live, we've added another vocalist because there are so many vocals on the album. We released the album May 10th and had just a phenomenal reaction from the media, which we are pretty pumped about. Chris Allen compared it to Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark, which was so exciting I couldn't believe it.
It's a folk/rock/jazz album and I've never been happier with anything I've recorded either by myself or with anybody else.
JR: How does it compare to the Mavens album?
DL: It's the same kind of folk/art/jazz music but I think it's slightly more jazzy. The song writing is better, the arrangements are stronger, my Stick playing is better. For the last five years I've gigged and played and recorded so much, you know how you get to different levels?
JR: It was '97 when you released the last album. What have you been doing since then?
DL: I have been gigging and recording and touring and writing pretty much non-stop. There was a brief stop in there to have a little life form (an eight-month old little girl named Ramsay). As soon as she was cooperative, which surprisingly was pretty much right away, we went right back at it.
I've scored some really amazing gigs.
JR: Yes, like with Bruce Cockburn. Tell me about that.
Dale with Bruce Cockburn
DL: It was really cool. Fergus Marsh, Bruce's old Stick player, had given me some gigs in Europe he couldn't make with Laura Smith. She's a folk vocalist from Halifax. We went to Europe and had a lot of fun. It meant a lot that Fergus referred me. I had interviewed Fergus for Canadian Musician a few years ago and we had kept in touch. I had met Bruce a few times as well.
When I found out Bruce was going to play at the G8 Summit in Calgary, I let his organizers know that I was going to be there. So we connected, went over the music and then I got to play with him.
And talk about awesome. It's not too often you get to play with your hero. All I need now are Mark Knopfler and Tom Waits.
JR: Did you do the old Fergus Stick tunes or new stuff?
DL: Just the Fergus Stick tunes, and yeah, it was awesome. Bruce hadn't played with Fergus for about 10 years, and when we played he was smiling… He's playing at the Edmonton Folk Festival this year. I don't want to jinx anything but I will be there, hopefully in the capacity of musician. I've let Bernie Finklestein, Bruce's manager, know I'll be there.
JR: You've been playing Stick for 17 years. What first attracted you to the instrument?
DL: A friend of mine got me a bootleg videotape that was only aired in England. It was as BBC documentary on the making of Peter Gabriel's Security album. Tony got on and said, "Here's a Stick. I don't know how many strings are on it, lot's of strings, and this is how it sounds."
Visually it floored me. I had been playing very, very bad guitar. I love guitar work. I can sing every solo Mark Knopfler has ever played. I just never had a rapport with the instrument.
When I saw Tony playing The Stick it just hit me immediately. It hit me so strongly visually and immediately made sense. I just had to get one. It took me about nine months to track one down. Everybody thought I was taking about drumsticks.
JR: Did you approach the instrument as a singer/songwriter right from the beginning?
JR: I find that very interesting. Most people I've talked to don't come to the instrument from that angle.
DL: Right, and you know what's really wild, at that first Canadian seminar we did in Vancouver I realized for the first time that I'm not so much a 'Stick Player.' I mean I am a Stick player and I've always called myself a Stick player but I'm more a singer/songwriter who uses The Stick.
JR: That really attracts me to your music. When I hear your music, you're not hiding behind the instrument. It's almost like The Stick is invisible when you're playing it. I think that is so important. It's a huge step we have to take to make the instrument more accepted and get less caught up in the mystic of playing this different instrument.
DL: Yeah, a lot of very technical players use it, but after that Vancouver seminar, Greg Howard came up to me and said that he had to get back into singing. It was cool to charge him up because he's such a great player.
I really have a strong suspicion, aside from my bizarre taste in music, that the music on this new album sounds so different because it was written on a Stick. A lot of people are using more than three superlatives to try and pigeonhole it into a style. I think that has a lot to do with writing on The Stick.
And not knowing any theory...
JR: So where does The Stick fit into the public image of Dale Ladouceur the performer?
DL: It goes right in my belt.
JR: Good, right where it belongs. What I'm trying to say is that you strike me as being the person before you're the instrument and if you were still playing guitar you'd be making the same kind of music.
DL: I guess so but The Stick certainly helps. I kind of have the market cornered, to us a cliché, on Stick players in this area. It's nice to be able to play such a unique and wild instrument in the sense that there's not a lot around and people will remember you immediately once they've seen you play.
I do a lot of clinics and workshops so I think my name is pretty identifiable with being a Stick player but I'm not 'in your face' with it. It's not all over the cover, not that there's anything wrong with that.
But you're right, it's the music that comes first.
JR: What's the Stick community like up in Edmonton these days?
DL: It rocks!
It's growing. I think there's four now aside from me, which is great because I was all by myself. I've got Stick brother from the north, Pat Braden. I've got a Stickstra to the west of me, Pat Tideman. I've got a few friends around.
It's amazing. I've never known an instrument to have such a strong link.
I was out in Halifax and Brian Bourne knew I was in town and invited me over for dinner with his family. How cool is that? Do you hear guitar players doing that? No.
JR: Why is that? Why is there this sense of community around this instrument?
DL: The guitar is 300 years old and The Stick is only 30. We have the opportunity to be on the forefront of this new music, this new discovery. It's really exciting. I think we're all drawn to this because we're all somewhat like-minded. There's a really strong, pardon the expression, brotherhood. I mean I'd open my door to a Stick player that was in town and often have.
In fact, you're not going to believe this story.
I'm seven months pregnant, I'm trying to record the bed tracks and my Stick needs a lot of work. I had just gotten a new pickup for it but it hadn't had a fret job the whole 17 years that I've had it.
Pat Braden had swung by and shown me his new Stick on his way up to the Northwest Territories. And, oh my God, it was so easy to play. It was so effortless, I was drooling all over it. It was amazing.
Bill, my drummer/producer/engineer/husband told me that he was going to get me a new Stick for my birthday, which in itself is pretty amazing. So we phoned Stick Enterprises, asked them how fast they could make one because we wanted to do the beds with it. They said it was going to be a few months. So I thought, maybe I could phone up Pat and ask he could part with it for like two weeks.
I got him on the phone and just slightly started to wind up my pitch, mustering the courage to ask him to part with his new toy and he just said, "Oh, well do you want me to send it down to you?" So he parted with his new Stick so I could do the beds!
I got my new Stick five days before the CD release party.
JR: All right, lay it on me. What did you get?
DL: I got a PASV 4, rosewood, rails, extended scale. I love the PASV 4, incredible tone variety. Really effortless. Pat's had Rods but I think I prefer the Rails. It seems more accurate. Incredibly growly. Great variety and range. I've only just started exploring the different tones. It's a standard tuned 10-string.
JR: Here's a good one: explain to our American Stick playing brothers and sisters what the Canadian independent music scene is like and what it takes to survive in a country where gigs are at least a days drive apart.
DL: Being musically incestuous and having a car with really good gas mileage.
JR: I'm tempted to ask you to elaborate but I think that's good enough. What about being a Stick player, is it possible to make a living as a Stick player?
DL: Well I am and have been for the past 11 years and we don't live in Vancouver or Toronto, so that's an accomplishment in itself I think. I have to tell you, there's something really special about Edmonton. Edmonton and Winnipeg have two of the healthiest music scenes. There is a ton of special music happening in this city, so many good players it's phenomenal. There must be something in the water.
I get a lot of curious people who want to know what The Stick would sound like on their album. I get asked to fill roles in different capacities: as a double bassist, or the standard rhythm and bass lines or as guitar player that doesn't really sound like a guitar player.
There are all sorts of different ways I've fallen into projects. Lately I've been branching out into theatre sound design, which has been incredible. I've been able to write and record some really amazing sound designs for Theatre Yes and Northern Light Theatre Company. It's been really exciting. When you write for theatre you don't have to create purely from that spark that you get inside. You have visuals to inspire you and a script to inspire you and the actors. In some ways it's a lot easier.
JR: But it hasn't been all fun and games. Tell me about the time your Stick got stolen.
DL: I was gigging with The Painting Daisies. It was our last gig of the tour and we had just gotten paid. These people who ripped us off really knew when to hit. We were at the Travel Lodge in Nanaimo, on the second floor.
We parked the van. I went to the back of the van first, grabbed some instruments and took them up to our rooms. It was the first and only time my instruments have not been in my room with me.
We had two rooms, two girls per room and the other two girls came over to our room to have an ale and talk for a few minutes before we crashed. They had left their balcony window open a couple of inches.
A couple of guys did the ninja catwalk up to the balcony, into the room and just pillaged. They took Daisy's guitar. They took my Stick. For a second I thought they took my beautiful Pensa Suhr fretless bass guitar that Mark Knopfler's guitar-maker made me. I would have been totally, doubly decimated if that had happened but luckily it was in the closet.
Wonderfully, idiots stole our instruments.
Figure this out: you're in Nanaimo, there's maybe three pawn shops in all of Nanaimo. You're a brief ferry ride away from Vancouver. What do you do? You bring it, after eight days, to one of three pawnshops in Nanaimo.
The guy at the pawnshop was looking at the poster that I made of the instruments, which said 'HAVE YOU SEEN THESE AXES?' He was looking at that over his shoulder and looking at this guy with these same instruments.
Of course he phoned the cops, which was great because I thought my life was over as I knew it. Thieves who steal musical instruments should burn in hell.
JR: What's coming up, any touring?
DL: We are. We're planning to do some festivals and some soft-seater venues in Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan in the next few months. For the festival circuit you have to start booking in November and with our album coming out in May we didn't have time to book. We'll be doing more of that next year.
Anybody who wants more information or a copy of the CD can go to www.crowtown.com and click on artists. You can also get the disc at stick.com.
Jim Reilly can be reached at
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