I Am YEG Arts: Mallory Chipman
August 10, 2023
Mallory Chipman is a musician, songwriter, producer, music educator, and according to her, a music lover and listener first and foremost. With a voice that has been described as “warm as prairie sun and clear as mountain water” this local raconteuse’s songs give voice to complex feelings and allows her to explore the community she calls home. In this week’s I Am YEG Arts feature, Mallory reflects on her sources of inspiration, her recent EAC funded project, her new role as EPL’s Songwriter in Residence, and what’s coming up next.
Tell us about your connection to Edmonton and what keeps you living and working here.
I’ve lived in Edmonton for most of my life and I love this city. I know that’s probably a cliché answer, but maybe a good way to sum it up is that recently I was on tour through Western Canada and we played 29 different shows in 29 different places, and there were so many wonderful communities that we toured through, but more than anything at the end, I was like, “Oh my gosh, we are so lucky to have the scene we do in Edmonton”. And that was a huge takeaway for me. I think it really speaks to the amazing community here, the fact that it’s possible to be a full-time musician here and you know, be able to let that be your livelihood. I think it’s really unique. I also love that it’s so rich in so many different areas like music, theatre, dance, visual arts. And while music is the field that I work in, I really appreciate and love attending other arts events.
How did you get your start as a singer/songwriter? Was it always plan A?
I’ve played music in some capacity my whole life. I was probably about one when my mom put me into Kinder music and I started taking piano lessons when I was probably around five. So I always engaged with it, and it was something that I really, deeply loved. But I actually anticipated it would be a hobby for most of my life. I had a lot of other passions growing up, and still do. I really love engaging in many different things and dabbling. In high school I had already applied to do a Film Studies and English degree at the U of A and gotten my acceptance. And then it was actually a recruitment program from MacEwan University that came out to my drama class advertising their theatre program and they left a couple pamphlets at the end that said, “Oh, we actually also have a music degree starting up that you might be interested in” and I was like, you know, I hadn’t really considered doing that in university, centralizing music at the helm of my practice as an artist. That helped me get on that track.
Obviously, the rest was history; this is what I’ve been doing since then, and it’s been 12 years now that I’ve been doing this as my work. I wouldn’t be surprised if I had somehow wound up here had it even started in a different way because [music] was always so integral to my artistic practice. I think that it wasn’t necessarily obvious that this would happen. I think it took something just to be like, OK, just focus on this for a while, you know, don’t worry about having other things to draw your attention. And that really helped, just kind of concretized to me like, OK, this is what I want and need to be doing.
As a storyteller, what narrative or inspiration do you find yourself returning to in your music?
I think a couple of trends that come up tend to be based on personal experience. I find songwriting is a vehicle through which I process a lot of things that I feel sometimes words don’t quite do justice for. For example, like coping with grief for even climate grief or things like that, feelings of burnout and patterns that you want to let go of. A lot of my own processing definitely occurs through my songwriting, and that narrative seems to show up fairly often.
I think probably my greatest inspiration is nature. A lot of tunes come to me when I’m out walking my dogs in the river valley or when I’m in the mountains, and a lot of that content also thematically shows up in my lyric writing.
You recently received an Individuals & Collectives grant to continue work on your birdsongs project. Tell us more about this work and how this project has helped you explore your musicianship and community.
This is such a fun project. Through some funding from the Edmonton Arts Council’s Experimentation & Exploration grant, I was able to take some time and embark on what I learned to call zoomusicology research, which is the study of animal music and interpreting animal sounds as music. It was something that I didn’t know how it would end up in a project. Would it end up in a product? I didn’t know for sure at the beginning because it was a little bit unusual, but such a rewarding process. And it really, really brought together two of my greatest loves. I have a deep fondness for birds, probably because they’re singers too, and something that I’ve loved about them is their songs. This project stemmed from a place of imagining a future where maybe there are less bird songs which really deeply troubled me, and also from a place of reverence for the birds that are here and for their beautiful melodies and thinking, OK, I think there is a seed there of an idea.
What it led me to do was go out into the fields and take recordings. I drove several thousands of kilometers across Alberta one summer, taking different recordings of different bird songs and coming home and parsing through them, I noticed a trend. Some of them were birds that I had seen before and some of them were birds that were totally new to me. And largely that was because these birds were at risk or endangered, and so the likelihood of interacting with them is a little less.
This project that I decided to embark upon was taking the bird songs and bird calls of birds that are at risk or are endangered, and writing songs based on those melodies and writing the lyrics in a way that maybe spotlights some of the struggle that those birds are enduring right now whether due to habitat loss or you know climate change or things like that.
It was a really interesting process because some of these birds don’t have the same vocal apparatus that we do. And so, trying to translate their calls, some of which were polyphonic, many of which worked in a key that we wouldn’t typically use in Western music and say, OK, how do I interpret this now with my musical skill set? Interpreting the calls somewhat impressionistically and embedding them into larger compositions was the bulk of the process. Then in the end I recorded four of the songs that I wrote and put them out on an EP called As Though I Had Wings that came out in May 2023.
In 2022 you released Wayward Daughter, the first album from The Goddamsels. How was the process of cowriting an album different from your usual process? Were there any highlights or insights that emerged from the experience?
It was very different because not only was it a collaborative project where some of the tunes were co-written, but also my co-writing partner and my partner in the Goddamsels (Freddie MacDougall) while she is from Edmonton originally, she’s living in Montréal right now; she moved out there for school. So, we weren’t just co-writing, we were co-writing at a distance. And that is a different kind of experience because it’s one thing to be in a room with somebody, sharing the energy and both feeding off of that, and it’s another to hop on Zoom and have the delay or the lag and still try to make something happen creatively. It was a test of our “outside the box thinking” and our patience with getting over some of these technological hurdles.
But it was super rewarding because we all have our “isms”. I have “Mallory-isms” in my writing. And co-writing is such a great way to shake that up. My writing partner, she will be like, “oh, yeah, that sounds too much like this. I was thinking like this” and help us draw different sounds out of each other and reframe some of the musical trends we’re typically drawn to, to create something a little bit more unique.
I feel with this project she and I have lots of overlap in the music we love, but also some pretty significant different musical influences from one another too. And so, I think it’s been really great for both of us to write music we never necessarily would have written before if that other person hadn’t been there helping us dial into that specific sound. We’ve done a lot of writing together since and we have a new record coming out next year.
It was just announced that you’re about to start a new role as EPL’s inaugural Songwriter in Residence. Tell us about this role and what drew you to apply for this position.
What drew me to apply was that I really do love collaborating and working in community with people and I’ve done a lot of work where I’ve been in the role of like instructor or mentor. I taught at MacEwan for about seven years, and there I had a lot of experience either teaching one-on-one or group classes or ensembles. While I decided to move on from that to focus a little bit more on my own creative practice, it’s always been something really dear to me and I really love doing that work and helping facilitate people’s growth.
When I saw the job posting for this go up, it seemed like such a great opportunity because it would be a mix of that and some programming and curating the next season’s intake of the Capital City Records catalogue. I’ve also done some music programming and some record label work, so it kind of seemed to be this trifecta things I love.
There are great resources at the downtown EPL (the Milner). There’s a whole recording studio in the makerspace; it’s pretty incredible. So, folks will have access to that and there will also be some group programs and “office hours” where people can come and chat about their music, their careers, grant writing, etc. Those will all be offered free of charge.
It’s a really special opportunity because the artist who is tenured in this position will only be so for one year and then a new artist will come into the role. They are compensated fairly, and meanwhile the public gets it for free. It’s really the dream, because music is for everybody and it’s a way that we can offer it in a really accessible capacity.
What are you currently working on or hope to explore next?
Right now, I’m in between some touring legs and I’m trying to take a beat here because it’s been a lot of travel and I head back out on the road at the end of August. When I do come back from that I have another record that I’m producing. I’m looking to release the first single from that either late this year or early next year. I’ve also been looking forward to sitting down at the piano or with my guitar and writing some tunes. When you’re on the road, you don’t necessarily get a lot of downtime and when you do, you don’t necessarily have a lot of creative steam left.
About Mallory Chipman
Mallory Chipman is an award-winning musician, songwriter, and producer from Edmonton, Canada. Throughout her decade long career, she has traversed genres from folk to jazz to rock to country, and has released five albums to critical acclaim, both with her solo project and her band The Goddamsels. She has shared the stage with the likes of Don Ross, Madeleine Peyroux, Heart, and numerous symphony orchestras, and has toured throughout Canada and Europe. Her powerful voice and story-driven songwriting has been described as “some of the finest folk rock currently being made” (Amplify Music Magazine) and has set her apart as “a rising light in Canadian music” (NewTech Radio). Alongside her performance work, Mallory is an esteemed music scholar and educator, vocal coach, and recently founded Canada’s first ever co-operative record label, Tunnel Mountain Records. She currently holds the position of the Edmonton Public Library’s inaugural Musician in Residence.