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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Beautiful Animal

Chris Morin
Published Tuesday August 19, 11:38 pm
Megan Lane takes her songwriting in a bold new direction

Megan Lane
Friday 22
The Capitol

It was less than 100 years ago when the “coywolf” first emerged in eastern Canada. Half wolf, half coyote, the predator quickly spread across North America, including southern Ontario, the Maritimes and Québec.

But it wasn’t just in the wilderness where the animal thrived: the coywolf also made its home in urban settings, including parks, golf courses, alleyways and backyards in places like Toronto and New York City.

And Île Bigras.

Located in the Rivière des Prairies between Laval and Montréal and with a length of roughly one kilometre, Île Bigras is the largest of the four islands that make up the Îles-Laval archipelago. On Dec. 31, 2011, Megan Lane was celebrating New Year’s Eve there, having relocated to Montréal from the prairies.

The Saskatoon-born blues guitarist, songwriter and poet stepped outside for a cigarette — and with 10 minutes left in the year, Lane met a coywolf for the first time.

“It was huge, and at first I had no idea if it was actually a coyote or a wolf,” says Lane. “So we had a stare-down and we hung out, and it was a magical way to ring in the New Year. A year later, after I wrote the song ‘Coyote/Wolf’, I found out that this animal actually exists.”

Soon after, Lane began compiling material for the songs that now comprise her latest album, Sounding the Animal. And it was that surreal encounter with the coywolf that would eventually lead her down a bold new creative path, one that included a chance to work with noted Can-rock producer and musician Hawksley Workman.

“That’s where the record started: everything is based around that song,” says Lane. “That was the song that really got Hawksley on board to make the record — clearly it was a bit of a breakthrough in terms of my songwriting, and I started writing more based on the standard of that song.”

For anyone who remembers Lane as a raspy-throated guitar-slinger from the blues circuit, Sounding the Animal is an entirely different beast. The album is propelled by a distinctive stomp throughout, whether it’s a battered-sounding drum kit or bass-heavy club beats. Lane, who was a drummer before she was a guitar player, says the dance vibe comes from the fact that many of the songs were started with a rhythm or a bass line.

But there are still moments when Lane conjures the noises of her past: steeped in the Bud’s on Broadway blues sound, her guitar prowess is still front and centre, with shredded solos simmering amidst a confident rock strut. Along with abundant vocal harmonies and elements of raw soul, it’s clearly Lane has finally found herself a combination of a new sound and the familiar chords she grew up with.

“The old material and the last few records I almost consider demos in a lot of ways,” she says. “They were a part of the evolution of how I learned to become a writer. I was a bit of a music geek as a child and I poured a lot of energy into learning things like theory and scales. But it wasn’t until my early 20s that I realized that I had to put that energy into songwriting.

“To me, this feels like my first record.”



Even at an early age, Lane showed a clear aptitude for songwriting. Born into a musical family — Megan’s sister, Jen, is also an accomplished, touring folk songwriter — she says that instruments were the toys she and her family played with when they were children. After picking up the drums, Lane says she started to take the guitar seriously when she was 11 or 12.

“I would hide away in a corner and practice eight hours a day,” she says. “I became very inspired the first time I went to Bud’s on Broadway. My friend and his mom took me there on a Saturday afternoon — and Jordan Cook was there, Kyle Riabko was there and a lot of young people were getting up on stage and playing. And that got me out of the corner of my bedroom and out trying these things out on stage. It was an extremely nurturing environment for me.

“Big Dave McLean would come through and was a mentor for me and a lot of the other youth who came from those Bud’s jams,” she continues. “We started doing little tour stints around that and [played] the blues circuit for a while, until I was 16 and started getting more into the rock side of things.”

After several years playing throughout western Canada, Lane decided to move out of her comfort zone. Taking up residence in the Mile End quarter of Montréal, Lane started drawing inspiration from her neighbours.

“I was living and breathing art,” she says. “No one has walls up, and everyone is fluid.”

It was there where Lane began to collaborate with indie musician and writer Rae Spoon, who was recently the subject of a National Film Board of Canada documentary called My Prairie Home.

“Rae and I have known each other from around for a long time — we’ve crossed paths at festivals, and we’ve played a similar circuit,” says Lane. “I was subletting a place in Montréal and I kept running into Rae, so we finally got together to write some tunes, and ‘Someday We Will Leave This Town’ is one of them. And it ended up being chosen as the single for the new record.

“Rae and I wrote that together with the [inspiration] of how we can relate to each other — we’re both queer people, and we wanted to write an anthem that spoke about that. It’s also a song for everybody, but this is my community and I’m really happy to write something that acknowledges and involves them.”

While Spoon’s choral-electro-meets-folk influence is apparent on Sounding the Animal, much of the sound still comes from Lane’s own fretwork. Pouring herself into her songwriting — Lane says that she put in 12-hour days, with practice sessions running from morning until night — the guitarist eventually emerged with close to 50 potential songs for the new album.

Along with Workman (who currently splits his time between studio wizardry and as the drummer for Can-rock supergroup Mounties), Lane sat down and decided what was going to make the cut — which was a complicated process. “I wanted to dissect every part of the songwriting,” she says.

Workman plays drums and synths on the album (and his Mounties bandmate Ryan Dahle contributed some Mellotron tracks), and Lane says the producer also played a mentor role as well.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of his, and I’ve always wanted him to produce a record for me. It was really an exciting thing, and he took me under his wing,” she says. “He got me into digital production — I used to work on a little four-track and write my parts on that, but it was so limiting. He gave me a lot of pointers on the songs I was writing. He wants to be a part of the whole process, and a lot of his ideas were really brilliant and were a huge part of the record. I was very lucky to work with him.”

Aside from an expanded sonic palette, Sounding the Animal marks a lyrical shift for Lane as well, she says.

“The music on Sounding the Animal has such a sense of urgency, so I wanted the lyrics to come from instinct, which is what the album is all about,” says Lane. “It’s about me stripping myself down to the animal, to instinct and intuition.”


Although she spends most of her time in either the bustling cultural urban landscape of Montréal or her home in Saskatoon, Lane says that much of her inspiration comes from isolation. In addition to Québec, the guitarist says that she also spent time in a cabin in northern Saskatchewan, where she wrote some of Sounding the Animal.

“Those different environments influenced the writing, and I think you can hear that,” says Lane. “It’s got a city-meets-forest vibe, and that’s just [fitting for] me.”

That theme has managed to reach outside of the studio and songwriting collaborations, the deep electronic textures and the guitar slinging, and right into her live show.

“It’s come together over the past year,” says Lane. “In May we did some shows in smaller places in Ontario to give people a sneak peek, but also to give ourselves a primer for the release tour. The show is very theatrical: there’s a mounted deer head, there’s foliage all over the stage — basically we try and set up a scene where we’re in the forest.

“It’s a three-piece band, but it’s a six-piece band — all of our limbs and our voices are doing something. I have to play guitar and synth at the same time. Somehow, we’ve managed to recreate this live,” she says.

She’ll soon be kept busy for the foreseeable future supporting the Sounding the Animal, including on an upcoming cross-Canada tour, but for now Lane says she’s just trying to take a quick breather before the storm.

“I’m trying to get in some fishing before tour begins,” she laughs. “And then it’s all going to get crazy.” 

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