Chris Angel is a singer/songwriter living in the land of ice and hockey near Canada’s capital, Ottawa. Studying music in university and landing gigs at local bars in Windsor and Detroit, Chris quickly fell in love with the storytelling tradition of folk music. Building upon this base Chris started crafting his own songs and has now released his fourth independent album: This Monstrous Love, available on iTunes and just about all other digital music stores.
Chris! Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions! Could you tell us about your musical background? What led you to pursue a career in music?
I had never really thought about it as pursuing a career. When I was young I started playing and studying piano and had taught myself guitar, and my love of music led to me studying it in University. It was that same love that drove me to the bars to see live performers. After a few drinks I decided to try and sing during an open mic. It was such an amazing experience that I haven’t got off the stage yet.
What is it like living just outside of Ottawa? What has been your experience with the folk & songwriting community of Ottawa?
Well…for the most part it is cold. If you disregard the temperature though it is a very nurturing environment. There is a great community of musicians that all know each other and are all rooting for each other. On my new album, I have a song called Little Bird that the amazing Amanda Cottreau lends her voice to. Amanda is a major facet of the Ottawa music scene and when I wrote that song I had her voice in mind. When I asked if she would record the song with me she didn’t think twice. That’s the type of community the music scene has in Ottawa.
What was it like performing live on Ottawa Daytime last year? Are there other performances that stick out in your mind?
There is something tremendously strange about performing in a TV studio in that setting. There are cameras, but besides the operators there is no one else in the room with me. I felt like I was playing for myself only. I felt very self conscious about it at the time but in the end I think it looked great. As far as other shows that stand out for me…there have been great shows and there have been ones that fade into obscurity. One of my favourites was when I opened for Laura Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk when her band was touring across Canada. There is something just so much fun about playing a solid set and then sitting back and watch another band just light up the stage. Might be strange that one of my favourite stage memories features someone else but there you have it.
-You independently released your debut album (“Celtic Stepson”) after you had just left the University of Windsor, in 2002, and then went on to release three other albums (“Better Late Than Never” in January 2011, “The Hero of Canton” in February 2012, and “This Monstrous Love” in January 2015); could you tell us a bit about each record? How does your latest album elaborate and expand on or differ from your previous releases?
Each album has been a reflection of my growth as a songwriter. With ìCeltic Stepsonî I was really immersed in traditional songs. That album was pretty much all traditional songs that, I had arranged in a more personal manner, but ultimately were still old stories I was retelling. Each album that followed, however, I was writing more and more of my own songs and finding worth in my own skills as a story teller. On this album (This Monstrous Love) I still do have a couple of traditional songs but the majority of the album is me. Even with the traditional songs, I tried to present them in a manner that is wholly unique or reflective of me. I also tried to put together a more cohesive album, thematically. This Monstrous Love is really a collection of love songs. Now, love isn’t always pretty and the songs on this album aren’t all happy sounding songs. I tried to present love, or at least love as I see it, from all different angles. Obsessive love, lost love, giddy, resigned…all the different ways we experience it.
What was the recording process like for each of your records? Is there a particular method you use to try and write a song or does the process happen differently each time?
My recording process is fairly straightforward. I write almost all of my songs with just my guitar and voice and that is how I start with recording. When I know the shape of the song I go into my studio and record the vocals and the guitar. That becomes my basis for the song. As I play with ideas I add more parts, such as piano and drums but it all starts simply. Sometimes that is all that is needed. My song Live and Never Learn almost got away from me while I recorded it. I just kept adding to the song until it became this huge thing that didn’t make sense to me anymore. Finally I stripped away all of the tracks except the vocal and the guitar that I started with and I found the song again.
When it comes to writing a song…I wish I could say that there was a tried and true method I had to employ but the truth is it is random. In fact, it seems the harder I try to write something that harder it is to find the song. My biggest tool is my phone. I am constantly singing into it and recording little snippets of ideas. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, and it is rare, the song is just suddenly there. In those times it isn’t like I’m writing the song but instead like I’m remembering it. Those are the best moments and the times I absolutely love.