August 16, 2007. The Evening Echo – Cork, Ireland.
Don O’Mahony chats to singer-songwriter Farrell Spence about love, loss and bank robbers.
Farrell Spence was doing theatre and TV work when she realized there was something missing from her creative world. With that the Vancouver musician turned her back on acting and built her own studio in her home in order to concentrate on the first love in her life.
She already had a strong musical influence in her life, thanks to her mother, who was a Winnipeg folk singer, and her grandfather who was a fiddler. “My mother’s side of the family was very musical, we were raised singing. We started singing, my sister and I, at a very early age and were encouraged by my mother to perform”.
Her own life wasn’t short of drama. Her father was a gambler who left when Farrell was very young and her first boyfriend turned out to be a bank robber. “It was a very short-lived relationship, obviously. It’s funny now. It wasn’t so funny then” she states. This seems to be grist to Farrell Spence’s mill and no small influence on her music. “I think some of my early experiences partially shaped the way I look at some of my relationships and that probably reflects in my music as well.”
“How strange this world is”, she whispers. Her album, A Town Called Hell, conjures up the perfect soundtrack to this world. Its melancholy ambience goes far deeper as it explores landscapes both real and within the psyche. A Town Called Hell can’t be strictly found on any map, but Spence has been there. If there is a silver lining to be found from her experiences there then it’s in her unearthly and beautiful songs.
“Everybody has shadows in their past”, she states. “Everybody has dealt with difficult things in their lives but it depends on how you want to interpret it and deal with it, right? Some people internalise it, some people externalise it, project on other people. I prefer to write about my experiences, good and bad, and put them forward for other people to listen to and relate to. It’s cathartic. I always appreciate it when I listen to other musicians who put their hearts on the line and their lives on a plastic CD and give that force to other people, and I enjoy doing that for others too.”
This appreciation of musicians who create work of a strongly personal and cathartic nature explains why she was drawn to cover Mary Gauthier’s I Drink. “She’s one woman that I admire so much,” she says. “I’ve listened to several of her albums and she’s been through some rough times but she’s come out on top and she’s a very strong and inspiring person. Her music has got me through many a dark night”.
Songs by Spence like Tell It to Someone Else and Losing You Again are sublime pieces of haunting prairie folk. So strong are they that I have to wonder if the result is worth the pain that went into producing them. “I honestly believe that the more you go through like that, the stronger you become,” she maintains. “As painful as it is to go through difficult situations, I’m glad that I have because I think that there’s always a very valuable lesson to learn and I think you come out on top in the end, provided you deal with it all correctly.”