Megan Lane takes her songwriting in a bold new direction
by Chris Morin
Less than 100 years ago, the “coywolf” emerged in eastern Canada. Half wolf, half coyote, the predator quickly spread across eastern North America. But it wasn’t just wilderness where the animal thrived. The coywolf also inhabited 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, Île Bigras is the largest of the four islands in the Îles-Laval archipelago. On Dec. 31, 2011, Megan Lane was celebrating New Year’s Eve there, having relocated to Montréal from the prairies.
Ten minutes from midnight, the Saskatoon-born blues guitarist, songwriter and poet stepped outside for a cigarette — and 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 comprise her latest album, Sounding the Animal. And it was that surreal encounter with the coywolf that would lead her down a bold new creative path, one that included working with noted Can-rock producer and musician Hawksley Workman.
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 many of the songs were started with a rhythm or a bass line.
“The old material and the last few records I almost consider demos in a lot of ways,” she says. “They were 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 I had to put that energy into songwriting.”
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 the recent subject of a National Film Board documentary 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 the single for the new record.
Workman plays drums and synths on the album (and Mounties bandmate Ryan Dahle contributes some Mellotron tracks). Lane says the producer also played a mentor role.
“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. I was very lucky to work with him.”
Aside from an expanded sonic palette, Sounding the Animal marks a lyrical shift as well, Lane 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. It’s about me stripping myself down to the animal, to instinct and intuition.”