Canadian Singer-Songwriter, Carrie Armitage, Reflects on the Power of the Arts
Jazz, rock and pop are effortlessly blended on A Side, the latest record from the Carrie Armitage Quartet. The Canadian band’s frontwoman was immersed in the arts from a very young age; her mother was a singer/dancer and her father was a jazz pianist. In this interview, Armitage reflects on the power of music, its ability to inspire and make us question the status quo. Recently, the group have started working on another collection of moving, wordless pieces. The first of these, ‘Ambient Orbit’, has just been released.
1. Do you think a career in the arts was inevitable given your musical upbringing?
Put it this way: there was no resistance when I announced I was hitting the road as a teenager. Was it inevitable? No. Many kids choose very different lives to their parents. Being a musician felt authentic to me.
2. Talk us through your career thus far.
Initially, I taught music. Then, I began meeting agents and touring. I worked in Montreal where my band started a kitchen for homeless people. I was passionate about I, but I knew this path could distract me. I hadn’t given music enough focus. I had no plan and I needed one.
I found a manager to help me launch a solo career. This took me to LA where I worked with several producers. I found an agent who formed bands from artists visiting LA to showcase to major labels.
I secured a development deal with Geffen Records, but they were sold before it could go further. I eventually became a partner in a production company here in Canada: Village Works. Our focus has been recording albums for local artists. I continued producing solo albums. However, before this quartet, I’d never been a project manager or representative. This is the new music industry: artists are doing it all!
3. What has been your favourite role - performer, composer or producer - and why?
I’ve always loved performing. Growing up in the industry meant I felt comfortable with it. I love everything about the creation and delivery of music but my favourite part is the creative process. This has expanded into the studio where, until a piece is mastered, I’m in a creative stage where magic can happen. That’s where I’m hooked.
4. Why do you think you developed such an eclectic music taste?
Taste is a mystery. It’s personal and constantly forming. I’ve played almost every genre and have had years of opportunity to develop taste. When I’ve had time off from touring, I’ve gravitated towards R&B clubs where extraordinary groove makers were jamming it out. That’s been my biggest influence.
5. Do you believe you have a unique style?
All musicians have influences. We can’t help it! What makes us unique is how we translate these influences into our sound. Have I arrived at unique? No, there are far more unique artists. Have we hit the unique character mark with this project? Definitely.
According to you, we are living in "times of change". What do you mean by this?
Every generation feels that they’re living in times of change and every generation is right. Today, we live in a world where the way we live is being scrutinized. People are thinking, “hey, maybe I don’t want to spend my life sitting in rush-hour traffic, working to pay loans that I’ll never see the end of.” “Maybe I don’t want to trash the environment or feel superior to other humans.”
As long as we don’t lose respect for one other, it’s ok feeling uncomfortable with the status quo. We’ve all noticed the inner artist rising in people. We’re changing, becoming wiser and questioning what is. Artists will always be here to help with this transitioning.
7. You talk about music "inspiring a generation". Do you think it is possible to motivate through music without lyrics?
Absolutely! Watch an orchestra nailing a Rachmaninoff piano concerto and tell me you’re not inspired. The Duke Ellington Orchestra – pure musical elevation that transcends anything lyrical. Lyrics tell us what we’re supposed to feel; music makes us feel.
Many cultures use music for spiritual practices. I’m transcended by the sound of little boys’ choirs, for instance. I know your question is more about “hit you over the head” inspiration like “We’re Not Going to Take It” but the effect music has on us runs deep.
Language came much later than thought. Music was first played on bone flutes. This must have produced emotion and, therefore, inspiration in listeners.
8. How do you think music helps us make sense of the world?
Another big question! We sing before we speak and dance before we walk. We connect through music by listening to it with friends or disappear into it alone. Imagine ANY movie without it. Music is emotional education.
I’m mixing for an organisation called Make Music Matter. Their Healing in Harmony programme helps people recover from trauma by collaborating on creative projects. It’s powerful. It’s primal.
9. What usually inspires your music?
Before this quartet, sounds inspired my music. As a keyboardist, my sound library is vast and ever expanding. I’d scan through new sounds and find ideas to develop. Now, I take a producer’s approach. I choose a groove, form an arrangement with rhythm piano and then send the draft to the band for them to be creative with. I leave lots of space for them, whilst suggesting melodies, groove and basic format.
10. Why did you dedicate a song, "Nightingale", to your mother?
It was the closest I’ve come to singing the music she would have performed. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity.
11. How have audiences responded to your live show?
We haven’t taken the quartet live. Everyone’s busy with other projects. My players are very in-demand! We’re working on our next set, whilst I explore what taking this project live could look like. Naturally, it’s the kind of band people want to see live.
12. What is your approach to production?
For me, production is like sculpture. I go by feel, constantly working the sculpture until it feels ready to present. Pieces are never complete; they just hit a stage where they feel done “for now”. I don’t spend much time listening to mastered pieces as I’d still be producing them whilst listening, even years later.
13. What's the dynamic in your band? Do you have a strong connection with one another?
I’ve known Gary (drums) and Brian (guitar) since the early days of my career. I met Mitch (bass) at Village Works. I heard him playing on a project and I made a note!! We’re increasingly connected as we collaborate creatively. We’re friends.
14. How did you face the challenge of recording amid the pandemic?
Everyone’s well equipped to record at home. That’s how we started and is a success formula for us moving forward. They send the session to me and I form the final arrangement before moving them into our mixing room.
15. What can we expect from your upcoming album, B Side?
It feels like we’re hitting our stride. Our goal is to capture great grooves, melodies and performances. Much of it isn’t written yet so it’s a mystery to us too! I look forward to continuing this path with such great players. It’s a real honour.
‘Ambient Orbit’ is available on all streaming services.