ALL SHE CAN DO
by Jay S. Jacobs
The world at large has never quite caught on to Chantal Kreviazuk’s name – and the world is a lesser place for it.
In a perfect world, everyone would know about Kreviazuk. She certainly has spent enough of the past decade introducing herself.
She is a star in her native Canada, garnering several hit singles, four smash albums and Juno Awards (the Canuck equivalent of the Grammys) north of the Border. In fact, her latest – and arguably best CD – Ghost Stories, was her best-selling disk yet at home.
Kreviazuk was given the next-big-thing hype ride in the States in the late 90s with the release of her debut CD Under These Rocks and Stones. While it was released to critical acclaim and moderately good sales, it never quite reached the level of frenzy that her label expected. She quickly became a prestige artist for Columbia Records – someone who they expected to release artistically rewarding albums, but who they never really pushed for greater things.
She is half of one of Canadian rock’s biggest power couples. Husband Raine Maida is lead singer and songwriter for rock band Our Lady Peace – best remembered in the US for the 2001 smash hit “Somebody’s Out There.” Maida also produced her latest CD.
Kreviazuk and Maida have become in-demand songwriters for hire, writing or co-writing hits for the likes of Kelly Clarkson (“Walk Away”), Gwen Stefani (“Rich Girl”), Cheyenne Kimball (“Holding On”), Mandy Moore (“Gardenia”) and Avril Lavigne (six songs on Lavigne’s Under My Skin album.)
However, despite the fact that she is well-known for her songwriting skills, in the States the closest Kreviazuk has ever come to having hits as an artist were cover versions of others’ songs from movie soundtracks – John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane” from the movie Armageddon and Randy Newman’s “Feels Like Home” from the TV series Dawson’s Creek.
In recent years, Kreviazuk has been reprioritizing, placing her family life ahead of her career. She and Raina have also been extremely active in charity – giving her time as well as money for worthy causes like the Warchild charity.
This newfound sense of purpose has led to what may well be her defining statement as an artist. Ghost Stories is a gorgeous song-suite documenting where Kreviazuk’s life is in 2007.
She will always consider Canada home, though she has long ago left the Great White North for the sunny climes of Southern California. “I don’t know if I could move back to Canada, because I’m just not into wearing a closed-toe shoe anymore.” Kreviazuk laughed during a recent phone interview.
So, she’s a respected singer, songwriter, philanthropist, loving wife and mother, occasional actress… Who needs stardom?
Kreviazuk recently gave us a call to discuss her career and her latest CD.
You were a classical piano prodigy as a little girl. How did you originally get into music?
More and more as I get older, I see exactly what happened. I had such an eclectic influence of music. I was into the classical music that I was studying, and I was into gospel music – that my mother would listen to or that I would hear at church. I had my cousin corrupting me and teaching me every bit of the 60s rock and roll era. I’m really fortunate to have had such a broad influence in my life. It’s been really cool to grow up and see now where that’s all coming from. I was just telling another interviewer that people used to say, “Have you listened to Carole King? Did you listen to Laura Nyro?” And I would be like, uhh, no… (laughs) I mean, Carole King, I would have probably known a few of her songs – how they were covered, but I had never listened to Tapestry until I was quite a bit older. I don’t know how, but I only got into Joni Mitchell when I was quite a bit older as well. It’s interesting now when I hear how my music sounds – it’s coming from a lot of rock meets gospel. This album, for me, I’m quite proud of. It’s quite a bit more… the gospel is really prevalent. It’s very gospelly. That’s kind of cool.
When you released Under These Rocks and Stones, Sony was giving you a pretty big push. “God Made Me” ended up becoming a minor hit. What was it like at the time, being a new artist who was primed to break? And looking back, were you ready for it?
(laughs) I can’t believe you’re asking me this, too. I was just talking to somebody about this. It’s so funny. It’s so awesome you’re asking me, because I just for the first time got my head around kind of the chronological order of some things. It’s kind of funny, when I first got signed and there was so much hype and they sent me around the world and they really propped me up, and really set me up for a lot of disappointment, that’s for sure. I was getting the attention of every record company president under the Sony umbrella. I was being just totally heralded; she’s a prodigy and she’s the next big thing – blah, blah, blah, blah. But you see, I was signed out of Canada. So ultimately, the 50 cents on a dollar was not going to really cut it for everyone. So, everyone was sort of waiting and looking to how America would – what they would do with me. If they broke me in America, well, then, they would definitely follow suit. But America decided that they weren’t going to break me. So, it became a thing of everyone else dropping the ball as well. Then I was back to my Canadian career – where ultimately, I was going to be the most celebrated for my life, anyway. If anything lands on, Canada was going to be the place where they would always receive me and be the most…
Well, you got a couple of Junos for Colour, Moving and Still, right?
Yeah, for Colour. But then, I mean – the fourth album (Ghost Stories), I don’t even know if I was nominated for [anything.] They didn’t give me any awards, but it was my biggest record. This would have been my album – without downloading – that would have sold half a million records in Canada. It’s so weird. I think the point of what I’m saying was that ultimately, the life that my music took on is interesting. I feel the most myself and organic and true to myself in Canada. It’s just, I don’t know, I can’t explain it, but it’s my home country, you know what I mean? There’s such an honor to being embraced by your own country. And that’s the country where my music has a very popular presence. Here in America, I’ve done amazing with my licensing. There’s all sorts of wonderful things happening all the time, but the Canadian thing that happens – it’s just so fitting to me, because it’s allowed me to go full circle and just be who I am and never end up getting manufactured and never worrying about being on top of the next sound or having to keep up with anyone. I stopped that expectation a long time ago. I dropped it. I make my albums at home with my husband now. I’m just not that girl.
I saw you in Philadelphia recently opening for Five for Fighting, and I loved some of the stories you were telling about how things have changed for you as a singer over the years. Now that you are married and have children, how have your musical aspirations changed?
Well, I think that they’ve just become more real. Now they’re not about getting… I don’t know… I don’t have to worry about being – I don’t have to be hip. (laughs) I get to be myself. When I’m making albums; I’m kind of digging into the deepest place that I can find. I’m just challenging myself as a poet and as a person. I don’t know if I’d like the place that I’d have to go if I was stuck in trying to keep up with being the next big thing.
You and Raine spent some time in Iraq working on the Warchild charity. I interviewed Steve Mazur [Maida’s Our Lady Peace bandmate] a couple of years ago and he said he felt that experience in some ways changed the direction and politics of the last Our Lady Peace CD. Do you feel that the experience also can be felt in Ghost Stories?
You know, my work with Warchild has also never stopped. I’m in Ethiopia with them next month – where 25% of the world’s children living with AIDS are. I’ve built with my husband; we’re on our second school right now in Northeast Congo. Schools that will be serving about 400 children each. Schools that were bombed out during the war. There are so many programs to take part in through Warchild. It’s going to Iraq. It’s Raine’s trip to Darfur. It’s me gearing up for this next trip. The concerts that I put on. I’m working with poor kids in the native communities of Winnepeg, Manitoba. I’m always doing so much stuff, improving the quality of life for children who are part of a conflict – be that of politics, be that of history, be that of war. Those things are always at the forefront of my creativity. They are at the forefront of my actions – as an artist and as a person. Those things are all-encompassing. You don’t turn them off when you go into the studio. You don’t turn them off while you’re writing. It’s just a part of who you are.
Well, speaking of Iraq – and I may be reading too much into this because it’s never explicitly said – but I had the feeling that to a certain extent “All I Can Do” was at least partially about the war. Was I reading too much into that?
Well when you have kids, you start thinking, “Oh, shit, what if my kid put on a uniform and went to war?” That’s a very scary thought. But it is possible. I thought I knew what love was, but it tends to change when you have a baby. It’s so powerful. I don’t think anything could have prepared me for it. I don’t want to be a controlling parent. I’m overwhelmed by the thought of letting my kids do what they are going to do and screw up – and just be there. But that’s the way it has to be. I can only protect them so much. In actual fact, that’s what the song is about, knowing that I can only do so much for my kids.
I believe you said in concert that “Wonderful” was a song that you wrote for a friend. How did that song come about?
“Wonderful” is just about… there are so many people that are messed up about meeting someone now. Everybody’s expectations have become so bizarre from the media. I’m just seeing a lot of people who are just great people the way they are. They don’t need to be anything else except sweet and kind and wonderful. I just feel like they are all – I don’t know what people are holding out for. It’s just bizarre. I’m seeing a lot of alone people that shouldn’t be alone. It’s very upsetting for me. (chuckles) I’m happy and in love and have a wonderful husband. I feel sad that I have friends that are alone.
I really love “Ghosts of You.” It is truly haunting. Do you feel that the lyrics of a song dictate the atmosphere?
Oh, absolutely! Oh my God, that’s the key thing with me. I can’t deal with them not sounding like they match. I’ve tried that a bit more. I have to start trying to match. (laughs) That’s one of my next goals – to let that hang a bit more, because I’m so about the lyric and the melodies matching. So is Raine. This next record, when we make it, I want to try to bring that down a little bit.
I saw on your website that you were starting a new CD. Are you working on it yet?
It has. Yes.
How is it coming along? I know you’re still in the early phases.
It’s just one song. But I’m so excited about it. I’m so excited to get into the studio and start working again. It’s really exciting.
Ghost Stories is your first CD for Nettwerk, which while it is certainly a well-established label, it is more of an indie than Sony was. How was the experience of recording on a smaller label different?
Well, I’ve got to be honest with you – it’s far more organic. It can be tough, but it’s really rewarding to see people coming out of the woodwork because they genuinely love the music. People fighting for the music. Just caring. I feel like at this level I get to be far more in touch with people genuinely falling in love with my music, as opposed to questioning. Like, “Is this going to get out of the scene?” Really get pumped out there and marketed. It’s a very organic kind of feel. I really like it a lot.
In a bit of a surprise twist, you have hit the point that you may be as well known for songs you have written for other artists than ones you have recorded yourself. You have (and often Raine) had songs recorded by or co-wrote songs with Gwen Stefani, Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson, Mandy Moore, Hilary Duff, Cheyenne Kimball, The Veronicas and more? How did this dimension of your career come about, and is it a little bittersweet when a song you wrote becomes big for someone else? Do you ever think, oh, man, I should have held on to that one?
No. I mean sometimes I want their career, for different reasons. Like, you know; the Mandy Moore thing. Yeah, I wrote a great song with her and sometimes I’ll have to go ugh! That’s frustrating because she instantly gets way more hits or interviews, or I don’t know. That’s hard. That’s hard; I’m not going to lie, you know? I am a musician and I’m a freaking great musician. I’m accomplished and I’ve been around a long time and all that stuff. But, you know, that’s not who I am. That’s not the deck of cards that I was dealt. So, I’ve got to suck it up. That’s it. She’s fighting for what she wants. I hope she gets it. I hope everybody gets what they want. I would never want to take that away from someone at the same time. It’s an honorable sort of thing.
For an artist who is known so much as a songwriter, it is kind of weird that two of the recordings you’ve done that have been heard by more people were written by John Denver and Randy Newman.
Yeah, that’s funny, isn’t it?
How do you pick covers and are they easier or harder than your own songs?
I will say that sometimes that’s frustrating. But then of course I see how my songs climb… I see how both of those songs have licenses, so that’s encouraging to me that it’s not just about the way that I cover. Having said that – when you have successful covers, I’m getting old enough to realize that that is a privilege. That’s lightning striking and it doesn’t happen twice usually. I think I’ve had moments where I’ve been; ugh, another “Feels Like Home” request for me to go to the Bahamas for Entertainment Tonight to be the wedding singer lady. (laughs) There are always these cheesy things attached to “Feels Like Home,” but there have been amazing opportunities that have come with “Feels Like Home” and “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” I think that I’ve ultimately probably had so much exposure as a result of them, so I can’t be anything but really proud and grateful, quite honestly.
You said earlier that you would sort of like Mandy Moore’s career. I have heard you’ve also done some acting, in Century Hotel and the short “Pretty Broken.” Is acting a path you’d like to follow more?
I don’t want to be an actor, you know what I mean? I don’t want the life of an actor. I’ve wanted to do things that are either extremely convenient or extremely inspiring (laughs), because I’m not willing to go for the auditions, at all. It would have to be because a friend asks me to participate in something. I’m not willing to lead the life of an actor to where I would do this role, because it will prepare me for the possibility of getting a role like that… That’s not going to happen. For that reason, I know I’m not an actor. If I was that devoted, I would have tried to pursue and I’m not. The thing that happens with music is so beautiful in my opinion because it comes from yourself. You have control over the sound of it. You have control over the words that you’re saying. If you don’t want to do a cover, you don’t have to. You can write your own frickin’ song. Whereas, when you’re acting – unless it’s something you’ve written or you’re so phenomenally inspired by – if that’s your job, you’ve got to get up, you have to say the words and believe the words. Usually lie (laughs). About someone else’s words and inspirations. I can tell you this, I just don’t believe that Jennifer Lopez felt like Maid in Manhattan was the pinnacle, inspiring role for her. I’m not willing to do that. But I’m also not willing to take my clothes off and be a stripper to sing, either. So, there are compromises to everything.
Radio playlists are so regimented these days. When we were younger, you used to be able to hear rock, pop, country and soul on the same station, and that just doesn’t happen anymore. Do you think that can make it tougher for an artist to find an audience?
It’s weird. I hear people saying things to me like, “The problem is also that you had three albums out…’” I’m like, what the fuck does that have to do with anything? An honest, beautiful song that touches people is an honest, beautiful song that touches people. I don’t understand what the difference is. But, hey, you know, quite frankly I’ve become more and more indie in my beliefs. What I mean by that is if I’m to interpret what being an artist is, it’s essentially buying into yourself. Believing what you do and sticking to that, no matter what. So, I just do my thing and hey, if one day the world wants to buy it, great. If not and I have semi-interest records, that’s fine too. I can’t just tinker my life to make those kinds of predictions. I can’t look at myself like that. I can’t do it.
I remember when I was in college, I had a writing professor who told the class that if you felt inspiration, you should lie down and wait for it to go away. I always thought that was a really horrible attitude. What are your feelings on inspiration? Does it drive your songwriting?
No, because you can think you’re so fucking inspired and then you’re not, you know what I mean? Like the other day I had this idea to write a song for my husband. It was quite poignant to what I thought of him at the moment. I had to try and do it and it stunk. I didn’t get to do what I wanted to do, which was surprise him with it and sing it at our big… we were playing together. The idea was romantic, and I was inspired. But the developed idea that came out absolutely reeked. (laughs) Then I’ve also sat down and not known what was going to come out. I’ve gone in the shower, not even thinking that I was even a musician, you know, and left with the biggest song of my career. That was my song “Surrounded,” that got me signed. It was written in two seconds. That was about something extremely – one of the biggest things that happened to me in my life – which was my college crush shot and killed himself. I’ve ached about that my whole life. But I have this song that I wrote, and I’ve never been the same since I wrote the song. If the song’s written, everything is okay for me. Like I have that song, I connect with him every night when I sing, and we check in with each other. That song got me my life. Got me my career. God, if that’s not inspired; I don’t know what the hell is. And the song has touched so many people – so many people who have been affected by crisis. I get those letters. It’s an inspired piece and I did not plan to write it.
People come to me all the time, Jay, and they say, “how do you this?” and “how do you that?” You know what I say? I say I don’t know. I say I don’t know. You know what? No one ever gave me anything. I paid on some level for everything that I got. I don’t mean like paid in currency. I’m such an honest person that way. I’m the kind of person that… I can’t owe anybody anything. I can’t owe people money. So, I didn’t get anything for free. Even the freaking guy… I found out later, I thought was giving me some studio time, he still has a piece on my freakin’ record. On my first I think one or two records. I didn’t know I was signing that away, because I was too young and the person who was quote-unquote helping me didn’t really let me in on that part. He probably realized that if I knew that I wouldn’t have signed it. You know, I never got anything for free. I never had the self-worth or the entitlement to think I could get anything for free. I get a note from a girl yesterday, she’s like fourteen or whatever and she said, “How do you know when it’s the right time to do a demo?” I wrote back to her and said only you know that. You put a demo out, what’s the demo for? Is the demo for you to suddenly have a record deal? Is the demo for you to see how your voice sounds when you press play? And, by the way, if it’s for you to see what the world thinks of you, be prepared for what they say. They might say that you suck. They also might say that you’re incredible. You have to be prepared, at the age of fourteen, to take on that response from the world. So, I said I made my demo tape when I knew what the world was going to say. I knew what the world was going to say about me. I knew in my heart. I made my demo tape when I was ready for what the world was going to say. Does that mean it’s right for you? I don’t know. (laughs) Everybody’s so different. If you took ten people who have successful careers – in any career – and you ask them, “What happened to you?” “What happened to you? You? You? You?” Every answer would be different.
It’s true, I’ve had two books published and I’ve done it so far away from the way that everyone said; in order to do publishing you have to do this and this and this. It happened nothing like that…
I don’t buy into this Tony Roberts thing or the Lee Iacocca story. I didn’t read the book. I’m so naïve, in my head I thought you sent a song to a record company. I thought that if the record company liked it, they would give you a record deal. That’s what I thought happened. And so, that’s what I did. But that doesn’t mean that that’s the way it works.
In the end, how would you like people to see your career?
You know, I get notes now from people – and that’s just because I’m 34 and I’ve been around long enough, I don’t know what the deal is – but I get note from people and they say, “Chantal, thank you for staying true to yourself.” I get notes from women that say, “Thank you for not compromising yourself as a woman.” That means a lot to me. I also get notes from guys who say, “You’re pretty cool. Like, you’re not a stripper and you’re not… I actually hate to say it but you’re a pretty cool chick. You have integrity.” There are moments where I feel like, yeah, I could be the one with all the fame and all the fortune – but I was never ambitious enough to where I wanted to compromise myself; in what I say, in my words, in my melodies, in my lyrics, in my actions. I was never prepared to compromise that. I just can’t fake that. I can’t fake it. I’m not that hungry. I think I would starve before I would compromise that. For some reason, I don’t know if it’s the way I was raised.
I feel so lucky. I want to respect myself. That’s what I want. Quite honestly, that’s more important to me than what other people say about me. It’s really nothing to do with anyone else, actually (laughs) now that I articulate these emotions. It’s really about – I love being me. When I wake up in the morning and I look in the mirror. When I go downstairs and I’m with my children. When I’m with my husband. When I’m with my parents. When I’m with my friends, my neighbors. When I walk on stage. Eating a piece of carrot cake, like I did the other day. I just want to be myself. I don’t want to wear so many hats. I’m already maxed out, you know? Life to me is a lot of roles. I’ve been given a lot of roles in my life. I’m a humanitarian. I have a lot of responsibilities in my personal life. Some very personal. I have callings in the mental health community and work with kids, conflict kids, outreach kids. A lot of areas in the world that I feel obliged to step up. I don’t think I can be that flashy chick. So, I would say that’s not only how I would want people to remember me, but that’s how they are going to. That’s not going to change. That’s just the way it’s going to be.
Are there any misconceptions you’d like to clear up?
Oh, man…. Yeah, I’m sure there are. I’ll tell you, I’m someone who cares a lot, you know? I care a lot about people and being a compassionate person is one of my greatest goals. It’s just the way it is for me. I don’t like to judge other people. I feel that until I’ve walked a few miles in other people’s shoes, it’s not ever fair for me to judge anyone. I love to help people. I feel for people. I’ve had a life that has led me to the privilege of being able to care about people. You know, there are always people who say things that are hurtful. I’m not going to deny it, it sometimes – maybe I’ve always been only given a certain level of fame and scrutiny because it’s the amount I can handle. I ache sometimes from things people will say. I never seem to like the word jealousy or… I don’t like the thought of someone else being a jealous person. I will say that it is hard sometimes to hear negative things people say. But I think it’s just part of life, and I’m going to have to teach my children about that, so I’m getting stronger and stronger with that every day. It’s not such a profound thing to where I ever lose sleep over it, quite frankly, but it always feels like a ugghhhh! Like a stab. (laughs)
I always say that I wish that I could crack open my sternum and show you my heart. You would know that’s the wrong person to ever even think… I just don’t have an ounce of… I don’t have malicious. I would help any person that I could on this planet. To a fault, I mean. I’m a sucker, man…. I’m a sucker for love. So, that would be the only thing in my life. Regardless of fame or my music career or anything like that. That’s the only thing that I would ever say about life that is hard for me – because I really feel blessed. I really feel that God gave me a lot of love and compassion. It can be a bit of a curse, I guess. You know, when you put yourself out there – I’m going to have to teach my kids about that – when you put yourself out there in the world it’s a bold move, you know? Sometimes you’ve just got to be a little bit dumb and in order to have thick skin. I almost think you have to play a little dumb, you know? My husband teaches me so much every day. He says if you don’t want to feel the bad review; don’t read the good ones or the bad ones. Don’t think you can read the good ones. I feel sorry for these young starlets who make all their decisions where everything is just based on this career perception. Then they become sort of bankrupt in the other areas of their life. It does eventually catch up to them, but then it’s too late because they’ve missed that learning window that is so important.
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Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 9, 2007.