An Interview With Saskatchewan Singer/Songwriter Wanda Gronhovd
Wanda Gronhovd has been singing since she was a child. She writes songs that are deeply personal and explore her inner landscape as a way to examine wider truths about being human. I talked to her about her musical roots, her creative process and the ways in which she fuels her creativity.
Interview With Wanda Gronhovd
Karl Magi: How did your passion for music get kindled?
Wanda Gronhovd: I’ve been singing since I was ten, so I guess it’s always been there. I used to sing solos in church and a young friend and I used to sing acapella duets until we were about 18 because we went to a church school together. I sang in the church school choir in Outlook, SK, so we practiced every day and learned a ton there.
I do remember walking down the dirt road singing songs when I was 12 or 13. Someone recently told me that he remembers me writing songs in high school, but I don’t remember doing that. I didn’t start writing again until my divorce and when I came out as a lesbian in the ‘90s. I started writing poetry that I then put to music because I’d always been singing.
KM: Tell me about the themes and ideas that you want to explore in your music.
WG: It’s really personal stuff that I’ve been writing about. One of the main themes is hope. I certainly feel that transformation has been part of what I’ve been exploring in my music. I don’t intentionally sit down and think about the themes that I want to write about, but it feels like what ends up coming out is the theme of difficulty transforming into a hopeful situation. Hopefully by telling personal stories, I can get at the universal truth that happens from doing that.
KM: How does the songwriting process happen for you?
WG: Sometimes I sit down and the chords and lyrics come all on their own. Other times, I have a bolt of inspiration full of different little tidbits. For example, I wrote a song called Uneven Footing where I just liked the title and I tried to figure out the rest of the song from there. I can’t really write in bits and pieces, so I tend to need quite a bit of personal space to write. I certainly find that sometimes I’ll have a chorus and I’m playing guitar chords with it, but when I sit down with it on the piano, the song tells me more about what it wants to be. I’ve done some co-writing but it’s something I need to learn more about. Most of the co-writing I’ve done has been on songwriting retreats.
KM: Talk to me about the process of recording the Shifting Sands album.
WG: The process of recording the album was very interesting. I had some of the songs for it written a couple of years before and I’d been performing them with the other songs that I’d written. I wanted to have 15 or 20 songs to choose from, so I’d gone away on a personal retreat to the Cypress Hills and to my cabin in North Battleford to have some time alone and write more songs.
I put the songs together and sent them to Brad Prosko. He and I agreed on five or six of them and then discussed the rest of them. We tried to have it as a concept album, but I don’t always see the flow from song to song as well as someone else might.
It’s been interesting for me to see how I’ve fallen in love with different songs and I don’t always like the same ones that I used to. I think that’s fascinating when it’s your own material. The difference for me is that when I recorded my first album, I knew nothing. Ross Nikiforuk and I revised the songs for that album and he taught me a lot about structure. This time I sent my demos off to Brad and we really didn’t change them very much.
When I went into the studio, it was a totally different experience because Brad brought in his players. He brought in Murray Pulver from Winnipeg, he brought in the bass player Julian Bradford and Jason Brinkworth who lives in Regina. They came into the studio, they went into two rooms, I went into another room doing the rough vocals. It was pretty powerful to have their creativity with my songs. Jason changed the time signature on the song Where Are You Going, Murray brought in a lot of interesting rhythms to the songs. I was pretty overwhelmed by the whole process because they brought so much creativity to the songs that I came in with.
It was a pretty sacred time when I went to Brads Studio a couple weeks later to record the vocals. Brad created a safe space in his studio, there was a lot of trust there, so I was really able to sing the vocals in the best way that I could and put the emotion into them that I wanted to put into them.
KM: Tell me more about your experience with the music scene in Saskatchewan.
WG: I joined SaskMusic in 2014. One of my guitar teachers sent me their way and they’ve been really supportive. I co-chair a writer’s group in Regina that’s sponsored by SAC (Saskatchewan Arts Council), so when we started doing that, they were really supportive of that. We pay $50 for this membership and we get so much out of it. When Breakout West was in Regina, I had a chance to go there and get to know more people in the scene here.
KM: What are your plans for your career going forward?
WG: Next month, I’m trying to put together a signature concert, as I’ve been working with a mentor from the ‘States named Bree Noble for the last year and a half. She runs an organization called the Female Music Academy. She’s been helping me put together this keynote address with speaking and music. I have a couple of shows every month for a while. I’m going to become a grandmother, so I’m going off to England for part of the summer. I’m also going to be playing here at the Cathedral Arts Festival and at Spring Fest in Alberta.
I’m going to record a Christmas song I’ve written in the second week of May with Brad Prosko and then I’m writing songs that I’m hoping to record in January 2019 because I’m retiring from my nursing job in July this year. I’m planning to have another album out to tour with. I’m planning another fall tour because I have a house concert to play in September in Kelowna, so I’m hoping to put together ten or twelve days in B.C. and Alberta and Saskatchewan.
KM: How do you recharge yourself creatively?
WG: We have a cabin up north so I make space to go there. I also find it inspiring just to sit and listen to other people playing music. I try to walk every day and that helps to keep me balanced. I also have a meditation practice and I journal every morning. I have daily practices that I do to keep my creativity flowing.