The Dearhearts: Canadian Roots Band Profiles
In a phone conversation, I talked to The Dearhearts’ Alix Cowman about the band’s creative process, their musical passions and what inspires them to keep on singing.
The Dearhearts is a group of three young women who sing three part harmony and play music inflected with bluegrass, jazz and folk elements. Alix explains that the three band members met in Rosebud, Alberta through the Rosebud School for the Arts. She elaborates, “I’d received a scholarship to record music with Paul Zacharias who is a music producer in town. I was quite a shy and introverted person and I didn’t want to do it by myself so I asked Lauren and Lauren if they’d like to record three songs with me. The original intention was to record three songs, but we ended up recording eight songs and put out a CD. We started to get gigs and the rest is history.”
Each of the band members brings a different influence to the music they make. Alix says, “Lauren de Graaf is really into jazz. She listened to a lot of Ella Fitzgerald, the Andrews Sisters and Louis Armstrong growing up. Lauren Hamm had a heavy bluegrass influence. Her dad is a bluegrass musician. She listened to a lot of Alison Krauss and Nickel Creek and that kind of thing. I was born and raised in the city and was just involved in all kinds of music. I didn’t really have a preference, but I love folk music!”
The process of combining words and music is an organic one for the Dearhearts according to Alix. She says, “When we get together for rehearsal, one person will say, ‘Oh I really want to work on this song!’ It could be their song or somebody else’s. It’s the job of the person who wrote the song to say where they hear the three part harmony, where they hear the instruments coming in and we bounce ideas off of each other after that.”
The band is quite flexible when it comes to vocal duties. Alix points out, “Lauren de Graaf is our alto or tenor if need be. She has a really great warm, resonant tone that comes from her jazz background. Lauren Hamm has a beautiful head voice, so she will take the high harmony if she’s not singing melody. I would say that I bounce between the two.”
Although all of the band members knew how to play their instruments before they started the band, they’ve grown in skill and confidence as they’ve continued to play together as a group.
The band is working on a new album this year. They’ll be going into the recording studio in November to lay down their tracks. Alix says, “It’s much more bluegrass than our previous album. On our first album, we all played tiny instruments and that was our shtick. I played the ukulele, Lauren Hamm played the mandolin and Lauren de Graaf played a banjolele. It was cute, but now we’ve graduated to bigger instruments. We’ve got a guitar and a regular-sized banjo so our sound is much more full. I would say there’s been leaps and bounds in our songwriting.”
Alix points out that all the band members lead busy lives so finding time to rehearse can be a challenge. She says, “The three of us all have our own lives outside of The Dearhearts. Lauren de Graaf is training to be a speech therapist, Lauren Hamm is a photographer and a mother and I also work as an actor in addition to doing lots of other musical stuff. Getting together to rehearse for the new album has been a trial. We’re now a month away from recording!”
The recording process is something that fascinates her. Alix points out, “What I enjoy about recording is the focused time on the music. I really love the isolation of each part and getting to be so detailed about what each part does and whether it fits or not. Often I find that when we record, we’ll hear that somebody is doing some other part we didn’t even hear. We can decide if we love it or of needs to go because we’re not playing the right chord or something is off.”
Alix has positive comments about the band’s involvement in the Alberta music scene. She says, “We play a lot with a group called the Frontiers from Calgary. They’re a punk rock folk band. They’re really cool! They play a lot in bars and they’ll invite us to come play with them. Our exposure to other bands has been through Rosebud. There’s Me & the Missus who are a folk band and the Fig & the Flame who are also largely folk. I love interacting with them because they are also our friends and people I’ve known for years and years in Rosebud. Our experience in the scene has been great because its mostly been friendship-based.”
In the future, The Dearhearts would like to focus on more house concerts. Alix explains, “We have discovered that our favourite thing to do is house concerts. It’s where we started and where we raised money for our first album. Whenever we do a house concert, I feel overjoyed. Over the next year, we want to do more of them. We’d also love to do a tour where we just put one microphone on the stage and blend and mix that way. It might be something that could happen n the future. We’d love to do more jazz as well.”
Nature is a powerful inspiration for the band according to Alix. She says, “Nature is a big theme for us. In the winter, we slow down because there’s nothing going on outside. I think each of us loves to be out side doing things. Summer is a huge rechargeable battery for us."
She adds, “This summer we were all in Rosebud for the summer which hardly ever happens. We were able to just hang out with each other as friends and that really helped to spark new things for each of us and grounded the band a little bit more.”