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Bloom-ing from the rock

by Drew Rowsome

"We like to say that some people take pictures on vacation, we tend to write music," says Kris Abbott of Kris + Dee's new CD Bloom. Fortunately Kris + Dee don't settle for snapshots but rather create rich sonic soundscapes wrapped around catchy folk/pop tunes. The rollicking, almost a sea shanty, song "Newfoundland" is a prime example. "When we were in Newfoundland on a writing vacation we had spent an entire day driving around the coast without a map, stopping here and there talking to strangers and just following wherever the road took us," explains Abbott. "It was incredible! We picked up fish from a guy selling from the back of his truck and ended up back in my sister's 200 year old saltbox house. We poured some drinks, made food and got out the guitars and instead of talking about what just happened we started playing music together and the song 'Newfoundland' was the memory we took home."

Bloom is deceptively sparse, but as the songs and crystal-clear intimate vocals draw one in, the lushness is revealed, demanding another listen. "We always have an acoustic song within the larger song and layers that come and go, to portray a musical metaphor of what lyrically is being said," says Abbott.

“For me as primarily a words person,” adds McNeil, “I am continually in awe of the ability of music and sound to say what needs to be said. Words can usually only provide a rough approximation of a sentiment or idea, it’s the music that can say it with precision and emotion. It is so gratifying and such a release when Kris can play a part that seems to say perfectly what I was trying to convey with words. Although Kris doesn’t usually write lyrics she really knows the right questions to ask to help me say what I want to say.”

For live shows Kris + Dee can either be an acoustic duo or have the support of a full band. “Sometimes we try and reproduce all the layers live and sometimes we like the intimate stripped down side of the song where the vocals and lyrics are really the focus,” says Abbott who’s guitar playing put the crunch into the punk-pop band The Pursuit of Happiness. “When it comes to live performance, my acoustic guitar playing can be a bit deceptive because I run it through a lot of effects to alter the sound for dynamics. This probably stems from my rock guitar background. I can't help but really dig in sometimes when it feels like the thing to do. I think of music in colours and textures, and rock is just another splash of paint on the canvas. I don't miss rocking out at all because when I reach for that dynamic now as an effect, it is so intentional. It now represents an edgy emotion in our music and appears only as a moment. I am learning so much from the acoustic guitar. I like that I can feel it vibrate on my body too, there is a very intimate connection.”

Abbott has a favourite playmate famous for his work with Carole Pope, National Velvet and Images in Vogue, “On both our albums, we are also grateful to have had good friend Tim Welch play atmospheric electric guitar tracks. He is a very unique guitar player and totally gets how to use sound in order to make an emotional connection for the listener. I remember once reading how Joni Mitchell speaks to her musicians in metaphoric terms instead of technical and I think Tim is that kind of musician, a huge feeler. Tim is going to join us on a few songs at the Flying Beaver Pubaret show and it will be his first time playing live on stage with us. We are so excited, shy, nervous and can't wait.”
The songs on Bloom have a fragile folk/pop quality but are uplifting, avoiding the angst that can plague the genre. “We try to write with as much honesty as we can,” says McNeil, “the songs are definitely an expression of our lives. I think a sense of hope is always somewhere in our songs, even on those songs dealing with difficult emotions or experiences. There’s always a sense of being strong enough to endure or rise above whatever life can throw at you.”

Kris + Dee perform on Sat, Sept 21 at the Flying Beaver Pubaret, 488 Parliament St.