Angela Desveaux Struggles With Love

Angela Desveaux Struggles With Love
Feist once pointed out that "the saddest part of a broken heart isn’t the ending so much as the start.” Montreal singer/songwriter Angela Desveaux has put that philosophy to use on two solo albums of heartbreak and hand-wringing, where even her major key melodies finds falling in love to be a tragic experience: "There's something about joining another that makes you feel sad/ Leaving part of yourself, convinced that it’s bad.”

Affairs of the heart aren’t trivial concerns for her. "I think it’s always good versus evil for me,” the singer says casually. "I really enjoy science fiction novels and movies; I always see life as a struggle. I think I write songs as advice to myself, and I hope that maybe it consoles other people who have similar problems. But they’re always very general or a bigger topic; they’re not specific problems.” They’re also not specific to her own state of affairs — something that her boyfriend and drummer, Gilles Castilloux, will be happy to know when Desveaux sings lines like, "I’ve got you to remind me of all I'm running from.”

"I don’t hide the fact that love is a constant struggle,” says Desveaux. "Gilles knows that I love him a lot, but the first year with him was a constant struggle. You always have to pay a price for something that is good. I like highlighting the fact that there is a bad part. I saw an old interview with Margaret Atwood, where the young interviewer was saying how Atwood was obviously really depressed and a negative person because she painted a bad picture of the world. Honestly, I'm a really happy person.”

With the release of her accomplished second album, The Mighty Ship, she has reason to be. For starters, she has the strong support of a solid touring band, featuring drummer Castilloux, bassist Eric Digras, and guitarist Mike Feuerstack — aka Snailhouse. Whereas her underrated debut, the 2006 album Wandering Eyes, was thrown together with a pick-up band — under the nurturing eye of producer/drummer Howard Bilerman of Montreal’s renowned Hotel 2 Tango studio — The Mighty Ship finds her writing more with an electric band in mind, rather than a series of solo songs.

Because she’s perceived as a folk singer, Desveaux says, "People always ask me to play alone or as a duet, but then I only play one song off the new album. The title track is the most folk/country song; everything else needs the band and their textures. This album will have to be promoted and toured that way, which is what I will do at whatever cost. I want to leave behind playing solo acoustic. These are the songs that I play with these band members, and that’s what I want to show people right now.”

That might be difficult for Feuerstack, who in addition to plugging his new Snailhouse album is also one of Montreal’s MVPs, playing an active role in Bell Orchestre, the Harbourcoats, and his recently reunited ’90s band Wooden Stars. But he’s made ample time on his schedule for Desveaux, whether with the full band or as a duo — which they did when Bruce Cockburn invited them to open some UK dates. In return, she cedes a couple of songs in every set to Snailhouse material.

A lesser songwriter might be intimidated welcoming Feuerstack into the fold, but in addition to the fact that he’s an extremely generous musician, Desveaux is simply a huge fan. "When you have someone like him in the band, you have to mention his work and show it to people. Although my songs are straightforward and have a country/pop flavour, he’ll always bring something that’s unique. I really value that; he’s really helped shape these songs.” The Mighty Ship was produced by Feuerstack’s old friend, Ottawa engineer Dave Draves (Kathleen Edwards, Howe Gelb), and is once again coming out on renowned American indie label Thrill Jockey, where she’s easily the most straightforward and accessible artist on a roster where the Fiery Furnaces and Freakwater are as close to pop music as they get.

Despite the impressive company she keeps, Desveaux knows better than to count on sure things — a trait she shares with her characters, for whom the future is always questionable at best. "They’re thinking, ‘One day I'll be really sure of what I'm doing in life,’” she explains. "The older I get, the more I realize that I'm never going to be certain of what I'm doing. The fact I know that is more comfortable now. I'll never be perfectly content, but this is the way life is; it's uncertain.” In the meantime, Desveaux continues to work at the same St. Laurent health food store she has for years, which directly inspired the new song "For Design.” "Maybe this is ruining the romance of the song, but it’s about teaching people to love and respect their bodies,” she explains. "Working in a health food store I see so many eating disorders. A lot of people who come in here are really paranoid obsessive-compulsives.

"I've seen two girls come in here regularly, and they were skinny to the point where they would buy three almonds each, and they would hardly have the strength to open the front door. They were both white as ghosts. Where is the communication in the family? Why isn't she in a hospital bed and seeing a psychologist?

"When I first started working here, I bought every pill I thought would help: liquid calcium, fibre supplements. Then I realized my fridge looked like an old lady’s and I was spending half my paycheque on this stuff.

"I'm probably not the best sales person in a health food store,” she laughs. Once The Mighty Ship sets sail, she might not have to be.