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When & where: 8:30 pm May 25, Fourth Stage, National Arts Center
The Spaces In Between, the fifth full-length album by Ottawa singer-songwriter Amanda Rheaume, comes out May 27, two days after her 40th birthday, on Ishkōdé Records, the label Rheaume founded during the pandemic with an Indigenous musical friend, Shoshona Kish. Co-written with a cast of talented friends and recorded with Juno-winning producer Hill Kourkoutis, the passionate new songs explore themes of identity and belonging as Rheaume continues to find inspiration in her Metis background.
In this edited interview, she talks about the Métis elders who helped her find her path, and how amplifying Indigenous voices helps to decolonize the music industry.
Q: Congratulations on the new record. Is it a pandemic project?
A: Essentially, yes, it is. We recorded in Toronto in July 2021, in masks all day, every day, temperature checks, filling out forms, everyone being in different rooms. It was definitely different than other records but the fact we made it happen felt really great.
Q: What about the songwriting?
A: Well, when 2020 happened and everything started shutting down, I had become fast friends with (singer-songwriter) Sierra Noble. The whole pandemic was such a trip – I really struggled losing work and it was scary and unknown, and we were like, ‘Let’s write some songs over Zoom.’ We tried it out a few times, and then I decided to start writing for a new record.
Q: What was the first song you wrote?
A: Right around the same time, George Floyd was murdered, and everybody started talking about Black Lives Matter so we wrote Death of the American Dream. It was not a pandemic song, but it became a moment in time for me about what was going on in the world, and it led me down this path.
Q: That’s the path that led to your interviews with Métis elders? Tell me about that.
A: Yeah, I had been thinking so much about identity and all these different struggles, so it was sort of this culmination of all the things that were happening. I decided I wanted to go back to some of my Métis elders and guides, and have some conversations.
Q: Who did you interview?
A: I talked to John Arcand, Tony Belcourt, my friend Jaime Koebel about Métis identity, and those interviews all turned into inspiration for the songs, for the most part. I also ended up using some of the audio from the Tony Belcourt interview because he spoke so beautifully. Not a lot is talked about when it comes to Métis history specifically. There’s so much to the experience that’s the same as other Indigenous nations in what we call Canada but there’s also so much that’s different. I felt so inspired by speaking with Tony, who was very close friends with my grandfather. The songs kind of all fell into place and just kept rolling, and they felt very thematically connected.
Q: You did not grow up with a strong connection to your Métis heritage, right?
A: Growing up in Barrhaven, it was not something I was talking about or knowing about in the way that I do now. My grandfather was quite the incredible man but it was only later that I realized that he was super connected to his Indigenous identity. We never called it a Métis thing; we just did stuff together. It was not until I was an adult that I realized he was a proud Métis man from Red River.
Q: You explored your Métis roots on the 2014 album, Keep a Fire. What’s different this time?
A: I think the difference is that Keep a Fire was based on family stories – because I think we need to look back to understand where we are and where we’re going – but this is very much about my experience, and my questions about identity, being Métis, being gay, being a woman. Being all these things that people like to categorize. This is a record that really talks about that.
Q: One song that jumped out at me is Do About Her. What inspired it?
A: Identity politics, for sure. The first line is ‘She’s not quite an Indian girl, not quite a white girl either.’ There are a lot of identity conversations going on in the online space and it’s certainly meant to ask the question, ‘How do we want to treat each other?’ I really see a lot of these identity conversations as a symptom of colonization and what Sir John A. MacDonald and governments since then have wanted to do: Divide, conquer, and categorize people. ‘You’re Indian enough, but you’re not.’ This song is really meant to be a starting point for a conversation to happen in hopefully a different way than what’s happening right now.
Q: You not only made a record during the pandemic, but you (and Kish) also started a record label for Indigenous artists, organized an international Indigenous music summit and are setting up a national Indigenous Music Office. Is it safe to say you’re working to decolonize the music industry?
A: Yeah, colonization is literally a virus inside everybody, not just Indigenous people, and it’s going to take a lot of undoing. We’ve been working hard to raise awareness and build bridges and create conversations, and I really feel this is part of my life’s work – working for the community and amplifying their voices, as well as my own stories. It’s my path.