Caroline Brooks ... 1/3rd of the Good Lovelies

I don't even remember when I met the Good LoveliesCaroline Brooks, Kerri Ough, and Sue Passmore.  It was definitely when I was living and making music in Canada, but where exactly in that great north country did I meet them?  Was it in the Royal City of Guelph?  Was it that circus-like February weekend in Montreal at Folk Alliance (when I also met Lori Cullen, Duane Andrews, Kurt Swinghammer, and Pat Boyle)?  Was it at the always-killer Hillside Festival?  The mist of time is thick and I am disoriented, pleasantly so.

No matter.  Allow me to introduce you to the sweet sound of the Good Lovelies (one of Canada's premier folk bands) and to one third of that power trio, Caroline Brooks.  (Don't worry ... I fully intend to introduce you to the other two Lovelies -- Kerri and Sue -- in future Tenacity posts.)

There's always been a spark between Caroline and me, a kind of open knowing-ness, a lovely curious, eager reach toward friendship.  Though we've only spent small spans of time together -- in a bar before a show, on a street corner, in a poutine shop -- I've always felt happy for our moments of connection and wondered why we didn't make more of them happen.  (In fact, I've wondered this about the Good Lovelies in general.  I've often fantasized about writing a whole record of tunes for them to sing.  Their voices are somehow both ethereal and elemental, primal and pretty -- a combo I absolutely love.)  

Such is the life of musicians on the run: chasing the next lyric, the next song, the next gig.  Imagine how great it was for me, then, when Caroline agreed to take part in the Tenacity interview.  Another point of connection for us.  Wonder where it will lead ...

(This interview is part of the TENACITY series.  Read the FAQ here.)

1.Tell me a story about / describe to me your lowest musical moment, were you were at rock bottom, the most frustrated, the most discouraged.
I lost my voice about a year ago. It was terrifying; my high range was almost completely gone, and even my speaking voice was husky and rough. It may sound sexy, but it was not. I was used to a very clear, bell-like tone from my voice, and this was not my voice.

It was threatening my career as a musician and my mental health, not to mention the financial well-being of my bandmates. It was very very scary.

2. What change or changes did you make?  How did you get out of that place?  What made a difference?
I made some big lifestyle changes, and started to think of my voice in a different way. I started to see a vocal coach for the first time. This may seem insane to others - my being in a vocal harmony group - I had never, before that time, treated my voice like an instrument.

I play guitar and mandolin, and practice those regularly, but before last year, had never practiced singing daily. I just sang while I was writing, rehearsing, and performing (which is a lot of the time), but I had developed some bad habits.

In addition to seeing the top ENT in Toronto (I was very lucky), I cut dairy, all alcohol, caffeine, and other acidic foods, to reduce reflux.

A huge part of my healing process was seeing my vocal coach. Amanda helped me get out of a very bad place emotionally. Because of her help and guidance, I am a better singer than I was just a year ago.

3.  Tell me about your most meaningful or your biggest musical triumph?  It can be very personal or very public.  How did it come to happen?
When we released our last full-length original album, “Let the Rain Fall”, I had to learn some key electric guitar parts from the album for our live performance. I really didn’t think I could do it, but after some diligent rehearsing, I was able to play the parts.

The first show I played them at was in Guelph, ON in December 2011. That was a very fulfilling moment, watching my fingers fly in a way that I never thought I’d be able to.

4.  Tell me how being a musician has made you a better person?
I think that music keeps me joyful, and allows me to see things positively, even in dark moments. Travelling with my band is extremely fun, and having this job as a career means spending a lot of time with my best buds/band mates. For me there is no greater payoff than stepping onstage with my two best friends and singing in harmony – I can’t recreate that feeling anywhere else in my life.

5.  To whom would you like to ask question #4 to -- living or dead?  Why would you want to ask them?  What do you think their answer to question #4 would be (as succinctly as you can state it)?
I would ask Paul Simon how making music has made him a better person. He is probably my favourite songwriter in the universe, and Graceland is a perfect piece of musical genius.

I suspect that he would say that being a musician allows him to see the world through music. Not just through travelling the world as a touring musician, but making music locally, with people from all over the world. It makes for a beautiful worldview!

6. Do you have a musical challenge you'd like to issue to my readers?  Some small / do-able practice they could try for 1, 7, 14, 21 days?  Something that you worked on that made a difference to you as a musician, songwriter, person?
If you haven’t already, make a date to write with someone else. I have found that co-writing has made me a better songwriter. Do it weekly, for a month, with different people and try to look at the tunes objectively to find out if your writing is evolving. It’s changed my life!