49 Degrees: Canadian Pagan Perspectives

Canadian Paganism has a style all its own. Have a look at events, issues, celebrations, people, trends and events north of the border from the eyes of a Canadian Wiccan and Witch.

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A New Face in Canadian Pagan Music: Tara Rice

Tara Rice is a brand-new Pagan artist from Toronto, Ontario.  She contacted me via my website to ask me to listen to her new single.  I was enchanted!  I immediately invited her to join our Canadian Pagan music anthology project (now set for this November) and asked if she'd be willing to do an interview.  She's a friendly and enthusiastic but professional young woman and I was impressed with her thoughtful answers.  You can find more information on her or her music at her website: www.tararice.com.

Photo by Jessica RiceTara, thanks for agreeing to do this interview with me!  Can you tell me a little bit about your musical background?  What made you decide to get into music, especially Pagan music?

I don’t actually remember making the decision to get into music. It was more something that I just did, like breathing or eating. Sometimes it feels like a compulsion! I was always a huge fan of anything creative and I began singing at a young age. I am discovering that I was really lucky as a teenager, because most of the people around me were musicians, so I had the opportunity to mess about with guitars, drums, bass, trumpets, flutes, microphones, whatever I could get my hands on. I never really felt very technically good at any one thing, nor did I get any official training, but I discovered that if I gathered what I could do, I was able to create a decent composition. Besides that, music has always been a necessary, emotional catharsis for me. I’m a highly sensitive person and I can’t imagine not having a creative outlet be the centre of my life. I don’t think I would function very well! Writing is how I synthesize my feelings, my questions, and what I learn in life. 
I devoured the library when I was a kid, and was quite fascinated with books on things like palmistry, tarot cards, ESP, wicca, nature worship, the occult, magic, spells, and the like. I remember when I was about 11 years old, I came across the statement, “Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill, An it harm none, do what ye will.” This resonated deeply with me. Being in a family with no expressed or practiced faith or religion, and having no desire to conform to the ones taught at school, I developed my own rules based on what felt right to me. This ‘rede’ or creed summed up how I felt. I think it’s beautiful. It feels right to be expressing that through my music and my life.
Tell me a little bit about your background in Paganism.  What tradition do you practice (if any)?  Who were some of your major influences?
The first pagan-related book that I can remember reading, that influenced further study belonged to my mother. They were a Time Life Books series called ‘Mysteries of the Unknown’ with titles like ‘Magical Arts’ and ‘Witches and Witchcraft’ and ‘The Mysterious World’. I couldn't resist them.
How about musical influences?
I was exposed to so much music as a kid, through my parents. They were always playing records. Everything from classical music to Black Sabbath to Madonna, there were new flavours every day. I have about a thousand physical albums in my home right now, and my favourite music tends to have a unique voice. At the moment, I am mostly spinning Jesca Hoop, Rachel’s and Radiohead.
Photo by Jessica RiceDo you think that Canadian musicians have a more difficult time getting their work out there?  Why or why not?
Not necessarily. If we think beyond (and basically ignore) what the music industry has been doing for the past hundred and fifty years, and realize that things are changing, we can change with it.
Yes, there is the whole geography of it; Canada is such a huge country, and the traditional way of promoting oneself is to tour. We have long, rough winters in this country, and hundreds of kilometers between cities. This can throw a rather big wrench in Canadian touring, unless you have a hefty budget, can pull a good crowd, and have some sweet snow tires. However, I think it benefits all musicians, Canadian or otherwise, to be community-minded with their live shows; start playing locally and build from there.
Then there’s the internet. The internet has no national borders. We can promote our music via web to anywhere in the world on various platforms. There are two poles to this. On one hand, you can get your music out internationally and independently. On the other hand...so can everyone else! haha. That means that the market may be saturated, so it’s important to cast a discerning net, perhaps more so than a wide one. When finding an international audience, despite where an artist lives geographically, it is helpful to find your heart’s home or your ‘niche’.
You're a singer/songwriter, right?  Your lyrics are rather poetic.  Do you have a background in poetry or literature?
As an introverted kid, I was drawn to reading stories and poems and writing them as well. Words have always enchanted me because of the power they hold. Each word is a symbol, steeped in meanings and stories of its own. They are like living organisms. Words, semantics, pronunciation, how a word is sung, how the composition of a phrase works with the composition of the music...it’s casting a spell. It is a never-ending fractal of awesome for me, haha.
What kinds of things inspire you?
This world and the passionate people within it inspire me. 
Photo by Jessica RiceI noticed that your EP has, among other things, songs about witchcraft, vampires, and Timothy Leary. Is counterculture a focal point for your work?  
I guess I never really thought about it that way, but it could be! Panorama is definitely taking a position of support for characters/people who have been traditionally vilified, and turning that around by revealing a story or point of view that is less en vogue. For example, ‘the devil’ is a character that many people are afraid of. They will usually have a negative reaction to it. My story to tell, is that ‘the devil’ was appropriated from nature worship’s horned god, and stood for many beautiful and amazing things. Most importantly to me, free will, love and music. Quite different from the common idea of the devil.
On this EP, I also decided to use words that create a common reflex in most people, and put them in an uncommon context. ‘Monster’ for instance. Monsters are things that are unusual or different, and are feared by people based on these differences. In my song, I wanted to celebrate what makes people and things unique and depict monsters as beautiful and inspiring. 
You got my attention with your song and video "No Harm," which considers the demonizing of Pan, and points out the historical link between the Horned God and the Christian Devil.  (I love it, by the way.)  What made you decide to take that approach?
There are many methods in which ‘the powers that be’ (the government, the church, the ‘elite’) employ to control the masses. This is not a new thing, but thankfully, it is something that is more widely known and discussed now, especially with the internet providing us with the ability to communicate an abundance of information to one another. Knowledge is power! I wanted to reach back in time to an early instance of religion being used to scare the crap out of, and in turn, control and take personal freedom from people. The theme of the appropriation of the horned god was a way for me to express this message in my own language. I believe it is very important that we are honest with ourselves and each other about who is controlling our lives and to investigate their agendas.
I know that many witches are eager to distance themselves from the Christian devil, especially in the current climate of religious extremism.  Have you had negative reactions from the Pagan community or the general public?
With regard to my ‘No Harm’ video, the Pagan community has been incredibly supportive, which is so nice, because I had a bit of reservation for the reasons you mentioned. Some Christian folks have told me that it’s Satanic and have been quite bothered by it, and others have thought it was Satanic and liked it anyway, haha. People in general have given me pretty positive feedback, even if they are a bit confused by the content. Artists and techies respond mostly to the editing, art direction and cinematography. So, there has been a real mixed bag of reactions; some confusion, some dislike, some madly in love. 
Photo by Jessica RiceI am in admiration of the production quality of your work.  Did you record professionally or did you do it at home?  What service, studio or software did you use?
Thank you! I recorded Panorama in my home and in my rehearsal space with my production partner, Sködt McNalty (www.strangeattraktor.com). We used Pro Tools, a Digidesign Digi 002, a BAE 312 mic preamp and a collection of microphones for various things (AKG 414, AKG C1000, Shure SM7B, Shure SM57). The EP was mixed by Dean Marino from Echo Valley Studio (www.facebook.com/EchoValleyStudio) and mastered by João Carvalho at João Carvalho Mastering (www.joaocarvalhomastering.com). 
The video for ‘No Harm’ was directed, filmed and edited by Sködt McNalty, using an iPhone. I filmed and edited the video for ‘Oh Tim’ myself, also using an iPhone.
What are your plans for the near future?  Are you playing any shows coming up?  Doing any recording projects?
While I get my own set prepared to perform live, I am trying out some of my songs with my band, 5th PROJEKT (www.5thprojekt.com). We have a residency at a great venue in Toronto called The Painted Lady (218 Ossington Ave). Our next performance there is on October 9th and we will be there, curating the show every second Thursday of the month. If anyone has a song request, let me know! Another upcoming show will be at Rancho Relaxo in Toronto on October 24th, as part of a festival called TWiMFeST. We are also working on a new full-length album called Ultreya, based on our pilgrimage across Spain on the Camino Santiago de Compostela. I am in the midst of writing for another solo release as well.
Any other comments or rants?
Thank you so much for taking the time to ask these great, thoughtful questions! I appreciate the conversation!

Photo by Jessica RiceMusic Review: Panorama EP
This isn't just a Pagan EP.  Subject matter, however, will definitely appeal to the Pagan subculture; alienation, loneliness, free-thinkers, and the Horned God all figure in this eerie and addictive EP release.  As an indie musician myself I was seriously impressed with the quality of the production; Tara says she recorded this in her living room and then got it mastered; I can only assume it must be the mastering because my work doesn't sound this good!  Her talent as a lyricist and composer comes through quite clearly.
Pigeon-holing the genre is a mistake.  Musical style ranges from contemporary work that reminds me of Suzanne Vega, the Misfits, and Kate Bush.  Alternative folk rock is probably the best description, but her arrangements involve cello, synthesized and live drums, electric guitar, and funky bass lines (among other things).  Even the hard-rocking elements have a haunting, hypnotic quality.
The first song, "Stones" begins "Vaccinate my loneliness with cigarettes and wine, then invite the ghosts inside to help me keep the time, I'm between the lines, could you meet me for a spell?  We will honour the deities that keep us well."  She speaks of the Maiden, Mother and Crone as guides for life's changes; she speaks of digging through the dirt to find the stones as a metaphor for soul-searching and finding meaning in struggle.  So the song isn't a Pagan song, but the imagery is purely Pagan.
"Vampires" talks about the energetic kind who wear on you and batten on your vitality; "No Harm" is the next track, and if you can't see this as a hymn to the Horned God, go back and re-read your Aradia: the Gospel of the Witches.
"Oh Tim" is a narrative lament for renegade psychologist Timothy Leary, who of course is famous for his research into psychedelics and altered states of consciousness.  And as she herself points out in the interview, "Monster" is about celebrating the unusual and the weird and is sure to become a goth club favourite (and part of every Werewolf: the Apocalypse player's soundtrack).  The final song on the EP, "The Emerald Horizon," uses the Wizard of Oz as a symbol of falling for flim-flam and situations that feel unreal.
I think the lyrics are brilliantly written (pregnant with meaning for a Pagan, but just evocative imagery for the secular audience) and the music is engaging.  I recommend "Panorama," which can be purchased in limited-edition CD or in Mp3 format at Tara's Bandcamp site.
You can also find Tara on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud or YouTube.
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Sable Aradia (Diane Morrison) has been a traditional witch most of her life, and she is a licensed Wiccan minister and a Third Degree initiate in the Star Sapphire and Pagans for Peace traditions. Author of "The Witch's Eight Paths of Power" (Red Wheel/Weiser 2014) and contributor to "Pagan Consent Culture" and "The Pagan Leadership Anthology," she also writes "Between the Shadows" at Patheos' Pagan channel and contributes to Gods & Radicals. Sable is just breaking out as a speculative fiction writer under her legal name, and a new serial, the Wyrd West Chronicles, will be released on the Spring Equinox this year. Like most writers, she does a lot of other things to help pay the bills, including music, Etsy crafts, and working part time at a bookstore. She lives in Vernon, BC, Canada with her two life partners and her furbabies in a cabin on the edge of the woods.


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