Kara-Lis Coverdale talks MTL music scene, working with Tim Hecker

a/Arts & Entertainment/Music by

If you hear of a 20-something-year-old musician who hasn’t yet had a radio hit, the first thing that likely comes to mind is the ‘struggling young artist’ trope—lots of work with little payoff and growing frustration—but that’s not the case for Kara-Lis Coverdale. Walking into her little Plateau home studio surrounded by an array of pianos, keyboards, computer screens, plenty of electronic equipment, and an enveloping ambient sound that feels like a fixture of the household, there isn’t a trace of desperation in the air.

Coverdale began studying piano at a young age in rural Ontario, and by the age of 14 she was an organist and composing music director at a local church. Coverdale completed a master’s degree in music at Western University and wrote an interdisciplinary thesis on timbral rhetoric and constructions of realism in recorded sound. After completing her studies, she made a somewhat spontaneous move to Montreal.

“There was nothing stopping me from doing whatever I wanted, and I knew Montreal was the place I wanted to do it,” says Coverdale. “In London, the scene was pretty low-key, which can be a great thing to develop a practice and focus on your craft. However, there comes a time when you’re ready to share and collaborate. Here in the city, I feel pretty spoiled—it’s an incredibly inspiring and imaginative idea pool to be a part of.”

Coming to a big city without prior connections is a daunting prospect, and Coverdale explains that the Internet was a huge help in getting the ball rolling.

“I imagine getting settled in a completely new city would have taken eons before the Internet. When I first arrived I didn’t know anyone at all and I didn’t have anything set-up,” she says. “But shortly after I got here, I landed a position as an organist at St. John’s NDG and did an internship at Vice Magazine, a special experience which really helped me meet people directly involved in the cultural scene of the city [….] The editor there put me touch with Tim.”

The Tim she refers to is none other than the Montreal-based sound artist Tim Hecker, a well-established figure in the world of ambient music. The two hit it off immediately and he asked Coverdale to play the keys on his latest album, Virgins, a hauntingly beautiful soundscape that was rated a top ten album of 2013 by The Wire, NPR, and SPIN. The partnership seems like it was meant to be, as working with Hecker provided the perfect venue for Coverdale to develop her own personal sound.

“In terms of my mindset I’m kind of a technologist,” she tells me. “In school, this was one of my huge frustrations with the academy. They never encouraged that type of out-of-the-box thinking [….] So it was up to me to learn the tools and equipment I needed to put the ideas I had about the modern world around me into actual music.”

Her growth as a musician is evident when you compare her first release—a three track EP of self-composed solo piano pieces titled Triptych—to her latest endeavors, which are considerably denser arrangements, full of polymorphous sounds with the occasional resurfacing of processed piano.

“Solo piano pieces are a different beast,” says Coverdale. “I don’t know if I’ll ever make anything like that again. Maybe. I enjoy them, but for right now they aren’t fulfilling. They don’t say what I want to say. When I look back on that work, it feels like a shadow of something else.”

As her music continues to evolve, I have high hopes for whatever Coverdale has in store for us. Her current project, a collaboration with New Jersey-based experimental electronic musician/internet archivist LVX, centres on themes of disembodiment and digitalized aggression.

“We began to explore disembodied violence and virtual reality, and realized these forms of aggression don’t really involve blood at all,” she says. “We wanted to design, from scratch, a soundscape for the distinct pleasure and ecstasy that lies in this safe nook of disembodied experience.”

Keep an eye out for Coverdale in the Montreal music scene in the coming months. She’s clearly a musician with a vision, and won’t hesitate to see it to fruition.