Listen to this track by Vancouverite orchestral art pop pioneer Veda Hille (that’s Vay-da Hil-ee, for you out-of-towners). It’s “Lucklucky”, a track as taken from her 2008 record This Riot Life, released on Andy Partridge’s Ape records label.
When it comes to being an indie artist who knows no artistic boundaries, Veda Hille has been a poster child in Vancouver for a while by now, putting out her first effort, Songs About People And Buildings in 1992 when I heard it for the first time on cassette in my friend’s basement apartment in far away Toronto. Her work as a recording artist is in addition to being very much grounded in the Vancouver arts scene working with dance and theatre companies, and in Berlin where she enjoyed a residency in 2013 while writing her most recent album, Love Waves.
What about this song, though, recorded after she’d set up what seemed to be an unwavering schedule of putting out records, playing live shows, and being involved in various stage productions for many years by this time? Well, among other things, it’s rooted in some pretty solidly Canadian themes as usual.
Additionally, you might be able to hear what Andy Partridge might have heard in Hille’s music, which trolls the some of the same waters that he himself explored with XTC, particularly in the latter part of that band’s output; orchestral flourishes, layered vocals with words serving as percussion lines, slowly building plucked strings, and Beatlesque chords and structure. But it’s also distinctly of “our home and native land” of Canada, too, with her voice unmistakably Canadian, complete with a musical snippet from the “Theme From Hockey Night In Canada”, quoted briefly in the “you must pit yourself against the hardships of the world” section. Only a Canadian would hear the wink and nod in that musical passage, with that theme song being our unofficial national anthem and all.
Aside from that, the words to “Lucklucky” allude to lives in the city and the daily grind of crawling out of our caves (our heads?) to meet the world and all it’s going to throw at us. All the while, the bears prowl outside of the walls we create for ourselves. This strikes me as a particularly Canadian metaphor. Despite our cosmopolitan culture, we’ve always been a country where the sheer presence and magnitude of nature is undeniable, filtering through into our cultural fabric and certainly into our art. That’s where this song hits me the most; the idea that our city life is merely a facade against that presence of nature which demands to be acknowledged. In art, Canadians ask ourselves about where our lives fit into that grand scale of things, always a looming force in our lives to some degree as we conduct our daily routines while in cities along the border to our cousins in the United States (and having to culturally deal with that too!). All the while, the uninhabited forests and tundra to the north of us make our cities appear so small in comparison. That’s some serious metaphorical gravity right there!
The video for this song is notable because Hille was “gloriously eight-months pregnant” while she filmed it, as the notes for it on YouTube say. When it comes to nature and art, there could hardly be a more striking example of the two worlds occupying the same space at once. That’s another thing that jumps out at me with this song. This is something that perhaps couldn’t have been created by a twenty-something version of herself, looking at that time to seek mainstream singer-songwriterly success on her own. “Lucklucky” strikes me as being about that distinctly Canadian quest for identity, made all the more potent by the fact that the songwriter was about to embark upon a very personal adventure of becoming a parent. A big part of that adventure is that there are places that we know, and places that we don’t know. When you’ve got that adventure before you, being shaken up and relieved of your illusions tends to be an important by-product of the process to figuring that out. It’s one of those journeys in life that forces you to decide on the kind of person you want to become, and to reflect on the person you’ve been. In that space, sometimes it really does feel like you’re blind, blind, blind, or have been, on the way to whatever city of destiny you’re headed toward, or think you are headed toward.
Veda Hille is an active artist and musician today. Her new album, Love Waves, was released in May. You can find out more about it (and hear the new song “Lover/Hater”, which is excellent) at vedahille.com.
For even more information about this singular artist, here’s an interview with Veda Hille from last year from The Globe & Mail that provides a nice overview to her career and to the diversity of her artistic interests and output.