by Martyna Turczynowicz
Iskwe is a Winnipeg native. Her debut album has been nominated for Electronic Advanced Album of the Year at the WTMAs and her song, “Slack Jaw,” was the regional finalist for Manitoba finalist for the CBC Searchlight Competition. Stylus caught up with Iskwe leading up to her homecoming show at the Park Theatre.
Stylus: You’ve described your music as “dark and painful…there’s some light in there too. However the lower registers always resonate with me” Can you talk about that some more?
Iskwe: I used to live in LA and I have a friend who I used to send music to and get her feedback. She really had a similar idea of what my goal as an artist was for my music. There was a stage where some of the stuff that I was sending was, I’ll quote Kitty Star on this, “A little bit candy pop,” as opposed to what I felt was really my voice. This friend of mine, she liked the ones where I spoke more truth than in those other more sort of “candy-pop” songs. I’m not necessarily saying that everything is really depressing. That’s where my truth comes from and truth is the art that I’m doing.
Stylus: Your music mixes Irish and Cree/Dene roots with hip hop breakbeats, left-field R&B and traces of piano pop…
Iskwe: My lineage is a mix of the three Indigenous of Canada and Irish background. The way it influences my music is really just that it is my makeup, my spirit, my being and obviously it is what I pull from when I create art.
Stylus: You sing about trying to fit into, yet wanting to break away from Western Archetypes. Which archetypes, how have they affected you?
Iskwe: So many. I think that I can attribute it to growing up and being the person who never really belonged to one group of friends. Especially high school; high schools are quite cliquey and I never felt like I really fit 100 per cent into any particular group. It took me quite a while to figure out that it was okay and that it was something to feel pride in because that’s who I was. When I sing about wanting to fit in, but also wanting to break away, it’s about finding footing in myself. When I’m singing in that metaphor, I’m referring to my own footing in my own being and my own spirit. Breaking away from the archetypes, it’s looking at things that are assumed of people. It’s assumed that because I can sing soulfully, I should be singing this soulful music. With anything that could be thought of in advance, what I’m saying is “Hold on, I don’t know if that’s what I want to be doing. Let me figure that out for myself”
Stylus: You’re quite well traveled. Where have you been and how have your travels affected you?
Iskwe: I’ve lived in Toronto, New York and LA. All three cities have impacted me very strongly and in very different ways. LA was definitely a crash course in the entertainment industry; it really opened my eyes to the business side of being an entertainer. There are a lot of pros and cons to the business side of it and as well as a lot of pros and cons to being a female in the entertainment industry living in LA. I could go on and on about that. New York is fantastic for creativity. Every time I go there it’s a little overwhelming at how much creativity comes out. It’s the energy of the city and the access to fantastic art from other people. Toronto has always been the place that I’ve gone to decompress and often to record. I always come back to Winnipeg. I technically moved away from Winnipeg in my early twenties. I have come back and spent blocks of time there. I’ve never felt removed from the city. I’ve gone and spent months at a time and in a similar way that Toronto is a place where I go to reflect on those work processes; Winnipeg is where I go to immerse myself in family and calm and being outside and hang out in a very mellow way.
Stylus: Your track “Recycle” was one of my favourites. Can you tell me what inspired that track?
Iskwe: The music industry. That song is all about the people I met while I was living in LA. There’s an ongoing joke that everyone in LA is a record producer or can hook you up with so and; somebody always knows somebody. There’s always somebody that wants to take you so far, until they realize that maybe you’re not what they want and they disappear.
Stylus: You’ve worked with A Tribe Called Red and M1 of Dead Prez, who both make some pretty politically charged music. How was that?
Iskwe: M1 is fucking awesome. He’s really cool, really grounded and knows a lot. Dead Prez is such a politically inspired duo, so M1 really knows a lot about indigenous people and histories of indigenous people in Canada and in the U.S. It was really nice to talk to him because I didn’t feel like I was constantly being like “This is what happened” or “This is what residential schools were”. Conversations that are great to have with people who don’t know, but it’s nice to have that conversation that isn’t rooted in explanation.
I’ve known A Tribe Called Red for years and I’ve done a lot of shows and work with them. I first met them years ago in Winnipeg at an Aboriginal Music Week event. They brought me out to Electric Powwows in Ottawa and I’ve brought them to Toronto. When I was performing at their parties in Ottawa, the buzz was still growing. Seeing these guys grow and blow up is fucking awesome.
Iskwe will be performing at the park Theatre on July 30th with Vikings. Tickets are 10$. Doors open at 8:00p.m. and show starts at 9:00p.m.