Laurel Canyon, in Los Angeles, California, was synonymous with intelligent songcraft at the turn of the 1970s, and with LPs, released by Warner Brothers or Asylum, that were like personal statements to America’s living rooms: albums like Van Dyke Parks’ Song Cycle (1968), Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon (1970), Randy Newman’s Sail Away (1972), and Linda Ronstadt’s Heart Like a Wheel (1974).
Charlotte Cornfield’s Bandcamp page describes her music as post-Laurel Canyon, and it’s easy to see why. Her songwriting is ambitious and wordy, with its sweeping panoramas and surprising cameos, and her voice is lazily amelodic, like Newman’s, eschewing the prettiness that dominates the female singer-songwriter idiom of late. It’s a voice that invites you to listen to the songwriting.
After a musical childhood in Toronto and an adolescent discovery of rock music, Cornfield studied jazz drumming at Montreal’s Concordia University while writing and performing her own songs. She released her first album Two Horses in 2011, and, following a stay in New York City, is about to release Future Snowbird.
1. Your new album is called Future Snowbird. Is it a reference to escaping winter, or to being a Canadian in the US?
When I was living in New York, I had the worst winter of my life. I’ve actually had problems during winter for the last several years, and I’m always toying with the idea of getting away for the winter.
I first thought of the title as a joke, but then I started to really like it. Anne Murray has a famous song called “Snowbird,” and that kind of Canadiana is an important part of who I am. It’s a bit cheesy, but it’s poking fun at it in a respectful way. When I was living in New York, I was really aware that I wasn’t from there. My Canadian identity became more ensconced.
2. Is Laurel Canyon a conscious influence or did you just happen to sound like that when you started to make music?
I’ve never consciously said “I want to sound like x artist.” It’s more like I wrote what I felt, and tried to figure out what sound and what lyrics best encapsulate what’s in my head. I listened to a lot of music from the 70s growing up—so much Joni, Bowie, Lou Reed—and it’s all in my head all the time. Those are all massive influences.
The term post-Laurel Canyon comes from my friend Leif Vollebekk. I asked him if he could describe my music and he said “post-Laurel Canyon grunge-folk.” I’m not too sure about the grunge part, but I like post-Laurel Canyon.
3. What was the process of recording the new album like?
I recorded it about a year ago with my band at Don Kerr’s place, in his home studio called the Rooster. It was recorded over a matter of days, so it’s pretty live-sounding. The band is kind of a mix-and-match of various people I’ve played with over the years, some from Montreal, some from New York, some from Toronto. I think the sound of the record is more upfront than Two Horses. It’s got a kind of raw quality. We didn’t labour over any aspect of it. I labour over my songwriting, but that’s my own thing.
4. Your first single is called “Aslan,” which is a reference to the Lion/Christ figure from the Narnia books. Were those books a big part of your childhood?
I definitely read the Narnia books growing, and I remember being really affected by the presence of Aslan, just kind of this creature who just appeared unexpectedly and made things better. I found that quite powerful. I haven’t read the books in years, but I’m getting that question a lot and really can’t say too much about it! My parents are agnostic and they encouraged me to read the books. Maybe there’s religious imagery, but it didn’t mean anything to me. But it does have a kind of a mythical quality.
5. What are the top five things you know about Peterborough?
Well, I know Sam Gleason, who plays in my band, is from Peterborough. His band Ptarmigan is from Peterborough. My good friend Dave Simard is from Peterborough, too. A lot of great musicians are from Peterborough. The Burning Hell were there for a while. I love The Spill. It was was one of the first places I played away from home. I’ve always had a good time playing there. I’ve eaten breakfast at the Only, and there’s the pizza place across the street, the Night Kitchen, which is really awesome. It’s a cool town.
See Charlotte Cornfield live at The Spill on March 12 with Nick Ferrio (more info).
Images courtesy the artist.