Drawn Ship embarks on its maiden voyageMost people emerge from a break-up 10 pounds heavier or lighter, depending on which side of the dump/dumpee divide one falls on. Lyn Heinemann, formerly of indie jazz outfit Portico, came out on the other side with a new band and a new album. Drawn Ship is Heinemann’s collaboration with ex-Hinterland drummer Gregg Steffensen, but the bruised-and-beautiful songs on the duo’s debut, Low Domestic, are her own. The album is part break-up record and partly inspired by Heinemann’s emotionally gruelling work as an addictions counsellor in the Downtown Eastside. WE spoke with Heinemann in advance of the band’s CD release party, Sept. 24 at Artbank.
I’ve been listening to the album a lot and it makes me want to cry, both because of its beauty and its deep sadness.
People keep saying that. I guess I didn’t notice when I was writing it. When I started I knew I was making a break-up album, which isn’t always happy, but I didn’t know it was going to turn out to be so down. It’s pretty dark in the end, hey?
It is... Writing it all down and having people on the other side say, ‘hey this is dark’ would be a bit of a surprise.
It’s kind of like going to work and your boss says, “oh, you look really tired” and you’re like, “thanks, I actually slept all right.” (Laughs)
Can you provide some insight into the different breakup stages you went in the writing process?
I didn’t really start writing a lot of the songs until the break-up was more or less over. It was in the early I hate you / don’t talk to me / we need space stages. I’d never really had a bad break-up before; it was always kind of amicable. This is the first time it was really shitty, and obviously it really bugged me. Most of the break-up songs on the record aren’t about my own direct experience, but it just got me thinking about all the shitty ways that two people can part. So a lot of them are totally fictional and don’t have anything to do with my own particular circumstance. Lots of adultery and wife-beating, that kind of thing, on the record, not in my life! (Laughs)
Does the narrative structure give you the necessary separation to be an observer?
Totally. And more than that, I feel like it’s a bit more interesting. Telling your own story over and over, for me that would be really hard to do over 13 tracks. My life isn’t all that interesting.
You work with people who need a lot of help. How has that bled into your creative process?
My job — it affects me a lot. It can be pretty tough day-to-day. There’s tons of light moments and really amazing things that happen. It’s not all bad, that’s for sure, or I couldn’t do it. But I guess in the last couple years there’s been some really hard stuff. I’ve lost three clients to overdose or drug-related illness, so a lot of that had to come out in a way. My own feelings towards my job are pretty mixed. This is maybe a longer answer than you want. (Laughs). It’s just tough. I’m part of a system, right, and ultimately I’m working, I’m being paid to help these kids that need so much more than what I can provide, or even what the system can provide. They need a family, they need a home, they need a mom. And at the end of the day, I go home. There are boundaries set up for a reason. I’m grateful for those boundaries, but then in writing those songs on this album that are about my job or about the clients, it’s kind of a way to excuse myself a bit from being part of a system that’s doing something, but it ultimately falling a way short, I think, no matter how much the individuals care about each other.
You also have a minor obsession with Louis Riel?
He’s such a compelling character. There’s so much drama in his life and his story. The man was kind of half-insane. My friend [singer/songwriter] Lee Abramson, she and I came up with this plan to write a musical biography of Louis Riel’s life. I don’t know why, we were just hanging around and thought that’s a great idea! So we did. Collectively we have 10 or 11 songs, we totally chronicle his life. Maybe someday we’ll put it all together, but we’ve just been typical slack musicians and haven’t done that project yet. She’s released a couple songs from that Riel series and so have I. There’s one on our last Portico record and one on this one. I’m hoping one day we can get our act together and record and release it all.