A Quieter Love
An Interview with Wendy McNeill
Stardust, barns and accordions, from Canada to France, from Sweden to Spain. Profet's Chief Ideologue Filip Lindström confronts his own attachement to his memories and dreams, when meeting Canadian singer and accordionist Wendy McNeill for an interview in Stockholm.
I have now reached a point where I can conduct an interview entirely based on former interviews. I no longer require any substance in my personality, nor do I need to share any personal anecdotes to carry a conversation of any sort. I can comfortably lean onto Profet’s back catalogue and romanticize memories from passed interviews, until the day I become a sentimental has-been, lacking the capacity to appreciate the present moment. For the time being, I’m still a sentimental will-be, with my head mercilessly split between my future and my short but exaggerated past.
Singer and accordionist Wendy McNeill has no issues with staying put in the present. She has been living in Valencia, Spain for the past few years, for the sake of existing off-grid. The off-grid lifestyle, I can imagine, is something you strive for if you wish to ground yourself in the moment. I can see the charm in that, but still I cling too desperately to my dilated dreams and my momentary memories to seek possession of the present. I’m simply too damn comfortable living in my head. Too comfortable for my own good? I think not.
»I wanted a new adventure«
- Wendy McNeill
Before the move to Valencia, Wendy resided in Stockholm, where we meet for this interview during one of her brief visits to the city. Her foremost musical collaborators are Stockholmers, and she still has one foot here. Valencia has, apart from the off-grid life style, given her a different artistic environment than Stockholm or her native Canada could offer.
- There’s a lot of amazing writers, poets, artists with the independent mentality where you make your own opportunities, she says about her new home town, elaborating: There’s also a lot of people that are taking over spaces that used to be business spaces, that are now artist spaces and collectives.
Hearing Wendy speak of creative squatters, I can’t help but to think of a story from my past that speaks for the direct opposite:
- I remember an old interview I did with Manchester band Duds and Leeds based Girl Sweat , where Duds mentioned that such spaces in Manchester are rather taken over to become offices, making Manchester more and more of an office town.
- That’s the cycle of things, right? says Wendy. These artists that are making the community thrive now will be kicked out in ten years because of gentrification. Everything will get pretty and nice and economically valuable. Then they will go make somewhere else beautiful that is rough and edgy.
- I often dream of New York and Berlin, which I’ve written about in my interviews »A Tale of Two Cities« with Eric Maltz and »A Walk Down The Sound Path« with Aera, I tell Wendy and ramble on: Both cities are good examples of what we’re talking about. Would you say that there is an international community in Valencia?
- It’s becoming, it’s not like Barcelona or Madrid, which is what I like. I like that it’s still very open in the sense that people don’t feel they have to claim space because there’s so many people from abroad.
- Did you ever find something like that in Canada?
- Yeah, I think I pretty much always had that in Canada, but I guess the place you’re from you always feel a part of.
- So why did you decide to leave Canada in the first place?
Wendy has to think about her answer to why she left her home country, after which she has traveled far and wide. Àpres un moment, she finds her words.
- Probably because I wanted a new adventure. I was going more into accordion, and was thinking of studying in either France or Italy. I ended up settling on Paris, such a cliché, and I stayed for years which was wonderful.
- Your focusing on the accordion, was that a part of your longing for something new? Did you find that in Paris?
- I found it hugely. You know when you make a wish and you get what you wish for? You think it’s going to be a small window but it ends up being a theatre-sized door.
»Door and Window« by Filip Lindström
A constant throughout all Wendy’s stories, from all over the world, is how fondly she speaks of the people she works with. From every instance of her life, she has taken memories with her to where she is today. These memories, or the people they capture, have given Wendy something lasting that stays with her wherever she may go next. She talks with an impressive patience, slowly to give the thoughts time to be correctly articulated. The absence of haste affects her voice, making it soothing to listen to. I envy her relaxed presence, but still I won’t allow myself to just be in the moment. I do sense that Wendy once has lived like me, in her dreams and in her memories, but now she can look at the fond memories as a complement to her off-grid present moment.
From France, Wendy went on to Sweden, where she married a Swede and found precious Swedish collaborators for her music. Her last three albums have been recorded in the Aerosol Grey Machine studio (most likely named after a trippy Van Der Graaf Generator album from 1969) in southern Sweden’s Skåne.
»It’s a different kind of love«
- Wendy McNeill
The latest record »Hunger Made You Brave« continues a story that Wendy begun on »For The Wolf, A Good Meal« from 2011, a knot that she didn’t entirely tie seven years ago.
- How did you get back to that train of thought? I ask her.
- Many things were creeping in but the actual day that I said I was going to start part two, I was reading an article about why so many barns are red. In Sweden, and Canada, the barns are red. This is kind of a long-winded answer, I hope that’s okay.
- Yes, I love those.
- Basically, the barns are red because red is the cheapest paint. So, why is red the cheapest paint? It’s the cheapest paint because iron is the most common element. So, why is iron the most common element? Because it’s what’s left when stars die. Stars have these nuclear fusions 56 times before they die, and 56 was actually a number that I arbitrarily chose as an important base of the story, where a woman goes looking for her husband for 56 days and fell in love 56 ways.
- And that was just a circumstance, that you chose 56?
- It was just such a random number, but then this happened which was perfect because knew I wanted to take the story from the depths of the sea up to the stars. Where I’m living now there is no pollution so I can see the stars from my roof.
»Barns and Stars« by Filip Lindström
In the chronological line where »For The Wolf, A Good Meal« marks part one and »Hunger Made You Brave« part two, there was an interruption for an album on a different theme. »One Colour More« (2014) had to be made before the story could be carried on. Wendy explains why:
- The logical thing for most people would be to do part two after part one, right? But, at that time I was living in Stockholm and touring quite a bit in Germany. That was when the migration thing really started to build and I saw more tension than I had when I first came to Europe. I wanted to write an album that was trying to break that down in a story teller way, which I think is what I’m here to do as an artist. I wanted to take individual stories of migration and immigration and personalize it.
In countries that look at the so-called migration crisis from an outside perspective, the wave of migrants is anonymous and easy to pinpoint as a problem. Some call it a crisis because of how it affects the countries that accept migrants, when the crisis is really about what the migrants are running away from. »One Colour More« attempted to de-anonymize this group of people to make them easier to understand and thereby also more plausible to welcome. What we don’t understand, we’re afraid to let into our lives.
When Wendy tells the tale of how stardust marks the price of red paint and thus dyes large parts of rural areas in both Sweden and Canada, I think of a Profet piece called »Världsskildring: Chansonnieres quebécois i Montréal och Kanada« , written by Jacob Hallerström. Depicted there are the similarities between Swedish and Canadian folk tunes, a gleeful genre with an obscene focus on the summer months of the year. These Canadian and Swedish cheery sing along tidbits often also contain the accordion, which brings me to my final question for Wendy:
- Do you still feel the same way about the accordion as when you went to France?
- No, she replies.
- The honey moon phase is over?
- It’s a different kind of love. I guess it’s like a marriage, at first it’s exciting and then there’s a different depth of love. It might be a quieter love but it’s a deeper one.
Amidst the deep love she feels for her instrument, the stories she tells, the music she makes and the people she makes it with, Wendy McNeill is a memorable person that may one day inspire me to pull my head out of the clouds that are my dreams and memories. It will not be today, nor tomorrow, but if I wouldn’t live on the hope of that day coming, I would not live at all. Until then, I just add the interview with Wendy to my ever growing bank of memories to choose from whenever I conduct the next one.