Lucie Idlout: Put A Little Hip In That Swagger

By Lee Waters

Looking at the latest press pictures of Lucie Idlout, one can see a hint of matured femininity. Listening to her latest album Swagger, one can hear that hint as well. Ten years after her debut album E5-770: My Mother’s Name attracted critical acclaim and saw her perform at the Aboriginal Achievement Awards, open for the White Stripes in Iqaluit, and generated lot of media buzz, the Nunavut born rocker is back and exposing her softer side.

The first time I saw Lucie Idlout, she was standing on a stage in front of an enthusiastic audience at the Railway club in Vancouver in 2005 performing a line-up of songs from her first album. She crawled on the stage; she raged; she held nothing back. I was impressed. A fan of true hard rock women always has an eye out for an inspiring newcomer. Nearly five years later, as I listen to Lucie’s new album in my living room—admittedly a much less stimulating environment—something is different. Her debut album, bound with hard rock influences, had glimpses of youthful experience and her indigenous heritage, but Swagger explores personal experiences of love and loss mixed with her signature hard rock sound. Stripped of haunting Aboriginal influences like throat singing and traditional instruments, Lucie explores lighter sounds with more pop and country style influences this time around. Lyrics consist primarily of the emotions evoked by love. It seems Lucie herself (an open advocate of seal hunting in Inuvik) might have been speared by Cupid’s arrow.

The first two songs “Berlin” and “Whiskey Breath” blast out, still holding the power of heavy rock. The next song “My Shine” has a more Avril Lavine-style pop beat with energetic, harmonized voice tracks repeating the lyrics almost sarcastically: “You’re so impossible, yet so predictable.” Then the mood shifts to the more sombre “Tonight” in which her husky voice sweetens, and she croons, “I can’t get you out of my head. I’d rather love you instead.” It seems Idlout is trying her hand at a bit of everything, each song testing the boundaries of rock and slipping into pop and folk genres. But she’s far from having lost her edge, as she proves in the last song on the album “Be There For You.” She sings these bitter lyrics with lullaby sweetness: “When you’re tired and feeling down, when you’ve lost the will to go on, I won’t be there for you. Not for the stars in the sky, not for the tears in your eyes, not for a comforting moment, not for you. I won’t be there for you.”

There seems to be a very intentional cleansing of the traditional sounds, influences, and subject matter found on her first album, which is not surprising considering the artist’s frustration with being unable to shed her Inuk ancestry as a blanket identity in media reviews and interviews. During an interview with Saturday Night magazine she argued, “I’m Inuk. That means that I’m automatically pegged as an ambassador for Inuit regardless of what I say. This winds me up a bit. I can’t seem to get through an interview without it being brought up. I write songs about issues that people experience internationally. Yes, I write about abuses, but you would be hard pressed to tell me there are no wife beaters in the U.S. or no alcoholics in Germany.” She also told the magazine she dedicated all of her gigs to her Grandfather Joseph Idlout, whom she never met. He was the subject of the 1990 documentary Two Worlds and was also one of the Inuit hunters depicted on the Canadian two-dollar bill in the “Scenes of Canada” series of bank notes. Lucie seemed torn between a great attachment to and respect for her ancestry (she often wore seal skin when performing) and the desire for her art not to be examined through a cultural microscope, as it often was.

Regardless of how Lucie feels about her Inuk roots, her music still influences her community. Her new album features a song called “Lovely Irene” (originally titled “Angel Street”) about a woman who suffered domestic violence. The song inspired Iqaluit mayor Eisapee Sheutiapik to launch a campaign calling attention to domestic violence, urging all Canadian cities to name a local street “Angel.”

It’s expected that an artist will explore many sides of themselves through their art, whether crowd pleasing or not, in order to maintain creativity. In her first album, the ancestral sounds were perhaps its most redeeming and promising quality. However, in Swagger, there is something to be said for sheer simplicity and the willingness to depict personal emotions in the lyrics. By exploring different artistic directions, Lucie Idlout may have achieved that cross-cultural appeal she was looking for.

Q & A : with Lucie Idlout

Q: What were some of the inspirations for your latest album ‘Swagger’?

A: “They are songs written based on my personal experiences, or stuff witnessed in other peoples lives. I record things that happen in life lyrically. The album is a commentary.”

Q: How is your first album, ‘E5-770 My Mother’s Name’ different from ‘Swagger’?

A: “They’re not so much different, because they both come from me. Otherwise, I think there is growth in my song writing, or at least I hope there is! I think it’s a much tidier album. The craft is tidier than it used to be. I did a lot of experimenting on the first album. It was my first time in a studio EVER, and I played around a lot. Everything on ‘Swagger’ was very carefully chosen and tidier, I think there is simplicity in beauty.”

Q: Do you have any favourite songs on the album?

A: “It changed actually, it used to be ‘Belly down’ and before that ‘ Whiskey Breath’ but now its’ ‘For you’. I just like the simplicity and the sentiment.”

Q: Do you have any advice to other up and coming artists, whether they be Aboriginal, Canadian, or starting out from anywhere else in the world?

A: “I don’t know, everyone’s experience is so different, I think I’ve been pretty lucky. I guess just If your passionate about what you’re doing and stick it through, you will achieve your goals.”

Q:Where would you like to be in the future, either musically or career wise?

A: “I’m doing it, man! I’m living the dream! I’m doing it right now.”