Seeing Red

Annabelle Chvostek Returns Home With New Album, Outlook

Anger and frustration often spawn creativity. For Annabelle Chvostek, a year of protests yielded an album’s worth of lyrics.

In the summer of 2010, Chvostek had just moved from Montreal to Toronto only a few weeks before the G20 summit there. Unbeknownst to her at the time, this was the start of two years riddled with not only violence and fury, but also citizen uprising and political change.

It was this climate that inspired a new style of crafting lyrics.

“It was unreal going [to the G20] with all of these wonderful, idealistic intentions, and watching the police bash everybody and drag them into these little cages,” said Chvostek.

She knew that she had to write at least one song about her experience there, but wasn’t anticipating the majority of her next album be about social uprising. Chvostek describes “G20 Song,” from her most recent album, Rise, as being upbeat and fun—while still rooted in the imagery of protests turning violent.

“It started feeling more and more urgent, because the whole Occupy movement kind of exploded and it felt exciting, and that energy is definitely on the opening track,” she said.

“Feeling like, ‘Oh my god, finally tons of people are realizing all of these things and realizing that this whole system and society that is different.’ Then, of course, the crackdown of police forces,” she said. “[I’m] sort of trying to, in the songs, articulate something that’s happening.” 

After replacing Cara Luft in Winnipeg bluegrass outfit The Wailin’ Jennys in 2004, Chvostek played in the band for two-and-a-half years before returning to a solo career. Last year, she performed duets with mentor Bruce Cockburn on his latest Juno-winning album.

Rise can be seen as a political anthem for the past two years—described as a sort of “soundtrack to the Maple Spring.” It touches on Occupy, the rise of the religious right, police brutality and the Quebec student movement.

“There are always people that can relate to that, but this one […] generally reflects what’s happening everywhere anyways, that sort of sense of awareness and agency and resentment that is sort of exploding. It’s exciting to be in that dialogue and to have an outlet for it.”
—Singer/Songwriter Annabelle Chvostek

The latter came at a sort of inopportune time for Chvostek, who was already well into the production of the album by the time the shouts of Quebec’s students were really resonating in the city.

“All of the sudden I was like, ‘Okay, lets throw a whole bunch of pots and pans on the opening track,’” said Chvostek.

“The lyrics and everything were pretty much written, and then [I got the] sense that everybody is being traumatized by police as well, I really need to add this. It’s more than just this G20 crew who are going to be able to relate to this and get something out of it.”

This was just the first of many instances that plans were changed to go with, or at least acknowledge, whatever was happening globally on an album that never planned on being particularly political.

“I’ve always had some political content, but my previous album was very much about the heart. There was some commentary in there, but it was mostly about life and love,” said Chvostek.

“There are always people that can relate to that, but this one […] generally reflects what’s happening everywhere anyways, that sort of sense of awareness and agency and resentment that is sort of exploding. It’s exciting to be in that dialogue and to have an outlet for it.”

However, releasing an album of that nature did come with some hesitation, in particular when it came to the song “Do You Think You’re Right.” Written as a response to the documentary Jesus Camp—about kids at an evangelical Christian camp—there was a point where Chvostek wasn’t sure if it should make the cut.

She decided to include it when Cockburn, her mentor, recounted to her a similar situation he had with his song, “If I Had a Rocket Launcher.”

“It’s a very loved song right now, one of the ones he’s known for, but he almost didn’t put it on,” said Chvostek. “It’s about dropping bombs on Latin America, infiltrating people’s lives and torturing them, so I guess he thought, if these people have to withstand that, I can sing this song, you know?

“Just make sure if you don’t put it on there, do it for the right reasons. If it’s because you’re afraid, that’s not the right reason. That’s how I see the album.”

Annabelle Chvostek / Nov. 4 Petit Campus (57 Prince Arthur St. E.) / 8:00 p.m.

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