Concordia Student Goes POP

ConU’s Elgin-Skye McLaren on Going Digital, Playing POP

Photo Zoe Koke

If you listen closely to Concordia commerce student Elgin-Skye McLaren’s short but powerful repertoire of recorded music, you’ll notice that, hidden discretely behind the ukuleles, melodicas, xylophones, and soft acoustic guitar, there’s a little storm brewing.

“When I started in music I was doing things that were really over-the-top, really tweedy-folk, because I found it was easy for me to write, and it was easy to relate to where I was,” said McLaren.

“Now I’m really trying to sort of re-brand myself, because that’s just too narrow—it’s just not where I’m at. My new stuff is a little darker; somebody told me it’s more ‘psychedelic.’”

If her name sounds familiar, don’t be too surprised. Born and raised in the small town of Port Alberni, B.C. (a hometown she describes as being “sort of like a restroom on the way to Tofino”) she’s been living in Montreal for the past three years, studying economics at Concordia.

She charms bespectacled folk fans by night, but by day McLaren keeps a pretty active profile on campus. This past May she started working with the Fine Arts Student Alliance as a bookkeeper, and she also worked as a coordinator for Art Matters last year.

Not to mention, she was voted 11th best singer/songwriter in the Mirror’s Best of Montreal poll this year, one solid notch ahead of Celine Dion—a distinction she holds begrudgingly.

“I’ve been sort of lumped into the category of ‘singer/songwriter,’ which is really cool in some ways, because I respect a lot of singer/songwriters, but I’ve been getting really bored of it,” explained McLaren. “So recently I’ve been experimenting a lot, playing with a looping pedal, an electric guitar, and some distortion on my voice.”

One of McLaren’s latest tracks, “Give Me More,” is a perfect example of this emphasis on her electronic transformation. The track features a clean but repetitious guitar melody, combined with slight tonal manipulations and a rhythm that trots along on one string. The whole track is veiled by ghostly, layered vocal tracks.

But even with these manipulations, her sound remains distinctly her own and never seems to lose its masterful simplicity.

“There’s a wonderful hypnotic feeling you can get with a loop track,” said McLaren. “I really like that I can leave my songs relatively simple, but by adding a few layers you can create a sound that’s really a lot bigger than just one person.”

This year marks McLaren’s first foray into the POP Montreal festival, and an experience she guarantees will be a good time for everybody involved.

“You’re going to see a lot of great bands in a lot of great venues that you might never have had the chance to see before,” said McLaren. “Since a lot of artists are just hanging out, POP offers a great venue to interact with musicians and artists in ways that you wouldn’t be able to in most cases.”

Extra Happy Ghost!!! & Elgin Skye & Pat LePoidevin & Seniorhand / Le Cagibi (5490 St. Laurent Blvd.) / Sept. 21 / 7:30 p.m.

This article originally appeared in Volume 32, Issue 04, published September 20, 2011.