Interview: Folk Songwriter Abigail Lapell Discusses New Single ‘Pines,’ Environmental Inspirations, & More

From her individualized voice to her inventive lyricism, Canadian folk singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Abigail Lapell is sure to make a “little noise”. 

For her third studio LP, Getaway, Lapell decided that it would be best for her to literally get away. Her music journey for this project began in the mountains of Canada, digging through years of songs from her personal repertoire. Lapell wanted it to have songs with the same theme as the name, so the album centers around experiencing and exploring the vastness of nature and the life within it. 

Since the release of Getaway in 2019, Lapell has been developing her cinematic Americana-folk songs amid the global pandemic. She has since made her awaited return with her delicate and poignant new single, “Pines”. 

We had the chance to chat with Lapell to discuss the new single, her musical journey so far, and what’s on tap for 2022.

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Do you remember the moment you knew you wanted to be a songwriter? And who or what might’ve had the most profound influence on this decision?

I really can’t remember a time before I was singing and writing songs – it’s all I ever wanted to do. My family always told me I was constantly singing to myself ever since I was born, before I could talk. Although I realize now that pretty much all babies and toddlers do this, so deep down I suspect we’re all singers and songwriters at heart, truly. 

How did growing up in Canada influence your musical background?

I definitely draw a lot of inspiration from the natural environment. And spending long hours driving is something I grew up with, lots of epic road trips, which has served me well as a touring musician putting in time on the trans-Canada. There’s also that thing they say about the cold weather, when people have to hunker down indoors and find ways to stay busy all winter, it leads to a flourishing creative scene. Coming of age in Toronto and Montreal, something about that definitely rings true.  

How does being a multi-instrumentalist elevate your songwriting?

It can be really productive to switch things up and break out of the familiar. My main instrument is guitar, so I’m a lot less confident on anything else. And especially as a self-taught musician, I don’t necessarily have the training to know the proper way of doing things, so it’s exciting to try out instruments or techniques I’m not as comfortable with. It helps a lot to let go of ingrained habits and kinda tap into that beginner mindset – like making little mistakes or surprises that can end up leading down weird, interesting and beautiful paths. I also think there’s something to the idea that different instruments yield up different songs. Even switching between two different guitars can open the door on whole new worlds of ideas, I find.

I see you recently released your new single, “Pines.” What’s the influence and inspiration behind this track?

I wrote this song at a musicians’ retreat in the Canadian Rockies, where I was lucky enough to spend some time in March 2020, just before things started shutting down. “Pines” is a kind of love letter to that time and place, feeling humbled and inspired by that landscape and all the creative energy in the air. To me it’s like a glimpse at the numinous – something beautiful but a bit terrifying, this power that feels so intimate but in some ways unknowable. That’s probably why the song ends with a wordless wail of harmonica; it’s a feeling that I can’t quite put into words.

Where was it produced and who helped it come to life?

The song was recorded in June 2021 at Hotel2Tango studio in Montreal, by the wonderful Howard Bilerman and recording assistant Shae Broassard. Most of those sessions featured an amazing cast of players, but “Pines” is a pretty stripped down arrangement. I played all the instruments on this one – piano, accordion, harmonica, a bit of synth organ and vocal harmonies – though not all simultaneously. 

Can fans expect to see it on an upcoming EP or LP?

Yes! “Pines” is the first single from my upcoming LP Stolen Time, out April 22, 2022 on Outside Music. 

What does a day in the life of your songwriting process look like?

A lot of walking around, humming to myself, singing under my breath while avoiding eye contact with people on the street. Then maybe sitting down with a guitar or at the piano, trying out different chords and instrumentation, so much noodling. Eventually certain words and phrases will start to emerge from the melody, and I might break out a paper and pen to try to capture some of them, or just record myself riffing. At some point I’ll circle back to those sketches and try to wrangle the song into a finished thing. Finally, I record a more polished home demo in order to feel officially “finished.” The whole process could take anywhere from half an hour to, like, several years, for any given song. Then rinse and repeat. 

What does success as a songwriter and musician mean to you?

Success as a songwriter/musician for me is about connection – with other musicians and audiences and collaborators, and with the world around me, or just with my own experiences. To be honest, I think of successful writing a lot in terms of just creating songs that I, personally, would want to hear – that would comfort or uplift or challenge me as a listener. That’s a bit of a solipsistic way of putting it, I guess. But I find that’s often the work that connects the most with other people, too. 

What are some of your goals musically or otherwise for 2022?

I’m excited to be touring again soon with the new album if all goes well, fingers crossed. It’ll be my first time at SXSW this year, and a few other exciting festivals are coming up. I’m especially looking forward to performing and seeing live music again, finally, and meeting up with people along the way. Prior to COVID I was playing more in the U.S. and touring more with a full band, so that’s definitely a goal over the next year or two. Overall I just miss live music and I can’t wait to get back into it.

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