WITCHPOLICE RADIO: Welcome to Witchpolice Radio I'm here with someone who is new to the show, but definitely not new to Manitoba's music community. I think that you've been a fairly well known quantity, especially as far as country music goes, for quite a while now. So I think that before we get into any of that, the best way to start this off is if you'd like to introduce yourself and maybe just give a bit of background about where it is you come from musically.
DESIREE DORION: Yeah, sure. My name is Desiree Dorion. I reside in Dauphin, Manitoba. I'm a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, and I have been involved in the country music scene here in Manitoba for, I guess about 20 years or so, working more heavily, though, in the last twelve years, I would say. For sure.
WR: Okay. I guess the reason this came about is because I saw you playing a show at Assiniboine Park. And it was one of those days where it was just like, absolutely miserably death hot. And I felt bad for… I felt bad for everyone performing because at least the people who were in attendance could go inside to the pavilion or whatever. But I think maybe that'd be a fun place to start here. What do you do when you're faced with a situation like that, when you're playing a show and just like the physical weather conditions are so bad that it's going to be hard to even get through the whole thing?
DD: What was it that day? Like 40 some degrees with the humidity?
WR: I think so, yeah. 44 or something.
DD: Well, first of all, you wear as little clothing as possible. So it was definitely shorts weather that day. Just drink a ton of water. Make sure that we, me and my band are consuming as much water as we possibly can. Sunscreen. Sunscreen. Sunscreen. For sure. Yeah.
WR: So you said at the beginning you're from Dauphin. What is the music scene like out there? And the reason I asked that is because I've been doing the show for almost a decade now. I talked to so many different artists from Manitoba, but Winnipeg is always kind of where the majority of artists come from. It's the biggest city in the province, obviously. And as a Winnipegger, it's easy to forget that there's stuff happening outside the city limits and that there's all these communities throughout the rest of Manitoba that have really cool music scenes and have all kinds of great artists doing really good work. But, I mean, Dauphin is not somewhere that I'm intimately familiar with. So what is your experience like, being a musician out there?
DD: Well, we're home to Dauphin’s Countryfest
WR: Right, of course.
DD: Longest running country music festival in Canada. And so that, for me, was really where a lot of my dreams and a lot of my hopes as a young kid growing up as a fan of country music were nurtured. My mom let me go to the festival every year. I'd seen everybody from Waylon Jennings to Reba McIntyre, and yeah… and then, in fact, when the festival wasn't on, I would sneak in, park my bike in the ditch and jump up on stage. There'd always be fences, like snow fences and things that blocking anybody from accessing the main stage or the main amphitheater area. But I would literally commit a break and enter between the ages of eight and eleven years old, hop onto the main stage and run around like a fool, pretending that I was playing to an amphitheater full of people. And then I would head backstage and pretend to hang my coat and pretend to put my boots away and put my lipstick on in the mirror and give myself a pep talk and then go back on stage to run around again one more time. And then I'd hop back on my bike and I'd bike home. That was, of course, before the days where you had to tell your parents exactly where you were and you could only be gone for a certain period of time.
WR: Yeah, of course. I used to do the same thing at the Velodrome in Winnipeg when it was here. We'd ride our bikes around the track, for sure. So this is, like, predestined. You were going to become a country singer basically from the get go, right?
DD: Well, it was something that I always envisioned. And if you would ask me that question when I was 16-17, like I was going to be at that age, my answer would have been that I was going to be like a Miranda Lambert or something.
DD: Or, like a Gretchen Wilson, because she was really popular when I was that age. But I think as you get older, your dreams change and your goals change. And for me, at this age, I'm just happy to be working in music. People are still phoning to say, hey, can we get you over here to do this set at this time? And that there's an incredible amount of… I don't want to use the word power because I think that's the wrong word. But autonomy and independence and being able to sustain yourself doing what you're absolutely passionate about. I've been really fortunate to be able to do that.
WR: That's a good point, for sure. I think that a lot of people that I've talked to on the show, too, whether it's a country singer, a rap artist, or metal band, that kind of idea of wanting to be able to use creativity as the thing that brings in money, the thing that basically pays for the rest of your life. The non work stuff. Right. It's a big deal because the number of people who attempt to do that and then the ones who are actually successful, it's hard. There's so much competition and so many people trying to get their voice and their work out there, that yeah, for sure.
WR: I was going to ask you, what do you think is the appeal country music? Obviously, Dauphin has Countryfest. That makes a lot of sense why it's such a big thing out there. But just in Manitoba, in general, country is always something that comes up as something that people grow up listening to. What do you think it is about this part of the world that country has such an impact? Because obviously it's got its roots in the southern US. And you go back further, there's all kinds of other things coming in there. But why Manitoba? Why do we love country so much here?
DD: That's a good question. I can't speak on behalf of all, of course.
DD: On behalf of the way that I grew up. We grew up always listening to the radio, and there was only one radio station in town.
WR: Okay, that makes sense. Yeah.
DD: It played mostly country music. And so, when I came from a household, from a family that always had the radio on, from the time that you got up in the morning until the time that you went to bed, the radio was playing. And so you're listening to that same radio station day in and day out, listening only to country music. And I think one of the things that I paid attention to from a very early age was the stories contained within country music. There really was no I don't want to say that there was no poeticism, but the stories are very literal in country music, and there isn't a whole lot of reading between the lines in country music.
DD: In that genre, specifically. And so you can read the lyrics to a country song and you don't have to make sense of anything. Like, it's not like a Dylan song where you're kind of reading between the lines. And there's a crazy amount of poeticism in those lyrics. And so you can literally it was so easy for me as a young person to visualize from start to finish what that song was about as early as five, six years old. And so I was really always drawn to that as a kid.
WR: And it's much more relatable that way, too, because, like you said, there's no parsing. Dylan's a great example of someone that seven people could hear the same song and have completely different versions of what they think it's about. Right. That literal, kind of and it is telling a story so kids can pick up on it, too, because there's a start, there's a middle, there's an end. It's linear, and for sure, it follows the path.
DD: Yeah, it just made sense in my brain.
WR: I get that, for sure. And I don't think there's an answer to the question I have, but it definitely seems like we have a love for that kind of stuff. I know there's so many subgenres of country and different iterations of style, but just in Winnipeg, in Manitoba in general, it seems like it's always been one of those genres of music that is very kind of beloved by most of the people here, for whatever reason.
DD: Maybe it's because we are very like, even though Winnipeg is obviously a big city, but I think in many ways, we're still very rural. Even a lot of the folks that work in Winnipeg are living in the outlier bedroom communities of Winnipeg and commuting on a daily basis. I think that if you're going back to your home base, which might be in a small town, or might be in a bedroom community of Winnipeg, then you're probably listening to your local radio station, which is probably playing most of the country.
WR: That's a really good point. Yeah. And I guess the scenery doesn't hurt either. Right. Just these long drives through prairies and big skies and stuff. Yeah. That's often depicted in country from anywhere.
WR: One of the things that I'm sick of talking about, you're probably sick of talking about, I think the whole world is sick of talking about is the impact of the pandemic. Yeah. And I feel like I have to bring it up every time I talk to someone, though, because especially in creative jobs, it has such an impact for quite a long time there. Things are opening up now, but there were no shows. Touring wasn't an option. Even for a lot of people, getting together with bandmates wasn't an option to even rehearse or record or any of that. What has that impacted on you as a musician? As someone who probably would have loved to be out on the road or recording or practicing or whatever during that time.
DD: Yeah. At first I was scared. I had released an album in February of 2020, and I had had this whole marketing plan, release plan that I was ready to roll out. And my guitar player, we were actually out on radio tour when I got a call from a publicist, and she said, the stations don't want you in anymore, so you might as well just pack up and go home. We still had about a week left of the tour, and I was kind of in disbelief at first. Like, I thought, okay, this is probably going to wash over in a few weeks. It sucks that we're leaving. We've planned to do this, and we've had all these shows lined up, and now they're not going to happen, but it's not going to last forever.
WR: Did you know?
DD: Yeah. And then it did. And a month goes by, and I'm like, oh, my gosh, I've invested so much into this project, into this alb. What am I going to do? So I started reaching out to as many people as I knew, checking in on friends, checking in on fellow artists, seeing how everybody was doing. And in the course of doing, , that, I think what ended up happening is it was almost like a little network that started to kind of creep out, and people would say, hey, there's this opportunity here for a prerecorded show. Of course, everybody went to the Internet. Right. And so I was really fortunate that I had had enough of a network of people who supported me and allowed me to work digitally throughout the pandemic. And I applied for grants. Like, I applied to do online stuff for grants. And so there was a whole bunch of stuff that I was able to do because of my network and because of the grant applications that I've done that allowed me to work throughout the course of the pandemic, and hallelujah.
DD: And then it used to be that an album, you could get, like, I don't know, when I first started, you could get two years out of an album. Well, now, in the digital age, people are consing so quickly that that's, like, gone with the Dark Ages.
WR: Yeah. The attention span is just not there anymore.
DD: Right. So normally, I wouldn't have released a single just a year after releasing a full album, but I did. And because I did that, I was able to work when we had that little window of openness.
WR: Yeah, there was a month or two.
DD: I think it was between July and mid November, I want to say. And I worked, like, we hit the ground running, and we worked and worked and worked and worked. I can't remember how many dates we played between that time frame, but, man, it was go. Go and make hay. When the sun shines, and there was, like, no stopping, no how many days off I had in that time spent. But it was crazy, and I was super thankful. But it was because we'd released a single to give me that extra longevity to allow me to work in that little window of opportunity. And so, yeah, just lucky. And I really do. I know a lot of people don't say luck exists, but I really think that a lot of it was just luck, because there's a lot of artists that work hard and that reach out and that do everything that I've just said that I did and didn't have the work. So I really do think that a lot of it was just luck.
WR: Well, I think also it helps that you're a known quantity, right? I mean, like you said, you've been around the community, you've been performing in Manitoba for as long as you have. People know you, people know your music. And I'm sure that helps. I imagine if you were just starting out and that was your first record, I mean, it would be a lot more difficult, a lot more of an uphill battle to even get any shows, let alone a bunch of them, for sure. When you have that happen, where you have an album that is a few weeks before the world shuts down, now that we're into this kind of mode where things are coming back and shows can happen and tours can happen… are you still focused on that album that was supposed to come on in 2020, or have you completely moved past it? Did those songs feel old to you now?
DD: Well, listen, I cried. I cried and I cried. And at some point I had to just say, okay, enough. Like, this is enough. It's done. It's over. Move on. I've moved on. And I've accepted that one. It was a freebie.
WR: How has your writing changed since this situation? I don't know if it has, but a lot of people I've talked to have had significant almost, like, shifts in their worldview since this whole years of lockdown, and it comes through in their songs. Does that happen to you? Are you almost treating things as if that period of time didn't happen and you're going from that album to now, the next stuff?
DD: That's a really good question. First of all, I haven't written as much as I have throughout the pandemic. Like, I was writing almost a song a week. They weren't all good songs, and some of them won't ever see the light of day. But I was committed to really honing in on my lyricism. I don't play guitar very well, so when I'm writing solo, the songs that I'm writing are very basic, like D,C,G,A, E minor, just very basic song structures. But I also, one of the things that was really nice is that you could literally write with anybody over Zoom, people that you would have previously had to travel as a country artist to Nashville to write with.
WR: Of course. Yeah.
DD: And so that was really cool to be able to have access to people that you wouldn't have otherwise had access to unless you were physically in Nashville. But, yeah, I did a ton of, , writing, and actually, I'm looking at releasing another album in the country music genre, , in January of 2023. But I've also got this little Americana project that's been, like, brewing in my mind. And I did some of those songs at the Assiniboine Park, where you came and saw me. And they've been sitting in my back pocket for some of them longer than others, but some of them are relatively new. And it's just been for me, like I said, I fell in love with country music because of the stories. And I feel like modern pop country, although the modern pop country artists would maybe disagree with this, I feel like in some ways, we've moved away from the compellingness of what I was drawn to initially as a country music fan.
WR: Yeah, it's glossier. It's more almost like marketing driven rather than storytelling driven.
WR: Not to criticize what they do, but yeah.
DD: No, and not to diminish. I mean, those songs are successful for a reason, I think. Of course, people are really drawn to that style of music, and I'm drawn to some of it, too. But for me, I love the storytelling component of country music so much. And so I've had a few tracks in my back pocket that I've been hanging on to eventually release this Americana project. I'm hoping to dig into that in 2023 as well, with maybe looking at 2024 releasing as well.
WR: Cool. Who is your audience? Because, I mean, country, again, like I said before, is such a big umbrella genre, right. And there's so many different little styles within that umbrella that some people cover lots of them, some people are just sort of strictly focused on one subgenre. Where do you place yourself within sort of the country music world if you had to pitch yourself?
DD: Yeah. I would probably definitely say I lean more on the root fear side of country. I think that… I don't play bars, which is really unusual for a country artist.
WR: It is.
DD: It's not my thing, and it's never really been my thing. I did that when I was a teenager. I've been playing bars since I was 14, 15, 16 years old, sneaking in, probably illegally. There's a lot of things that I did that were illegal.
WR: The statute of limitations is over. You're probably good.
DD: Exactly. Yeah. So I did the bar scene very early on and I'm done doing that. , and then a lot of my songs do lean more on the storytelling side of the spectrum. And so I think that that's probably more conducive to listing audiences. And some of the places that I get hired to play are more for that style of audience.
WR: Yeah. Almost like the more deeper listening rather than just listening because it's got a good beat and you can dance to. Right idea of taking something in kind of fully. So, okay, maybe a question based on that is then how do you feel about the way music is consumed nowadays in the sense that no one is listening to a full alb from start to finish anymore? Unfortunately, you obviously want to marry that deep listening and that ability to write something that people can focus on with the attention span thing where you sort of know they're going to hit shuffle or they're going to go on to the next thing 30 seconds in. Is there a strategy for dealing with that and knowing that your listeners maybe aren't going to take the time that is necessary to hear a good story and to really absorb what it is you're putting out there?
WR: There might not be an answer to that either.
DD: No, it is a tough question. I think that it is what it is. On the one hand, I think when people are consuming music live, that people are still… you know, and then there's also these pockets of, like, avid music fans that are still hungry for a great story or a compelling melody or a compelling lyric. When you get to play those songs live, it's phenomenal. But I think if I'm writing for radio, the songs that I'm writing are very different than the songs that I'm just writing for myself or maybe that I might consider for an Americana project or maybe even for an album.
WR: That tracks. That makes sense.
DD: And I think that when I go into a co write, particularly, that's one of the first things that I want. If I'm writing for myself, I want to be clear about, this is what I want this song for, or I want this song to have this type of a sound. And then if you are writing for a digital release or a radio release, I mean, you're right, people are listening to about 30 seconds and then they're moving on. So what they do say is get to the chorus as quickly as you can, get to the hook as quickly as you can. Like, gone are the days of having a 20-second intro, for sure, a 50-second intro. That's just unheard of nowadays. So, yeah, I think just being cognizant of all of that when you're in production or pre production and making sure that if that is your intention to write for radio or to write for a successful digital release, then you want to make sure you're hitting those targets.
WR: Do you know when you start writing a song, is it clear pretty much from the beginning what type of song it's going to be? Do you know when something is going to be a single? When something's going to be more radio oriented? Or does it just kind of develop itself as you go along?
DD: Not from the beginning, no. When I go into a session and when I say a session, I mean, like a collaboration.
DD: I try to be as open minded as I possibly can. I don't want to marry myself to any of my ideas. I don't want to marry myself to any of the lyrics that I'm coming in with, or any of the melodies that I'm coming in with. I really want to go in with the wholehearted intention of collaborating and learning from whoever it is that I'm collaborating with and working with that person to create the best song possible. I come in with no preconceived notions. I just go in and hope for the best.
DD: I mean, if it's somebody that I've worked with before, I think that's a little bit different, though, too. You can say to that person, okay, listen, we've got this, and this, for instance, I do a lot of co-writing with Chris Burke-Gaffney, and he's produced my last two records. If we know we know what we've got on our album already, I can say, listen, we're missing, like, a mid tempo track or we're missing a ballad, or we should throw in one more uptempo rock country song, then we can kind of gear it towards to make it a more, well-rounded project. But if it's somebody that I haven't written with before, then I try and steer away from that.
WR: Okay, fair enough. That guy obviously has a long track record of writing hits, too. Right? So I assume that someone you can trust to know what direction things should go or to give you the right advice.
WR: If people want to hear you, especially now that shows are happening again and you can get back out there, what's the best way to find out what you're up to as far as playing shows, touring, anything going on in the near future?
DD: Yeah, well, people can check out my website at desireedorion.com. I'm on Instagram @DesireeDorion, Facebook at Desiree Dorion, even on the Tik Tok these days at Desiree Dorion.
WR: Okay. So pretty much Googling your name is going to come up with a bunch of those, I'm sure.
WR: Cool. And then hearing your actual music, I mean, I assume at this point because the way the world is with music, you're on all the streaming services and everything like that.
DD: You bet. Yeah.
WR: Cool. And then do you have one last question before I let you go about this? Because I always think about this when it comes to talking to country artists, weirdly. Country and jazz seem to be two genres where physical media… and I guess, like certain types of punk rock and metal in terms of tapes… but in terms of CDs, country and jazz seem to be these genres where CDs have thankfully held on as a viable format. And as someone who like, I'm a Luddite. I listen to physical media only, pretty much. I'm always happy to see that. But are you finding that do you find that country audiences are maybe more receptive to actually buying physical product than maybe pop or some of these other newer genres or younger genres?
DD: I guess, yeah, I think honestly, it depends on the demographics.
WR: It's true. Yeah.
DD: The older demographics in country music are definitely still launching physical CDs. But the younger demographics, like, the 16 to 36 year olds, are straight digital. But if I'm playing like I don't want to say this at the risk of coming across… but if I'm playing an arts council gig, for instance, and it's an older demographic, so that's usually between the ages of, like, 45 to 70.
DD: They're generally still wanting a physical CD. The other thing that I'm seeing, I haven't done it yet, but the other thing that I'm seeing come back are the vinyls with the younger demographic, even in the country music genre. So that's pretty cool. I hope that sticks around, because there's something to be said for… that was one of my favorite things about buying a product with, like, opening it up and seeing the graphics and seeing how the packaging was all put together and the branding.
WR: You get the lyrics and the credits and everything, and all this important information about…. yeah, right.
DD: And the photos that the artist used and who they thanked and what was important to them. And you could actually follow along with, like you said, with the lyrics to the song. And so I hope that sticks around.
WR: Yeah, I do, too. As someone who listens pretty much exclusively to physical records, that's still one of the main ways I find new artists, is by looking at the thank yous. And if there's some band I've never heard of or looking at a songwriting credit, and if it's someone I don't know, it's. Not one of the main writers in the band. It's like, oh, who's this? And now you can just Google them and find out what their band is. And they might be amazing too. There's benefit to the old ways, I think. And I like to argue on that behalf every time I have a chance to because I'm stuck in the past. But yeah, yeah, right on, right on.