“This is just about where I’m at now, and where I’m at now is all about being a mother,” says soul singer Coco Love Alcorn when I catch up with her just before a live performance at St. Paul’s United Church in Sidney, BC on Vancouver Island. The talented vocalist is on the western Canadian leg at the beginning of a cross countrytour in support of her brand new release Wonderland and she’s just finished teaching a workshop for thirty vocalists on musical improvisation.
Having spent the better part of the last five years dedicated to raising her daughter at home in Owen Sound, Ontario, Alcorn has now decided it’s time to get back out there with her music. “When I was taking time off to be with my daughter I felt that my heart was content but my spirit was starting to get restless. I missed doing shows and feeling that electricity you feel when you connect with an audience through music.”
Recorded a year ago in two rural Ontario locations, Wonderland is a potent and inspirational recording dripping in emotion, with a sound firmly rooted in gospel and blues traditions, a heart of neo soul and the free spirit of jazz improvisation. The recording was produced by BC musician and CBC programmer Andy Sheppard (Find the Others) and partially financed with a crowd funding campaign on pledgemusic.com. Alcorn tells me that “the inspiration for this album is the human spirit. What a powerful thing it is, and how it connects us. I find it very difficult to talk about the human spirit but it’s lovely to sing about it.”
“I’m trying to bring the intimacy that you get with a folk singer songwriter and the groove of rhythm n’ blues and soul music combined with the spirit of improvisation, where anything can happen in the moment, and that comes from jazz, and then from gospel that deep raw passion and the layering of voices and body percussion. So all those elements together are what I fed into this project.”
One of Alcorn’s new inspirations is her recent interest in utilizing a digital loop station or “looper” as an improvisational tool for live performances and as a fresh approach to how she tackles composition and the arrangement her new songs. “I wrote eight of the eleven songs on this album using that looper, just layering my voice and layering body percussion, and it was a very gratifying way to write. Just writing from the pure place of my voice, which is the instrument I feel most connected to.”
Alcorn admits that she was always intrigued with the sampling possibilities of a loop station but found the early foot-activated models difficult for her to navigate. Eventually she invested in one of the newer tabletop models which provided her with a full spectrum of sampling possibilities.wonderland-cover
Her first composition on the looping device was a beautiful piece called The River which she released as a homemade video on YouTube back at the end of 2014. While in the process of recording the song Alcorn came to realize that she was using multiple samplings of her voice to create a kind of digital choral music. “I put the video (of The River) up on the internet about a year and a half ago, and somehow choirs began finding out about it and learning the song, and telling other choirs about it, and sharing the song. And to date, that I know of, there are about thirty choirs that have sung The River or are singing The River, and yet the song and this record just came out last week. So, before the album was even released, before the song was even officially out, there were thirty choirs out there singing the song, which has been this amazing blessing that has now connected me to the choral community.”
This unexpected interest in The River by choral groups across Canada inspired Alcorn to arrange collaborations with the various choirs and singers at many of her stops on the tour, and during her performance in Sidney tonight she’ll be working with local vocal group The Collective.
“For these concerts where the choirs are joining me, the choral directors are teaching songs in advance to their choirs. In a lot of cases a choir will come and perform their version of The River without me — because I don’t want to bump their soloist out of place — and I get to sit in the audience and watch them sing it. Then the choral director teaches them a couple more songs and we run them through them together before the concert.”
Alcorn has generously peppered her performance dates with many of these one off collaborations with local vocal groups, while her only consistent musical companion on the tour is percussionist Jon Foster whom Alcorn originally met when she came across him performing in a tight alcove at a folk musician conference. It turned out Foster can hold down a few key musical duties which makes him the perfect road companion for the effervescent soul sister. “When I met Jon I thought, this guy is cool, he loves all the same genres of music as me, he’s an incredible drummer, and then I also discovered he could sing. And he didn’t even think he could sing, but he’s got this beautiful tone and we have become great friends. He plays bass keyboards, while playing electronic drums, while singing.”
Wonderland is a beautiful piece of work that reflects where Alcorn is coming from at this time in her life. “I really needed to ponder what I wanted to write about. I wanted it to be as meaningful as possible if I was going to be away from my daughter,” she confesses. But the singer also admits that she’s “trying to find that balance between the relationships and the things and the places that give us grounding and support and rootedness, and those things in our life that give us the feeling of surprise and inspiration.”
To celebrate the unexpected interest by numerous choral collectives who have shown a desire to perform her new songs Alcorn has also released a companion to her new CD called The Wonderland Songbook, for choirs and singers out there interested in learning these compositions and as a way of sharing them with others. “It’s a pretty amazing thing to hear people talk about what (The River) means to them, and some of the other songs on this album are really connecting with people, and it’s the best thing I could possibly imagine. To have these songs that came from me, have a life beyond me.”
Coco Love Alcorn completed her CD release tour on November 24 with a final performance at Hugh’s Room in Toronto.
After a winter break at home with her family she’ll be heading to the Coldsnap Festival (February 3 – 11) in Prince George for a February 7th show, then kicking off her Wonderland Spring Tour next year at the end of March with plans already in the works to be back in western Canada by mid May.
Originally published in BC Musician Magazine