Kyrie Kristmanson in the City of Lights
by Allan Wigney
It’s been three years since Ottawa native Kyrie Kristmanson dazzled us with Pagan Love, an other-worldly collection of original songs that showcased a distinctive voice on the local scene, and sounded like nothing else on the local scene.
Its release generated talk of great things ahead for the quirky behatted troubadour with a seemingly inexhaustible thirst for the new. Perhaps we should have seen it coming, then, when our siren serenaded her way to the City of Lights — and the city insisted she stay.
A 2010 album, Origin of Stars, never even made it to our shores. (Though, it should be noted, that album comprised for the most part remixed and rerecorded versions of earlier material.) She has returned, most recently for a one-off performance of a piece for voice and string quartet, at last summer’s Ottawa Chamber Music Festival. But Ottawa’s loss remains Paris’s gain.
And the teaser that is Thundersongs, a new Kristmanson EP that marks the artist’s first Canadian release in three years, confirm as much. The song Charlotte, for example, offers her glimpse into the mind of one of the French Revolution’s more notorious figures. It was recorded in Ottawa, but reflects a new environment for a developing artist.
“I think whenever you change locations your writing style changes,” Kristmanson says as she reflects on an upbringing that saw her family live in several Canadian locations. “I’ve always written in a site-specific way. When I was growing up and wrote my first songs in (Saskatchewan), I really feel like they were a way for me to understand that landscape and the tensions in that province, which I continue to feel are extremely pronounced. It was very inspiring for me to try to understand the conflict that exists between a young culture and an old culture.
“Since moving to France, I’ve realized my songs deal with what I call ghosts — that’s kind of a caricature, but the legends and the energies of the place where I’m living, which is right in the heart of Paris. And also because I’m very interested in the medieval singer-songwriters, the first singer-songwriters, I’ve been making a lot of trips to the ruins of the castles where they would have lived and written.”
Kristmanson, still in her early 20s, views her role as continuing that tradition. And though she maintains fond memories of her years in Ottawa, we are decidedly lacking in medieval castles. Even Paris, for all its draw, will soon give way to some months spent in Berlin, as Kristmanson continues to follow her nomadic muse.
“I think I am really inspired by the place where I’m living,” she says, “and since I don’t want to repeat myself I have to move around a little bit. I do want to come back to places that have been meaningful for me, but I really moved around a lot when I was a kid. In fact, it’s stranger for me to stay in one place for a very long time. I’ve never done that.”
Kristmanson pauses to reflect on the fate of the travelling musician.
“It’s a bit of a romantic image,” she concludes, “but it’s one I think somehow I identify with, and probably a lot of musicians identify with it. But also the medieval troubadour and the women troubadours who were the first to write about love — profane love — in a poetic and honest way, that’s a world I’ll probably always identify with. I hope so, anyway.”
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