In music, the word ‘indie’ gets thrown around an awful lot. Once an abbreviation for ‘independent,’ it now gets used more as a replacement for ‘cool’ or ‘edgy,’ regardless of its subject’s record label status.
Enter Julie Doiron, the true embodiment of ‘indie.’
If you are not familiar with Doiron, here’s a quick bio. She began her musical path in the early 1990’s with Eric’s Trip, the first Canadian act to sign with Sub Pop, and started her own imprint, Sappy Records (now called Sappy Futures Ltd.) on the side. After the band’s breakup in 1996, she released solo music under the moniker Broken Girl and then eventually just under her own name, both on Sappy Records. She’s been nominated for the Polaris Music Prize, East Coast Music Awards, won a Juno and has had her music featured on an Apple iPhone commercial. She also founded Sappyfest, the beloved annual music festival in Sackville, New Brunswick.
While accomplishment and accolades are all nice on paper, what really makes Doiron an important figure in Canadian indie music is her genuine dedication to the true spirit of independence. True, she has released music on independent labels (Aporia, Endearing, Jagjaguwar) but all on her own terms. We sat down with Doiron while she was on tour with current project Weird Lines to talk about some of the ways she has made an impact on Canadian indie music.
Sappy Records and SappyFest
Sappy Records isn’t just a label, rather than an entire scene in itself. Founded in 1990 by Doiron, it has served as a homebase for artists like Eric’s Trip, Shotgun & Jaybird, Moon Socket and more, as well as an outlet for Doiron to release music on her own terms. While it enjoyed a few years of success, it went quiet in the early aughts. “When Julie Doiron and the Wooden Stars came out [in 2000] we were at it again, trying to make a go of it as a real business.” said Doiron. “Then we realized we just couldn’t do it. We wouldn’t put the money aside, and when I won a Juno for that record, [it] was out of print! Everything was bad timing.” It was brought back to life in 2006 with the help of John Claytor and Paul Henderson with the launch of Sappyfest. Flash forward ten years to where it is now: one of the most reputable, non-profit organizations that continuously draws not only music fans, but musicians as well.
“SappyFest started out in such a small way and it was really, really truly meant to just be a party for two things,” Doiron said. “We really wanted to raise awareness that Sappy was going to be a label again, and we also wanted to make some kind of party for our friends. Because we live in Sackville and often times when you live there you feel like you're stuck there because it’s so small, we wanted to find a way or reason for our friends to come and visit for a weekend.”
Doiron’s gift lies within her words. Cathartic melancholia, fist-pumping freedom rock and quiet, contemplative whispers are often found in a single composition. Never shying from the tough stuff, she often delves into the deepest, darkest corners of everyday life, from domestic frustration, loneliness, and even postpartum depression.
“I’ve tried to explain or understand how I write songs for my whole career” she said. “I had a really good run there where I hardly had to think about it and I would just write all the time, and it was easy. That being said, I was only writing very simple song structures. I don’t like to over-edit or go back and change a lot of things. It’s rare that I go back and rework something. I don’t know if that’s just cause I’m a bit of a slacker, or that I like the immediacy of what comes out. That’s how I work."
“Music can really snap people out of it, so I think its really, really crucial, maybe that's why I’ve always written songs. Maybe I was always writing songs all this time because it was kind of saving me from going to darker places.”
Doiron had her first child at 22, during the peak of Eric’s Trip’s career. Instead of abandoning her craft for family, she decided to keep going.
“My husband at the time felt it was really important that I keep doing music,” she said, “because he didn’t want me to resent the family when I got older.”
Raising a child is no easy task, but doing it on the road is an entirely different task. Doiron not only thrives as a touring mother, but channells the experience into her music.
“I didn't get to write many songs before having children. I was 18 when Eric’s Trip started, and I maybe wrote four of five songs for that band. Then I started doing some solo music during that [time] and while I was pregnant, so I wasn’t super prolific until after I had my first child. And those first couple of records were really heavily influenced by postpartum depression. Loneliest in the Morning was the one that was pretty heavily influenced by my emotions of having just had a baby.”
To make a career in music is not for the faint of heart, as this Globe and Mail article pointed out, and no one knows that better than Doiron. Never fully breaking into the world of rock and roll mega stardom, nor abandoning her craft for a family, Doiron went down the road less travelled: she did it all. From touring the globe as both a solo artist and as a musician in other bands, to raising three children, to working on the Sappy brand of record label and music festival, she has managed to carve out a career for herself in music like no one else in the indie game. Doiron’s sheer existence is the embodiment of integrity in the notoriously bloodthirsty music industry.
“There was a brief moment where I had considered ‘playing the game’ of being in the Canadian music industry,” she reflected. “I briefly considered trying to make maybe a more commercial sounding album. I don’t think I did it. That’s not me, I can’t do that.”
“I think the key to my longevity is that at a certain point, I realized that I didn’t need to be doing it in the way I thought it had to be done. I just started enjoying playing music and playing with people I love and people that I adore musically and as people and that was the key.”
Watch her perform "Darkhorse" from her 2007 album Woke Myself Up:
Doiron's current band is Weird Lines, which also includes C.L. McLaughlin, Jon McKiel, James Anderson and Chris Meaney. They just released their self-titled debut in July. Watch the video for their danceable single "Summer Can" below.