INTERVIEW w/ Serafin Lariviere with release of a 4th album titled Unravel and unleashes the first 2 singles, a rendition of A-Ha’s Take On Me, and an original masterpiece called Mom.
I am thrilled to have the opportunity to ask a few questions in the direction of a true musical gem, the Canadian iconic singer, songwriter, and producer, Serafin Lariviere. Welcome to The Wire MEGAzine Serafin, hope this finds you safe & keeping the musical faith.
DEB: Q. 1. I recently read that you were born in Vancouver and throughout your teens, you spent time growing up in the Kawartha’s, which is neat, as The Wire MEGAzine is based in Peterborough, the hub of all things music. Whereabouts in the Kawartha’s did you reside?
Serafin: The Kawarthas was such a great place to grow up! We were about 20 minutes outside of Peterborough in an area called Tindle Bay on Chemong Lake. It was a friendly little neighborhood, with a nearby swimming hole and lots of places to ride bikes and run free. The only downside was the 1-mile walk home from the school bus stop at the end of the day. But at least it was downhill!
DEB: Q. 2. When did you realize music was your path?
Serafin: I’d love to say it was during my childhood but honestly, I could never have imagined it back then. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I thought maybe my weird vocal range might be a good thing.
DEB: Q. 3. Currently, you reside in the quaint little town in Eastern Quebec called North Hatley. Do you find a difference with inspiration when writing in a small community versus a large city like Toronto, Saskatchewan, or Vancouver?
Serafin: Before recording this album, I had felt maybe my song-writing years (modest as they were) might have run their course. But when I started arranging the Jazz standards during the first lockdown, I found myself hearing melodies and lyrics at night when I was trying to sleep. So, I’d stare out at the trees, watch the deer foraging for plants in the snow, and sing the snippets of songs until they made sense. Yes, it was a lovely place to create.
DEB: Q. 4. Who would you say has influenced you the most musically then and now?
Serafin: For this album in particular, I have to say Oleta Adams. Her first recording back in the early 90s was called Circle of One, and she had a huge hit with a pop ballad called Get Here. I loved that single, but the rest of the album intrigued me… it was this amazing blend of pop and Jazz with gospel sensibilities. I still love that album and tried to emulate that sense of musical freedom with Unravel.
DEB: Q. 5. What was the best advice you were given when you first started out in the industry back in 2003, nearly 2 decades ago? As well, what advice would you offer others starting out in this entertainment realm?
Serafin: I think the best advice I was given was to stop singing: A man had approached me at a club and told me I was doing a disservice to Jazz, with my voice, my mannerisms, and my appearance. It hurt me deeply. But then, later that night on my own, I became angry. Who was this man to tell me what I did or didn’t have to offer? It motivated me in a way that few things have. My advice to others starting is to be prepared at all times. Know your charts, have them organized, and, most importantly, know your voice. Vocalize every day, until you know exactly what you’re capable of, both live and in the studio. It gives you confidence that allows you to just surrender to the joy of singing.
Deep inside an impressive 20-year career, you have accomplished great things like performing the Montreux Jazz Festival, Massey Hall, and Toronto Jazz Festival amongst the creme de la creme of legends, now that is outstanding!! Your debut album, 2 am At The Torch Café, peaked at Number 7 on Canadian college radio Jazz charts with over 3,000 downloads through Internet music sites like iTunes, which has a BravoFact documentary filmed to coincide with the release of Torch Café and aired frequently on Bravo during a two year period.
Your Second album, Nothing Goes Quietly, premiered at Number 9 on the same charts, reaching Number 1 within a week on CHUO radio in Ottawa.
Plus, your Third album, Love’s Worst Crime, featured your largest contribution of original material where you penned 7 of the album’s 11 songs. Also, your cover of the Barry Mann classic I’m Gonna Be Strong (from Nothing Goes Quietly), was added to a Readers Digest International compilation CD which featured artists like Glenn Campbell, Bonnie Tyler, and Captain and Tenille. As well, you chose to place your musical career on hold after being approved to adopt your young son – a tremendously lengthy and often difficult experience for anyone.
DEB: Q. 6. Do you feel that your creative songwriting has been enriched since becoming a parent?
Serafin: The first song I wrote for the album was called Good Boy. As I said before, I thought my songwriting had faded. But I wanted to write a sort of love letter to my son, celebrating all the wonderful, complicated, and unique things that he is. It opened the door for more songs.
Congratulations Serafin upon the recent return to the music scene with your brand new album, Unravel, which marks 10 years since the last album, Love’s Worst Crime. Unravel, was recorded at Number 9 Studios in Toronto and features a stellar band that includes bass player George Koller (Holly Cole, Laila Biali), horn genius Christopher Plock (Jeff Healy and the Jazz Wizards), pianist Clement Robichaud and Great Bob Scott on drums, was produced by Juno award-winner Jono Grant, which was engineered by Aaron Fund Salem, and was released on the Arté Boréal record label in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. With vaccines insight, this new collection of songs will bring a little light into the lives of your legions of fans.
The 1st single, Take On Me, released on February 5th, 2021 from your current album, Unravel, is a gorgeous cover rendition of A-ha’s hit, truly a genius arrangement. I am a huge addict of the 80s and you couldn’t have picked a more suitable piece to match your vocal range.
DEB: Q. 7. Share with your fans why this particular song was selected, which was molded beautifully, by the way, one of your most compelling to date.
Serafin: That’s so kind of you to say! I grew up in the 80s (I am so old). I loved the original song in all its poppy, dancey glory. But when I first read the lyrics, years later, I was struck by how they felt like a classic Torch song. It’s about such desperate longing and awareness of impending heartbreak.
One’s vocal style is about being able to openly express your feelings with your voice using a never-ending spectrum of colors, sounds, and nuances. Your unique application and interpretations span 5 octaves that run the gamut from tender to tempest and cultivates a cross-genre audience that embraces jazz, torch, adult contemporary, and even classical music. You truly are blessed with a stellar voice that I swore heard dip into the 7th range when soaring into those angelic stratospheric highs.
DEB: Q. 8. What would you consider your voice style to be, Countertenor?
Serafin: I’m technically an alto. Countertenors are generally baritones with a well-developed falsetto precipitated by a break in the vocal range. I don’t have a break in my range, but I wasn’t sure of this until I had a laryngoscopy with my voice doctor. I generally sing in that alto/low soprano range as my bottom notes are quite soft and my upper notes sound like one of Wagner’s Valkyries, storming the stage in a bad blond wig and metal breastplate.
DEB: Q. 9. Tell us about your daily vocal routine and how it keeps your voice in pristine shape?
Serafin: I vocalize in some fashion every day. In the shower. In the car. While writing. Any sort of mindful stretching of my vocal chords to keep them supple. I also follow (renowned voice teacher) Elaine Overholt’s Big Voice training program. It’s brutal… like boot camp for singers. But it builds stamina, flexibility, and finesse. When I first started out I could only sing for about an hour before things started to fall apart. Now I can do 3-hour gigs and still feel fresh as a daisy in the morning. Elaine is the master.
“I lost a mom last year. I say “a” mom because Dorothy wasn’t the woman who gave birth to me. But she was the woman who met me as a discarded teenager, living in my car, feeling hopeless and unloved. Dorothy became my mom. She hugged me, often — something that was new to me at that point in my life. She told me I was a good person. She loved me. When I became an adoptive parent, Dorothy’s wisdom and empathy was something I relied on. Losing her in 2020 left me feeling not only orphaned but bereft of the guidance I relied upon.” – Serafin LaRiviere.
March 12th, marked the release of your 2nd single Mom, which is an easily relatable song for anyone who has ever had a mother-like figure in their life. The song is sure to resonate deeply with listeners and will serve as a reminder of how lucky we all are to have, or have had, our moms.
DEB: Q. 10. Walk us through your 4th album, Unravel, and share your songwriting process on how this newest single, Mom, came to be?
Serafin: The album is an equal mix of Jazz standards and original material. I wanted to try some fresh takes on the standards, introducing electronic elements to Cry Me a River and Blue Skies. And I really wanted some more up-tempo material, so One Note Samba and You Came a Long Way From St. Louis came out pretty boisterous. The originals borrowed from Jazz, Pop, Soul, Funk, and even Country.
When I wrote Mom, it had been a really hard day. Schools were shut down, everyone was in isolation and I was trying to homeschool my 9-year-old while maintaining my sanity. Let me just say that I’ve always appreciated teachers, but after a month of trying to do their job, I would happily have sacrificed a lesser-used toe (one of those slacker middle ones) in order to never have to explain fractions again. My kid was mad, I was mad, the world was upside down and everything just seemed so hopeless. I felt like I was failing as a parent. In prior times, Dorothy’s love and wisdom were only a phone call away. But she was gone. Writing the song was part of my grieving.
Some of the most historical and revered music always plays a deeper role in the transformation of societies. Some consider how their work relates to the current sociopolitical landscape or how the music can address these themes,
DEB: Q. 11. Do you think some of your masterpiece originals touch on current social or political issues?
Serafin: Gosh, I hope so. I allude to the loneliness of being an LGBT adoptive family in Good Boy – we don’t really fit into the classic family mold and my son has experienced some prejudice around that. I wrote Unravel as a response to the isolation and uncertainty we were all feeling with the onset of Covid-19. And with songs like I Couldn’t Be Your Girl and It’s You, it was really just all about fun.
Some artists seem reluctant to speak of just how frustrating and baffling the whole experience of
navigating the general music realm is, let alone add in Covid-19 and how hard they try to still be
ambitious about getting their artwork seen, heard, and or sold.
DEB: Q. 12. What are some unique ways you’ve chosen lately to engage with your legions of fans, whether that’s within the top echelon of international art circles or based on your involvement with your local community, despite the challenges of trying to bring your art to the new formatted audiences at home thanks to the Corona Virus?
Serafin: Well, I hire publicists to help promote my work and try to get it out there. And making the videos has been good for getting songs seen and heard. I’ve also done some streaming live performances in lieu of gigs and am doing a major streaming concert in May from Quebec City. I think it’s all about connecting where you can and having faith in the people you’re working with.
DEB: Q. 13. Last but not least, what does success mean to you?
Serafin: That’s a really good question, and one I’ve been asking myself a lot lately. When the video for Take On Me hit 50,000 views, I sort of… well… relaxed; I think many of us need validation as artists, and I’m no different. I recently started an undergraduate degree in Psychology and it’s offered me a chance to examine my own motivations. Turns out they’re not terribly deep or profound: I just want to sing. Success means people asking me to sing, listening to my music, and seeing value in my efforts. That’s all, really.
“To describe Serafin LaRiviere’s true essence is like capturing an infinite measure, both a creative workbook and an authoritative musical reference, that is profoundly moving and a pertinent one. Truly embroidered with rich complex sound measurements of rhythm and supportive tranquil harmony. Serafin plays a crucial role in defining the sound of Canadian jazz/pop culture,” Deb Draper The Wire MEGAzine.
Awesome is who awesome is!!! Thank you for your time today Serafin LaRiviere, what a great interview.
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