Published Mar 20, 2020It's a "flash-forward-to-spring" kind of day in Toronto, and Christa Couture has been relishing a new feeling: safety. Talking with lightness and buoyancy — and intermittent butterfly laughter — she seems at ease looking out at her sunny backyard.
"This is the first time in a long time that I've been in this place of safety," Couture tells Exclaim! "Feeling a stability that I had hoped and longed for."
To understand just how refreshing this feeling is for Couture, you have to make the volatile trek through what she calls her "grief bio." Though it's impossible to tell from her upbeat disposition, this is a woman who lost her left leg to childhood cancer; whose thyroidectomy nearly made her lose her voice; and whose two sons died, tragically, during infancy.
What is most remarkable about Couture, though, is not her preternatural resilience in the face of tragedy, but her ability to pick up the pieces, put them together into stories and share them publicly. She has written about her experiences as a mom who is both queer and disabled for CBC Parents, resulting in a diversity of parents reaching out and praising her for "making difference beautiful."
Explaining that "writing has always been how I process," Couture has outlined each of her tragedies on previous albums, including sharing her experience of divorce throughout 2016's Long Time Leaving. Recognizing that she has experienced enough adversity to fill a book, Couture is also opting to do just that; her memoir, How to Lose Everything, is getting published through Douglas & McIntyre this fall.
But now, having mined her grief, Christa Couture has a new mission: looking outwards.
"As a songwriter, I've always been very autobiographical," Couture says. "This is the first time that I just looked around and wrote about what I saw. It was the first time that I didn't have a backlog of personal experiences that I needed to process."
With her latest EP, Safe Harbour, Couture is able to look up from a newfound place of safety in order to watch, listen, and empathize. The song "Far, Far Light of the Stars," for instance, was written "driving home after dropping off a friend of mine who is trans and non-binary." Couture recalls how this friend was "talking about some of their experiences with daily acts of violence that trans people experience constantly. That song just came from wishing I could just pick up all those people I love and put them in my pocket to keep them safe."
This shift in perspective has changed the way Couture has gone about making the album, too. Seeking out Jim Bryson to produce the EP, Couture made him a pretty irresistible offer: "I want the two of us to have a nice time together, and I want the two of us to make something we both really like." Between takes with an impressive collection of backing artists — including members from City and Colour, Hey Rosetta!, and Great Lake Swimmers — Couture and Bryson would soak in the August sunshine.
"We'd be working away in his studio and, when we'd hit a wall or a need to reflect, we'd go and sit out in the hammocks. My favourite moments from that week were seeing my feet above me, swaying against a blue sky."
The joyful experience making Safe Harbour reflects the joy Couture has found making music since she was a child, singing rounds with her mom and sister. Coming from a musical family, the act of "interlocking harmonies" holds a special place in Couture's heart — and it's an act she foregrounds on Safe Harbour in a way she hasn't been able to before. Ansley Simpson and Michelle St. John join Couture on the album's closer, "Waitlist Lullaby," emphasizing "the fact that this little EP is introducing other voices."
"It's not just about me." Couture explains. "I'm trying to share some other perspectives, imagine some other perspectives."
The most obvious reason Couture is looking outwards these days, though, is her ultimate source of comfort and safety: her two-year-old daughter. Having spent years travelling the country on tour, occasionally at the expense of her health — she put off a thyroidectomy in order to record her last album, then put it off again in order to tour, much to the dismay of her doctor — Couture now has an excuse to savour stability.
"I was enjoying that aspect of my career, but I was longing to be in one place. Through life, choices, and luck, some of those things have fallen into place. Now, my comfort and safety is with my daughter. Anytime I'm with her, I'm grounded — I know what matters the most to me, what I feel most lucky about, and what I'm most in love with."
Now that she's written the book on tragedy, Couture feels confident about whatever the future may bring.
"This is literally a new chapter in my life. The EP is just the first couple pages of this next phase."
Safe Harbour is out now on Coax Records.