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Mozart’s Sister explains the steep learning curve behind ‘Being’

August 11, 2014

'Begin' marks the first time Montreal artist Caila Thompson-Hannant worked solo on a project from conception to completion.

Montreal-based musician Caila Thompson-Hannant is often struck by inspiration while going for long walks. “I don’t know how it happens,” she says. “I think maybe it’s some sort of banal action that sort of calms a certain critical part in my brain, so just walking somehow pacifies a sort of hyperactive energy to a certain extent, and I find it to be quite conducive to creative thought. There’s something pacifying during a walk.” She laughs. “I mean, it works for dogs.”

In fact, Thompson-Hannant often dreams up full songs while out for a stroll. One such song was “Mozart’s Sister,” an anthemic, melodic dance pop track that both served as a centrepiece on her debut EP HELLO and ended up being the namesake of her project.

Though she’s got years of experience in other bands, including the respectably successful Shapes & Sizes and Think About Life, Mozart’s Sister marks the first time she’s worked solo on a project from conception to completion. “I wasn’t as involved in every step of the process as I am now, and it helped to have bandmates to rely upon emotionally and morale wise,” she says of previous endeavours. “I have a bandmate now [keyboardist, sound engineer, and back-up vocalist Pamela Dwyer] who’s really amazing, but in the beginning I had to be there pushing myself through everything and making all the decisions and having to deal with it.”

The first step in establishing Mozart’s Sister was learning how to produce tracks. “Really the most important thing was buying a computer and learning how to use it,” she says. “It was just happening slowly for me over the course of the previous couple years. It was mostly learning how to produce and record and work on songs that way. It’s so important.”

That said, Thompson-Hannant describes the digital-recording learning curve as “really steep” with no previous experience in the field. “The beginning was painful,” she admits. “At first, when you’re like ‘I’m just going to buy this M Audio thing and stick a guitar into it,’ it just sounds like crap. It’s painful. You know when you have this big orchestral thing in your brain that’s perfectly mixed and everything. And then you start making things and it’s like, ‘Whoa, whoa.’”

Fortunately, she’s driven by her own ambitions. “I just get that little stubbornness in me that forces me to keep going,” she says. “It won’t necessarily sound good, but you can at least start somewhere making those mistakes. I think maybe because I’m a bit of a control freak and a perfectionist, there’s just a constant strive to make things sound better. And also to be doing it myself, because that’s the only way I’ll trust that that’s the best I can do.”

That striving culminated in Being, Thompson-Hannant’s debut full-length as Mozart’s Sister. Released on August 5 via Paper Bag in Canada and Asthmatic Kitty overseas, the record’s a bold first statement. Packed with equal amounts of hooks and sonic experimentations, it’s a powerful, strong first statement that establishes Thompson-Hannant as a producer/performer to reckon with.

Ever the perfectionist, however, she admits she’s “not satisfied” with the record. Laughing, she hammers the point home. “No, not at all.”

While there’s a long list of things she’d have done differently, the artist admits that she sees the value in offering a complete package. “I think just finishing something is kind of a big deal,” she says. “I know there’s a lot of amazing artists. A lot of people finish things and do really good work. But it still is a bit of a feat in itself, just putting something together. And I feel like I’ve learned so much about the whole process since we’ve started promoting it. The learning curve is just as deep in a different area as it was when I was first learning how to record. And it has to do with acceptance and committing to things and seeing a whole vision through. So it’s a learning curve and I always want to improve.”

That constant forward motion means that Thompson-Hannant is already in the demo stages of her next LP. And now that she’s gotten a solo record out of the way, she’s ready to work with some collaborators. “I would love to work with musicians,” she says. “I want to have an upright bass player, and guitar, and strings and stuff. I’d like to get into a bit of that. Because I think I’m ready to push past my own limits through collaboration. I think it’s time for me to do that. That’s how I feel.”

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