Abraham's debut EP This Old Heart is a chronicle of a passionate and periodically despondent singer-songwriter. The band's lead vocalist, Sydney Batters, takes the listener through a universe of sentiments and personal experiences while her backing band transitions effortlessly between electric folk and southern-inspired jazz. We had a one-on-one talk with this B.C. local in the blistering heat of a Victoria summer afternoon. We discussed the Vic music scene and compared bicycle crash scars in the shade.
Who is Abraham, and who are it's current members?
I am Abraham. I'm kind of the only current member right now. I'm getting a band together for festival season and some of the bigger shows. However, I still want to remain primarily a solo artist.
Before Abraham I had considered Sydney Batters and the Human Beings, or Sydney Batters and the Bodies. Abraham won. I was feeling like I needed some separation from my personal identity when I wanted to be a performer, so I made the decision to not go by my name. My parents have always told me this story growing up about how they had planned on naming me Abraham. The ultrasound predicted I would be born a boy. I came out a girl. I would have been called Abraham.
Interesting, so the name choice is a lighthearted play on gender.
Sure, although I'm very feminine and I very much identify as a woman, I'm also connected to my masculine side. Everyone has both. Sometimes we're just scared to admit that. I liked playing with the paradox that I'm extremely feminine and sweet but then Abraham is a very strong masculine name. It's just a different kind of strong. I like playing with those definitions.
How has summer in Victoria been treating you thus far?
Good, I had my birthday in June. It was very low key actually, it was the first time I spent my birthday doing what I want, ya know? Which was nothing -laughs- My summer has been really good, sort of intense. Everything in my life is always pretty intense. I think that's because I'm really intense.
I saw you with a live band last November, have those people disbanded?
Yeah, that was a one time show. So it's just me basically. Chris Ho sometimes plays with me for some of the harmonized stuff.
Since then how has the Abraham project progressed? You went on a cross-province tour to Alberta with Kirsten Ludwig. What were some highlights of your tour?
November is when I played a few shows in Victoria to promote the release of 'This Old Heart'. After that I kind of laid low for a while. Releasing the EP and planning the tour naturally took up a lot of time and energy. I don't do many local shows anymore. I find I get really anxious having shows so spread out rather doing a small tour and playing seven in a row; however, I play the breakwater bistro every so often. I might get into playing at Moksha yoga studio. Those should be some good regular gigs.
So the tour went off without a hitch. Do you get along well with your tour partner?
We get along so well. We're good friends.
Have you guys known each other for a while?
No actually, it's sort of an interesting thing: she moved here from Calgary a year ago and we met because she was dating Sam Weber at the time, and he had just produced my album. He suggested we get together and do a show. So we met for coffee and instinctively decided to plan a tour. That was the first time we met each other. We naturally became good friends through that. She and I had a really good time. I think a highlight for both of us was in Red Deer, when we played at a community center called The Hub. It's sort of a collective support group for people with special needs, or for people who don't necessarily feel like they fit in. They provide opportunities for people to connect in the community. It was really amazing, everyone there listened attentively. It was an honour to perform there.
How did you set up those shows?
Ourselves. A majority of the music industry is face-to-face communication, although we do a lot of communication online as well. I find in the music industry that it's primarily word-of-mouth and personal connections.
Yeah, for better or for worse, life tends to be more who you know than what you know. Can you say that about the music industry in Victoria?
Yeah absolutely. I've found it a little difficult as a solo artist. I find that I'm drawn to larger cities. I find it's more difficult to make a living in a smaller city. There are so many musicians, not enough work.
Well luckily you have a substantial fan following.
Yeah I've got a lot of loving, supportive people in my life. I'm very blessed.
That must be comforting to know you'll always have a decent turnout at your shows. That's something a lot of emerging local artists can't say.
I like that Victoria is small, although I'm drawn bigger cities, for the opportunity and creative growth, I really am so attached to the way of life in this city. I love it here by the water. I don't know if I could move away from it.
Everyone I talk to says Victoria is one of the best places in the world and I honestly think it is. We've got it really good here. Through all the periodically shitty Canadian politics we're really lucky to have been born here. I think this is a magical place.
The lyrics off of this old heart ep are seemingly pretty tragic. You employ dark imagery such as “..like a deathbound train” or “I'm talking to ghosts now | he's been dead for weeks. It makes for some beautifully haunting music. Can you speak to this particular writing style? Would you agree that there's a unique process to writing on misfortune?
I suppose I'm very intense. Which isn't negative. I feel things very intensely. People perceive me as being really happy, full of joy. I am, but I experience things at a high level and so I'm very reactive. Most people are probably like that.
Do I find inspiration through pain? Not necessarily. When I wrote the lyrics to 'Burn Bright' they turned out pretty sad, although the tone is hopeful and inspirational. It wasn't written out of pain, sometimes these things just kind of come out of you. There's pain in all of us, but I think of it as being coupled with other emotions like joy for instance. Being discouraged but knowing that its okay because it will pass. Some of my songs are sad, sort of totally lost or whatever I'm feeling but at the same time they're also about growth. It's about admitting your feelings so you can get over them. Sort of like therapy.
I do like when your songs contradict themselves. When your somber lyrics are sung with an overall optimistic tone.
It's kind of funny because sometimes my personality is pretty contradicting. It's just the way the music flows.
What contemporary singer-songwriters have you drawn inspiration from recently.
Funny enough, even though I'm a musician, I don't find a lot of new music that I'm passionate about .When I do however, it's very impactful on my life and writing.
Joni Mitchell. I'm super inspired by her. Not necessarily her writing style, more her life and who she is and her career, the fact that she was one of the first female singer-songwriters to be internationally recognized. And how that sort of jaded her, because she had to become something to survive. I'm fascinated by her. Laura Marling was a huge one growing up. Angel Olsen, I adore her. I've recently switched to electric, it's almost emulating that same style that I've always been a huge fan of. Simon and Garfunkel, and older jazzy- blues musicians like Nina Simone and Bessie Smith.
Yeah, A Love Supreme, I have that on vinyl. That record is a journey. I'm convinced that particular album activates a higher percentage of your brain compared to other music.
Yeah! Like study jazz. Like making babies listen to Beethoven to improve cognitive function.
I listen to a lot of Beethoven in my free time, or any piano based symphonies, really.
What songs do you like covering?
Covers! I don't do a lot of covers.
Would you consider covering some Neil Young for a live Holy Smokes session?
-laughs- Okay! I'm down. I love Neil Young. I grew up with him. Teenage angst, ya know?
Keep on rockin'. It'd be neat to record some live sessions.
It's missing in Victoria, lemme tell you.
Speaking of which, you recently performed a live session with CFUV 101.9. You're also currently promoting live music videos that you'll be filming in August.
Yeah filming some live sessions of 'Burn bright', 'This Old Heart', and a newer song called “I will wait” on ukulele. I'm really excited about that. I'm doing that at a local studio called White Void Studios, they're very new and very hardworking. It's cool to be a part of that. It's gonna be pretty minimalistic. I'm glad to have some content out there for Abraham. I'm going to play a lot of new stuff for CFUV. I've started to use some different pedals, I'll incorporate that into my set. The transition to electric has felt really good. It's changed my writing for the better. I think it's a half hour set and an interview.
I want to give you the opportunity now to promote any local bands that you have on your radar or that you might know personally.
My friend Kirsten Ludwig naturally. She'll be releasing her next album pretty soon, keep your eyes open for that. I've heard it. It's amazing. I'm sure she'll be doing a release show. Chris Ho is performing with the Royal Foundry in Vancouver on September 14th. Gonna be a really fun show, he's been on hiatus for a long time. He's coming out and playing with a new style. Hawke and Steel released an album recently, it's amazing. And the Half Moon Shine is incredible.
Finally, you've described yourself previously as a 'winter child'. Could you give a word of advise as to how to keep cool in this blistering summer heat?
I love to swim. Stay inside? I love the sun, but I'm more of a fall/winter kind of person. I'm more reflective then. I find there's a pressure sometimes to always be doing something when it's nice out, ya know? I thrive in winter.