Famous artists are notoriously late, but when I arrive ten minutes early to interview Adaline at Le Gourmand on Queen and Spadina, she is ready for me, with an embrace and a smile. The café is bustling with regulars getting their caffeine fix, but we manage to secure a little table in the midst of all the chaos. The Canadian indie singer blends in with the rest of us. She is casually dressed in a black sweater, grey joggers, and a cable knit toque, her ginger hair peeking out. She tells me about her most recent trip to Los Angeles as we sip tea, and how she’s inspired by her bicoastal lifestyle—the sunny Californian landscape is infused in her latest record, Dear Illusion, releasing in February, 2020. “It’s by far the brightest work I’ve ever done. I actually didn’t write in any minor keys,” she says with a laugh, acknowledging her signature moody sound.
For Adaline, music has always been a big part of growing up. As a minister’s daughter, she moved from church to church, living in five cities across Ontario before she was 15 and then moving to British Columbia soon after. “The first time I was on stage, I think I was three and sang Away in a Manger. People who grow up in churches are very music based—there is tons of music every Sunday and throughout the week. My dad was a part of quite large churches of hundreds of people, so I was always comfortable with being on stage.”
Although her early exposure to music instilled a passion for singing, it wasn’t until her early twenties when she discovered the songwriting world. “Because of my upbringing, I didn’t grow up listening to Dylan or Leonard Cohen, the classic songwriters,” she says. “I grew up mostly listening to Gospel and musical theatre, so the concept of a songwriter was really foreign until I was 23 and tried writing a song.”
In the early stages, Adaline’s love of poetry and university degree in literature helped bridge the gap between singing and writing lyrics. The confluence of going to live shows and a Radiohead obsession that followed exposed her to the realm of modern music. She distinctly recalls a pivotal moment in 2005 of watching Hawksley Workman play in Vancouver and drawing inspiration from his expressive lyrics and authentic performance quality. Since then, she has turned the trajectory of her identity as a musician from accomplished choral soloist to soulful indie-pop artist with a focus on vivid lyrics. And in a magical full-circle scenario, Workman would go on to produce Adaline’s hit album Modern Romantics, six years later.
Modern Romantics is Adaline’s manifestation of how our generation is experiencing love. And most of it is not very positive. The album, inspired by the romantic era of poetry, is moody and alluring in its sound and atmosphere: Adaline’s croony tone and hazy melodies function as a foreboding backdrop for lyrics about visceral first connections, avoiding deeper intimacy, and the turmoil of not being able to stick a relationship out. All the brooding songs on her record, “lyrically, are about something very specific. But because they’re abstract and poetic, people derive different meanings.”
Her writing process traditionally consists of leaving on a solo trip, somewhere hot with an ocean, and writing nonstop for five days. On this mini work vacation, she separates from her usually rosy personality to unveil something deeper. “I’ll usually have a bottle of wine and make myself cry. You almost throw yourself into a cathartic state so that these lyrics can come out. I don’t want to live my life depressed every day, but the truth is, to get the kind of lyrics I love, I have to feel almost hysterical. So, I’ll get into that space where no one has to deal with me and then I’ll come back.” Being vulnerable with her expression, it turns out, has paid off.
Licensing a song to a major franchise is every artist’s commercial dream, so when Adaline got the call from her manager at the time, telling her she had booked back to back episodes on Grey’s Anatomy, she was utterly overwhelmed. Her songs Say Goodbye and Sparks played as soundtracks to two emotional scenes on season eight of the medical drama. She recounts, “Grey’s is just a huge show and being a part of it was ridiculous. I definitely took a couple selfies in front of the TV screen when those episodes aired. Since then, one of my friends that I went to school with, Giacomo Gianniotti, is now a doctor on the show which is all pretty cool.”
As the coffee shop quiets from its morning rush of customers, Adaline delves into the darker side of pursuing art and careers in creative industries. Most professionals face the challenge of differentiating the line between constructive criticism and undue animosity, but for artists, criticism towards such intimate work can be difficult to not take personally. Although most reviews by critics on Adaline’s creative work have been positive, she has been told “no” by different labels and agents more times than she can count. The criticism she’s experienced is “not necessarily a negative critique on my art; instead, it feels negative in that someone doesn’t want to work with me.” But over the years, just as her sound has evolved, so has her confidence in her own artistry. “You know when you’re in a relationship with a critical person—it’s very easy to take on those critiques when you don’t really know yourself. But when you do, it won’t hurt you as much.”
Navigating the social media waters is another part of the gig Adaline and many other musicians didn’t sign up for. “I don’t know if I do it really well. The thing is, it’s just so noisy out there and to get people to pay attention to what you’re doing is getting harder and harder,” she explains. Throughout the years, publicists have pitched numerous social media ideas surrounding the promotion of her records, but not many have felt authentic—the challenge was always to captivate an audience without feeling gimmicky.
As an alternative to flashy schemes, Adaline is ironing out the finishing touches of an avenue she wholeheartedly believes will reach the right kind of audience outside her music: she plans to release a podcast series that encapsulates her unique perspective of being submerged in two completely different worlds.
“I’ve had the experience of being very involved in Evangelical, which is sort of the most intense, charismatic form of Christianity. I’m now in the throes of contemporary music, and the two worlds represent the divide I see, especially in the United States. I want to debunk and bridge these gaps because I think more than ever, we just need things to bring us together.”
Adaline’s upcoming record is a departure from her past work in many key ways. While the themes and words that fill her new songs still convey a sense of tension about addiction, disillusionment, and a revelatory love, Dear Illusion approaches a lightness that feels dreamy, ethereal, and bright. She worked with Maximilian Jaeger, a recording producer for Diplo, to merge his hip-hop oriented background with her own indie vibe, creating an entirely new sound.
As we finish our now tepid teas, Adaline tells me that her favourite part of making music for a living is the connection her songs facilitate. Sometimes, the photoshoots and music videos can become frivolous in comparison to larger issues in the world, but then she reminds herself why she loved music in the first place. “As with anything in life, you have to have a pretty strong ‘why.’ If I can connect with another human and bring any kind of goodness into their lives, that’s all that matters.”