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Rae Spoon gets back to their roots

With a book, an album and a film exposing their childhood, Calgary’s Rae Spoon lays it all on the table


Rae Spoon is ahead of the game. - MAYA BANKOVIC
  • Maya Bankovic
  • Rae Spoon is ahead of the game.

"When you don't fit into the gender system people tell you that you shouldn't exist and you don't exist. But I'm here to tell you: I exist." This is Rae Spoon, speaking with a down-to-earth chuckle in the trailer for the upcoming NFB documentary My Prairie Home. The film, directed by Chelsea McMullan, follows Polaris-nominated Spoon as they tour Alberta and explore their childhood landscape and the tribulations of being brought up in an evangelical Christian family.

Spoon's collaboration with McMullan began when Spoon wrote the score for the 2009 documentary film Deadman. "We got to know each other and she got to know my story and then proposed making a film. She started writing grants and over time the NFB picked it up." In between, McMullan directed music videos for Spoon's singles "Ocean Blue" and "There is a Light." "After spending that much time together I know her very well," Spoon says. "We always joke that if somebody made a documentary about her it would be me."

During the development stage of the film, Spoon began to write stories about their childhood, which were eventually turned into the book First Spring Grass Fire published by Arsenal Pulp Press last year. "I realized that I wanted to map out the narrative a bit more and talk more about my childhood. I ended up writing 10 stories for Chelsea, which were then turned into the book. We'd been making music videos leading up to that, so we found ways to integrate the stories and then I wrote new songs to make music sequences to."

The resulting film is an unusual combination of storytelling modes. "There are staged musical sequences with non-staged documentary. A lot of it is quite surreal, too. There are very few talking heads; there are a lot of landscape and prairie shots in the sequences. My younger brother, Dan, who plays drums with me on tour sometimes, appears in the film. There's stuff about my family and growing up, stuff about coming out in high school. The person I dated in high school was in the film. She and I got to go back to Calgary and do this prom-we-never-went-to scene."

Screenings of the film will begin in October, but for now, Spoon is touring with the film's companion album of the same name. While their 2012 release, I Can't Keep All of Our Secrets was full of lyrical, electronic ballads, My Prairie Home returns to Spoon's original influences. "I thought, for a musical of your childhood, if you're from Calgary and were a teenager in the '90s, it would be country, gospel, grunge and a little indie rock."

Spoon now has a book, an album and a film each exploring and exposing their fraught childhood, and they're getting more comfortable with the idea of having the painful details of their upbringing out in the open. Having the book come out last year was a help. "It was a good thing to prepare me for everything. The book is a lot longer and has more content than an album or a film would have. Music is a lot less specific than film or stories and it's a lot more about how you sound than who you are. But it's something I've gotten used to and I find it rewarding now."

With eight solo albums to their name and another book project underway, Spoon is showing no signs of slowing down.

Rae Spoon
Saturday, September 28 at 8pm
The Company House, 2202 Gottingen Street

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