Ora Cogan on Crickets, collaboration, and experimentation

Photo by Kristina PEnderson

Photo by Kristina PEnderson

Deemed “one of the best musicians in Vancouver” by SAD staff, Ora Cogan wrote to us from Haida Gwaii during her tour for her latest album, Crickets. Read more about the thoughts behind this complex, political, dark album, her collaborators and love for experimentation as a creator.

SAD: So the inevitable question first, what albums are you listening/are drawn to right now?

ORA: I’ve been really into Exploded View, Crack Cloud, Beak, Wand but then a lot of really tender music too: Sade, Evy Jane, Dolly Parton, Michael Hurley, Charlotte Day Wilson. Really all over the place.   

SAD: Upon listening to your newest album Crickets, I was consumed by the swell of complex sound, that varied in intensity throughout the listen: dreamy waves of dark synth, beguiling chromatic melodies, strong thumping percussion, eerie climbing strings, and above all were your delicate, precise, and soft vocals. I am very curious—what is this album all about for you?

ORA: Crickets was me feeling through the tumultuous times we’re living in. The whole time I was writing, it was like I was casting a spell to not be fucked with. Feeling through deeply painful topics like gaslighting, resource extraction, depression, environmental and social injustices and then building up the sound so that it felt like a vindicating and empowering space.

SAD: Yes, there is a complex dreamy darkness that feels like it is speaking to a plethora of topics.

ORA: It’s kinda my MO. I’m a lil dark storm over here. I’m working on it.

SAD: So on your last two albums, Crickets and Shadowland there have been many musicians involved in creating the sound you have arranged. What was the collaboration process like, working with a large ensemble?

ORA: I’ve been lucky to work with so many incredible musicians. I have a lot of trust and respect for the folks I work with right now and do my best to try and make sure everyone feels welcome to try out ideas and that they feel good in the music. Everyone has been incredibly patient with my unconventional and untrained communication. I’m often singing bass lines or dancing out rhythm patterns. The collaborative process really depends person to person and project to project. Right now I’m on the road with Justin Devries and Reggie Bast. They’re both incredibly innovative, caring and fun people and extremely skilled and talented musicians. I’ve worked with Justin for years. This is Reggie’s first ever tour: he’s 23 and just graduated from university. I’m very, very lucky to have worked with musicians from all sorts of musical backgrounds and and I’ve learned so much from everyone I work with.

Photo by annah Mackay from Ora’s northern tour, April 2019.

Photo by annah Mackay from Ora’s northern tour, April 2019.

SAD: In terms of your practice, do you have any rituals when it comes to creating your work? For example, specific requirements of space, environments that you thrive in more than others, methods/creative exercises you utilize to work through the creative kinks?

ORA: I usually work things out when I’m in motion. I often write on the road. I guess my ritual is just staying true to my intuition and a commitment to experimenting and having an open mind. I don’t ever want to be too precious about when or how I can write because honestly the ideal situation is hard to come by. I do believe in being sensitive to what feels right, when it’s time to explore a topic or technique or to get in any certain mode. Mostly I just want to make music that feels free.

SAD: So let’s talk about your tour, which is probably on the forefront of your mind! How are you feeling about all of it?

ORA: I’ve been touring for over 10 years now. I used to do much longer tours but these 2-3 week runs are much more healthy. This is my first tour north though! It has been supremely beautiful but bittersweet as I just lost a dear friend. I have a fantastic crew who have been really patient with the waves of grief I’m going through. We’ve had a lot of fun together too. We’re doing lots of fitness on the way which is really therapeutic. Stopping on the highway to do squats and push ups. The shows have had really great energy. I feel pretty open and raw when I’m on stage right now. The land is so stunning up here and the people we’ve met along the way so far have been really fun and kind so that’s been making this more of a journey then a tour.

SAD: You have some musical company on this tour: Marin Patenaude. How did you both come to decide to tour together?

ORA: We really became friends years ago while we were working together on a farm she lived on up in the mountains. We played together in the farm band, rode around on motorcycles, partiedwe’ve had some ridiculous times together. She’s a dear friend and a powerful artist. It’s been sweet getting to hear her sing every night and I can not wait to hear her new albums because these new songs of hers are killers.

SAD: I am curious about your show in Victoria, and the interdisciplinary performance with Tango Lima. How was that experience, and is this kind of hybrid performance something you aim to incorporate in your work?

ORA: This was a fantastic show Aimee Van Drimmelen curated. It was held in the old town exhibit a the BC Museum. She had projections of archival films throughout the museum and had invited me to do a live score to a film called Suite Two: A Memo to Oscar made by Dorothy Burritt in 1947. The cinematographer, Stanley Fox was in attendance and it was his 91st birthday! It was incredibly special to get to play for him. Tango Lima were set up in a really dreamy tiled room with about five million instruments and they sounded incredible. I’ve been doing a lot of live scoring this past year and it definitely feels like something I’d like to continue exploring. Last year I curated a collaborative project called Les Yeux with Joni Sadler, Jessica Moss, Joni Void, Ylang Ylang and Robin Faye from Big\Brave for Lux Magna festival in Montreal. Doing collaborative and experimental projects will always be a part of my practice as an artist I hope. You learn so much and it’s really nice to go out of the comfort zone.

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Ora is prepping to record a new album, so right now, besides her tour, she is currently in hermit mode, saving money and getting the last bits of writing done. Stay tuned for that! Follow Ora on Instagram and Twitter.