We got in touch with multi-instrumentalist, touring rocker, and film composer Aimee Bessada for a great interview. Since touring with Sia, Cyndi Lauper, and co-producing her EP A Dream, A Coast with Linda Perry, Bessada has been turning heads with her unique blend of grunge, folk, and surf rock. We talk about her musical inspiration, her recent work at the Canadian Film Centre, upcoming projects, and more!
“Learn how to do everything yourself. The better you can become at seeing your work through from beginning to end without putting it in the hands of anyone else, the better. You put yourself at a major advantage if you have the skills to control everything from writing to production to image. And it feels good to do it. Now that I’ve learned how to produce my own music to its fullest capacity, songwriting is only half the fun. ”
1.Starting off with your project as A Dream, A Coast: the style is quite unique, blending a few genres. Where would you say your stylistic inspiration comes from?
I’ve always been into a variety of musical genres, and when I was writing the EP, I wanted to find a way to blend the elements that I like about different traditions, but in a way that still felt focused and unified in a collection of songs. The A Dream, A Coast project was influenced by a bunch of things, consciously and self-consciously: Elliott Smith, 90s grunge, Fleetwood Mac in some ways. I’d just heard the first HAIM record around that time as well and was pretty into that.
2. Your EP was co-produced with Linda Perry. How did that collaboration come about; what in her production style appealed to you?
I met Linda as a featured artist on a VH1 reality show called Make Or Break: The Linda Perry Project. The show involved a bunch of different songwriters and bands, and at the end of it, she chose to work with a few of us, and that’s how we went into co-producing my EP. Linda’s really insightful. She cuts through the bullshit, both interpersonally and in the process of making songs. She helped me find a deeper emotional place to access for songwriting that I wasn’t tapped into before. I learned a lot from her. She’s really blunt – she doesn’t waste time if she doesn’t think something’s working. And her process is really organic: everyone plays together during the composing phase and she conducts the sessions, so instead of isolating the instruments – figuring out one-at-a-time what the bass should do, what the drums should do, etc. – she guides the development of a song in a really immediate, unified way. It’s efficient, but it also allows for unexpected discoveries.
3. Your career as a musician has often been centered in Toronto. How do you feel about the music scene there?
Toronto has a really strong music scene. It’s a network where there’s basically six degrees of separation between everyone. Because of that, there’s an opportunity to collaborate with different artists. When I first started out, if one project I was involved in was ending, there was always something else to do. I played guitar and toured with a few different acts, and when it comes to recording or performing my own work, I have a vast pool of local talent to call in. And lots of people in the Toronto music scene don’t just do one thing, which I really like. People often play in more than one band, they have their own projects as well as group projects, maybe they also produce, or are also involved in other arts projects aside from music. It’s really shaped how I approach my work and it fits who I am; how much I value variety and collaboration and growth. It was a great foundation when I moved to New York and had to jump into a touring band. It’s a good ethic to take wherever I go.
4. Your music has recently expanded to the medium of film. Does transitioning from a touring musician to a film composer require a shift in musical mentality?
Touring has always involved a different mentality than songwriting because it’s not necessarily the most creative part of being a musician. I love touring, I love performing live. But it requires a different kind of endurance, a different skill set. The interesting difference to me is the one between writing songs for myself, as an artist, and writing songs to picture. If I’m writing original songs for film, it’s purely about serving the scene or satisfying the director’s vision. Each film has its own specific requirements, but if I think of working across multiple projects, what I get to do is boundless. I can try on all kinds of distinct genres. And that allows me to take something that was a challenge in my own songwriting as an artist – trying to blend disparate influences, not having one preferred genre to focus on – and using it to my advantage. Like: I was recently asked to write a punk song and a dinner jazz song for different scenes in the same project, and to make sure they both serve the tone of the piece while also being distinct themselves. That kind of thing is one of the challenges that really excites me about scoring and songwriting to picture.
5. Do you have a favorite venue that you played in while touring?
Definitely a highlight for me was performing at the Venice biennale with Vag Halen, this performance art feminist cock rock band. We were asked to represent Canada and play at an event curated by the contemporary artist Shary Boyle. It was so cool to be there in that capacity, and it was a pretty fancy cultural event that normally wouldn’t involve a band like Vag. For the first half of the performance, I don’t think the crowd really knew what to make of us, but we could feel them slowly being won over, and by the end, there wasn’t anyone there who wasn’t engaged. It really felt like something, to bridge a gap like that.
6. Can we hear about any upcoming projects of yours?
Yes. I just finished a 9-month residency at Canadian Film Centre, and I’m collaborating with a few of the graduates of the program on scoring a short film anthology right now. I’m also doing the music for an upcoming CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) web series, and I composed the music for a film (The Inherent Traits of Connor James) that just had its premiere in Toronto at InsideOut festival. I’m also starting to write some music for myself and hope to make a new collection of songs soon.
7. The landscape of the music business has shifted rather dramatically in recent years. Do you have any advice you’d give to up and coming musicians?
Learn how to do everything yourself. The better you can become at seeing your work through from beginning to end without putting it in the hands of anyone else, the better. You put yourself at a major advantage if you have the skills to control everything from writing to production to image. And it feels good to do it. Now that I’ve learned how to produce my own music to its fullest capacity, songwriting is only half the fun.
by Giorgio Chang