Dinah Thorpe – Lullabies and Wake Up Calls
Down to earth, brutally honest, with an elegant and enchanting voice, Dinah Thorpe is going to set the record straight. Or, better yet, put out another record! Lullabies and Wake Up Calls is her latest album and I am certainly excited to see what Thorpe comes up with next. L&WUC is a very fitting title for this recording as the majority of its tracks could simultaneously act as lullabies and wake up calls. The soft, soothing sounds of ukulele, down tempo beats, and Thorpe’s gentle, yet commanding voice could easily lull one to sleep; but only if you ignore the lyrics. These passionate ballads boldly advocate for the lifestyle changes that are necessary to shift our society away from fossil fuel dependency and consumerism toward a more sustainable future. Thorpe branches through a wide range of sound. From simple, folksy ukulele tunes that morph into doo-wop grooves, to marching snares and violin solos, Dinah Thorpe certainly covers a lot of ground. Even her vocals are diverse. She ranges from sentimental, bluesy Natalie Merchant crooning to practical, yet sassy, rapping that is reminiscent of Soul Coughing’s Mike Doughty.
Giving a thumbs-down to capitalism, cars, and the wastefulness that is inherent in Western culture, Thorpe discusses motor vehicles, child marketing, apathy, and other maledictions that plague society. She strikes a political note and makes unabashed suggestions that require no explanation.
“All the big wigs have their day
while all the workers pay.
Take all the pensions away”
Borrowing from Peggy Lee’s “Fever” and the hymn “This Little Light of Mine”, Thorpe mixes the familiar with the fresh in an unforgettable dose of reality that is inspirational as well as entertaining.
I was lucky enough to score an interview with Dinah Thorpe!
EV: Please tell the Wordkrapht readers a little about yourself. What do you consider your musical roots?
DT: When my sisters and I were young, my parents put together a totally cool room for us in the basement of our house. We spent a lot of time there with our friends, playing pool and pinball and listening to records on an old jukebox. I have realized only recently how important that collection of 45s was to my musical education, and I have tried to collect some the songs again – Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, The Beatles, Chubby Checker, The Beach Boys, The Shirelles, Buddy Holly…
EV: Describe your songwriting process. What usually inspires you? When and where do you do your best thinking?
DT: Inspiration is a tricky thing to pin down, at least in my case, as it tends not to happen in entirely predictable ways. There is, after all, some degree of magic involved. Not that songwriting is magic – because it is absolutely also work – but I do think that initial spark of an idea is somewhat otherworldly. You can do things to invite it, but in the end it arrives when it wants to. And then the work is to build something for that spark or feeling to ride on or to live in. And that work I mostly do in a small and crooked room that I call my studio.
Inspiration sometimes comes for me as a result of feeling fed up about something and needing an outlet. This happens often when I am on my bike, which is why I end up writing a lot of songs about getting around by bike – trying to figure out how such a potentially perfect way of getting around is made so unnecessarily dangerous.
And then there are more fabulous moments of inspiration, like walking through a beautiful place with really old trees, or seeing someone you love in the light of a perfect sunset.
EV: Your music been compared to Natalie Merchant, Laurie Anderson, Portishead and others. Do you agree with these comparisons? Who have been your main musical influences?
DT: I find those comparisons hugely flattering, and I feel grateful to be mentioned in the same breath with musicians whose work I love and respect. Portishead’s Dummy is one of my favourite albums of all time, and I have a long-standing fantasy about singing back up for Natalie Merchant. They also give me hope that I might someday be able to make a living as an artist, since I think those people likely do.
I appreciate comparisons when they are thoughtfully made and with my work firmly in mind. I think they are sometimes made lazily, and based more on identity politics than anything else. I have objected to being compared with kd lang – not because I don’t respect her as a musician or as a person, which I do – but because I think that comparison is based solely on us being two of the very few butch dykes in the public eye. And it bothers me that my work almost never gets compared with a man’s . . . because sexism. Like we aren’t even allowed to exist in the same creative universe together. And conversely, their work would never get likened to a woman’s because it would be no doubt seen as demeaning.
So the take-home message is, I appreciate the comparisons, I think they can be useful and complementary, but I think they have their limits and complications and ought to be taken with a few grains of salt.
EV: Your songs mention your passion for bicycling, your daughter, and your busy life. What else occupies your free time?
DT: I like to grow vegetables and build things and read and play basketball. This time of year in Toronto I really love to be outside as much as I can, going for walks or runs or playing road hockey. I also really love going to see live music. This is starting to sound like a personals ad so I better stop…
EV: If you could share the stage with any other musician whom would you choose?
DT: Leslie Feist and Questlove. That is two I realize but there are so many more I could add…
EV: Speaking of other musicians, what are you listening to right now?
DT: TRUST, Haim, Basia Bulat, Blind Willie Johnson, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
EV: What is next for Dinah Thorpe?
DT: I am working on a kind of trip-hop-ish album, and an album of songs for ukulele. I am also producing an album for a friend of mine. I am hoping to get to keep writing and producing, to keep playing shows, and to get to collaborate more with other musicians.
WORDKRAPHT Rating: 4 Stars
Album Name: Lullabies and Wake Up Calls
Date Released: April, 2014
Genre: Indie Folk, Singer-Songwriter
Location: Toronto, Canada
Band Members: Dinah Thorpe