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Artist Spotlight: Breaking down barriers with Ellen Froese

by Scott Roos

photos By Scott Roos/Scotty the Rooster Photography

Froese was all smiles during her recent run of dates opening for The Sheepdogs (photo by Scott Roos)

“(When I perform) I like to break down the barrier between musician and audience. It's a weird thing to go up there and play in front of people and I don't want it to be like that weird barrier. It doesn't have to be this weird divide. I struggle with anxiety and depression too. I just want people to feel safe and comfortable,” singer-songwriter Ellen Froese recently told NSMZ in a brief telephone interview.

It’s been a little over a week since Froese wrapped up six dates in the support slot for The Sheepdogs on their “Backroad Boogie” tour. Froese, for this short run, was able to musically provide a more conciliatory approach compared to the, at times raucous, classic rock meanderings of her peers in The Sheepdogs. Froese was essentially the “calm before the storm”. Her stage banter was humorous, warm and inviting as she led the audience through her all too short sets. Fortunately, for those of us in the “land of living skies”, Froese, a former staple within the Saskatoon folk scene who has recently made a move to Toronto, will perform a short solo tour starting next week with stops in Nokomis (Feb, 8), Biggar (Feb. 9), Melfort (Feb. 10), and Watson (Feb. 11th).

For these performances, Froese will be joined by Luke Goetz and Chris Mason (formerly of The Deep Dark Woods) and Darnell Stewart (Megan Nash, Bears In Hazenmore). Mason played bass on Froese’s 2022 full length For Each Flower Growing. She had used a different set of musicians to back her up on The Sheepdogs tour and will use different musicians yet again when she heads to Yellowknife to play the “Snow King’s Winter Festival” the first week in March. She will no doubt try to settle on a more permanent backing band when she returns to Toronto to set up shop (her move to “T-Dot” is still very fresh) but, at least for now, Froese feels content using different musicians tour to tour and gig to gig.

“I like involving people. I like playing with all sorts of different people. I look at it like a community thing,” commented Froese.

While it’s true that folk music in general does radiate a community atmosphere, Froese has likely formulated this opinion via coming through the Northern Lights Bluegrass and Old Tyme Music Camp. As an impressionable teenager, she came to the camp ready to learn and improve her craft. The camp gave her the opportunities to not only do this but also to play with other people as well. On top of this, she was able to formulate a rolodex of contacts that she could draw from to springboard her burgeoning solo career. 

"Camps like that are so important and so valuable…. Especially just to get out and (have the chances to) literally play with other people. Knowing how to jam and play with other people is a really great skill to have and bluegrass and folk is a good basis (to learn how to do that),” explained Froese.

Of course, at the end of the day, whilst her warm and inviting stage presence draws an audience in, realistically, it’s her songs that are still the focal point of everything she does. Over the past decade or so that Froese has been honing her songwriting craft, journaling has been a big part of her process. She’ll write about things that are on her mind and, once a notebook is filled, go back with a highlighter and see if she can pull any lines out of what’s on those pages that might spark something. She’s also tried taking time out to just sit and strum her guitar in hopes of that ever so elusive inspiration to strike but, above all, songs that she seems to feel the most satisfied with, whatever the process has been to lead up to putting the pen to paper, have happened in a single sitting. 

“I feel like it's just a spiderweb of different things. I feel like the songs that I've liked the best that I've written are just like me sitting down and within an hour it's done. If only that would just happen all the time (laughs),” Froese said. 

“I feel like I write pretty honestly. That's what draws me in with other musicians that I listen to. I don't like when there's an air of pretentiousness. I try to avoid that. Hopefully I'm succeeding.”  

Her latest full length effort, For Each Flower Growing, produced by Sheepdogs drummer Sam Corbett, is chock full of folksy, alt-country sonics; basically a collection of predominantly mellow, hook laden “slow burn” style sonics . Her overall vibe has been compared to such contemporary artists like Angel Olsen, Laura Veirs, Jessica Pratt, and Adrienne Lenker (Big Thief). Corbett’s influence is all over some of the more experimental sounding tracks too but, throughout, Froese wears her influences on her sleeve. Hell, you might even say she’s an artist that wears her heart on her sleeve. In short, if you listen to her music, you’ll enjoy it. If you see her live, you’ll enjoy it. That's the bottom line.

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