SOUND SEEKERS: Searchlight Brings the Spotlight
Scene & Heard

SOUND SEEKERS: Searchlight Brings the Spotlight

Sound Seekers by Fateema Sayani is published weekly at Read Fateema Sayani’s culture column in Ottawa Magazine and follow her on Twitter @fateemasayani


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Ottawa’s very talented Erin Saoirse Adair. She made it to the Top 4 spot in the recent CBC Searchlight competition, which sought out the best musicians and songwriters from around Canada. She plays a pass-the-hat show at the Lunenburg Pub, May 22 at 9 p.m.

Ottawa singer-songwriter Erin Saoirse Adair represented Ottawa well on the national CBC Searchlight contest, aimed at discovering new Canadian talent. She was listed as one of the top 4 Canadian artists in the contest, which closed earlier this month. The winning band was Lauren Mann & The Fairly Odd Folk from Calgary, Alta.

Sound Seekers spoke to Adair about the contest.

SOUND SEEKERS: What was it like to be named in the top 4 and get an endorsement from Torquil Campbell (Stars)?

Erin Saoirse Adair: What an incredible experience Searchlight has been. It was huge ego boast to receive endorsements from all the judges and Torquil Campbell in particular. To have my music appreciated by such incredible songwriters such as Sarah Slean and Torquil Campbell was very inspiring and definitely showed me that I am on the right track with my career. Sarah Slean tweeted me the other day and said she enjoyed listening to my CD while she was cleaning her apartment. That made my day.

SS: What has it meant to place fourth? Have you seen any ripple effects from all the publicity around the contest?

ESA: Being in the National Top 4 for the CBC Searchlight competition has showed me how much support I have from my friends and fans. I could not be more grateful for this support. Thousands of people across the country heard my music and whether they hated it or loved it, they had a strong reaction and this showed how far I made it in the competition. I found the reaction to my music has been overwhelmingly positive, and this is shown in the expansion of my social media presence and in many new gigs to be performed this summer and fall.

SS: What would it mean to have won?

ESA: If I had won, I would have been able to buy a new keyboard and some more gear. Though I didn’t win the entire competition, I feel like Searchlight was very fruitful in how it expanded my fanbase. Being played several times on CBC Radio and getting endorsements from the judges was definitely a win.

SS: What kind of comments have you heard? Why do you think you placed so well?

ESA: I worked very hard at promoting my entry in the competition. I created videos, memes, and constantly tweeted. After this initial push for votes, the support I was receiving snowballed. I received many positive comments, and some negative comments. I feel like listeners either had a strong negative or strong positive reaction to my music, and this polarized reaction is what pushed me forward in the competition. As a good friend of mine always said, “Whether they hate you or they love you, they’re still talking about you.”

SS: What’s happening at the show on Thursday (May 22)? Is it part of the Searchlight contest?

ESA: No, the show isn’t part of the competition. It is my first solo show in a long time, and I am very excited to showcase my new material. I have several new songs, and have been experimenting with new arrangements on the piano. The show on Thursday is part of the FREE Acoustic Thursday’s series at the Lunenburg Pub. I am sharing the bill with local musician Chuck Karn.

SS: Were you aware of the other musicians in the Top 4 before the contest?

ESA: I had heard of Lauren Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk, but I hadn’t heard of the other two. I have been living sort of under a rock for the past few years, and most of the music I listen to is as least 40 years old.

SS: Tell us about your second album.

ESA: I am currently working on releasing a second CD. This record, more than the first, will deal with my experiences with sexual assault, mental health issues and poverty. Most of the songs are deeply political in that they directly address these issues. One of my favourites is a song I wrote about my experiences with alcoholism, and in particular, how substance abuse issues can directly stem from being abused in your workplace. Substance abuse problems are often stigmatized, mainly in how they relate to poverty. If you’re poor and are exploited by an employer on day to day basis, you will want to drink after work to “wind down,” and when you’re being constantly abused in your workplace, you will turn to substances as a way to escape from your life. The tentative title of this song is “I Want Drugs (Fire Your Boss),” and I plan to release this as a single in September. The CD is set to be released in the spring of 2015.

Many other songs on my album are about rape culture, as this is something that I deal with as a sexual assault survivor. I write songs to challenge the misogynists and rape apologists who tell me that I should be silent. I think we should live in a world where sexual assault survivors are able to openly talk about their experiences without being slut-shamed or blamed for the abuse that has been perpetuated against them.

There are many other themes that I work on in my CD such as anti-racism, indigenous issues, and cultural appropriation, and this is different than my debut CD because I will be singing more songs about social justice.

I am currently working on creating a crowd-funding campaign through to release my CD. This will be finished within the next two weeks.

Erin Saoirse Adair plays a pass-the-hat show at the Lunenburg Pub, May 22 at 9 p.m. Check here for more details.

Erin Saoirse Adair: “Whether they hate you or they love you, they’re still talking about you”