For more than a decade, Beatrice Deer has mixed traditional Inuit throat singing and indie-rock in a style that she cleverly calls "Inuindie." Half-Inuk and half-Mohawk, her voice is slinky and raw, colored by whichever language makes sense for the story — French, English, and Inuktitut. The Montreal scene that she now calls home provides many musical touchstones, but Deer has crafted a yearning sound undoubtedly and uniquely her own.
Deer is set to release her fifth album, My All to You, on May 11, featuring contributions by members of Land of Talk, The Barr Brothers, Stars, Timber Timbre, Bell Orchestre and Suuns. But before she does that, Deer is revisiting 2015's Fox EP with a gorgeously animated video that illuminates the idea that it matters who tells the story.
"Fox" is an Inuk folktale about loss and judgement, woven with shades of love and hurt that make the film and song drive home the emotional climax. The details — right down the knife that the fox-woman holds — were important to the success of the project, Deer tells NPR in a short interview.
Lars Gotrich: Can you tell me about the Inuit legend behind "Fox"? Its core is the fox as trickster god, but more importantly it's about lacking empathy. What lessons does it teach?
Beatrice Deer: The legend is about a fox who transformed into a woman to trick a man into falling in love with her. And when the man kept smelling the musky smell of the fox-woman, she kept denying it. I personally think the moral of the story is: You will lose the ones you care about by judging them for the way they are.
When so many of these types of stories tend to be filtered through white voices, it was powerful to me once I realized that this Inuit story and song was animated by an Inuit production company. Tell me about the concept and production team behind it.
I approached Taqqut Productions based in Iqaluit to do this music video because I've worked with them as a narrator on a very cool short animated film called The Country of Wolves. And I've also seen their other animated work of Inuit Legends and also admired illustrations on books about Inuit legends by their sister company, Inhabit Media. These two companies respect and value working with Inuit so much, I knew right away that I would love working with them.
I was involved in the consultation of the style and character design. As suggested by director Neil Christopher, I gave the animators images of what I want the outfits to look like as well as their dwelling. There was a lot of back and forth by internet to get my feedback throughout the animation process. Wherever I suggested changes in the clip they sent me, the team would make the changes, without complaints ever! Suggestions like the height of the flame of the lamp, to the way the woman holds the ulu (women's knife) while scraping the skin, to name a few. They involved me in every step of the way. I am so grateful for the whole team that worked on this project. The team was magic ... they were so easy-going and it was a pleasure working with them. The video turned out beyond my imagination and expectation.
Your next album, My All to You, fully embraces the indie-rock notions of the Fox EP, with a number of people from the Montreal music scene contributing. Woven into its structure are songs in French, English, and Inuktitut, plus a few tracks featuring throat singing – where does one thread begin or end when you're writing music? Or does it all get tangled up and you're left to make sense of it?
My All to You is my first record where I wrote the music and the lyrics because, in the past, I only wrote lyrics. When I'm trying to write lyrics to a song, I just start with whichever language comes to heart, then I go from there. I express myself easier in my first language of Inuktitut, so my songs tend to be more in Inuktitut. And because I want to create more music for my people and to encourage and preserve our language. My amazingly talented band structured the songs.
As for the throat singing, I love to incorporate it in my music just cause it sounds rhythmically cool and the fact that I'm proud of where I come from. I'm very proud of my Inuit heritage. I also feel that my music represents who I am, an Urban Inuk. I grew up in Quaqtaq, a small town of 400 people today and I've been living in Montreal for almost 11 years now. I have one foot in both worlds and I think my music exemplifies that.