Songs that turn out to be popular with listeners are not always recognized as hits by their creators and sometimes they get overlooked at recording sessions.
That almost happened with “Down by the Water,” a song about springtime and renewal by indie folksinger Abigail Lapell. She wasn’t going to include the song on her 2019 album, Getaway, but when she was in the studio, a friend persuaded her to record it.
“It turned out very well,” Lapell said about the song that’s been streamed more than four million times on Spotify.
Lapell is a powerful singer who writes well-crafted, poetic songs. Getaway, Lapell’s third release of original material, has been nominated for a 2020 Canadian Folk Music Award in the contemporary album category. She’s also on the 2020 nomination list for English songwriter of the year.
One of themes of Getaway is travelling, something Lapell, who’s based in Toronto, has been doing a lot of since her previous album, Hide Nor Hair, won the award for contemporary album of the year at the 2017 Canadian Folk Music Awards. Since then, she’s hit the road, touring Canada, playing major festivals, such as the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ont., and performing in the United States.
Lapell has likened some of her songs to little postcards from places she’s visited. A story she heard when she was on tour in Saskatchewan, about a UFO sighting, is the basis for her bluesy “UFO Song,” which is on her new album. The song is written from the point of view of someone who’s paralyzed and terrified while watching what he believes to be a UFO in the night sky.
She writes impressionist lyrics, some of them intimate and personal. In the haunting song, “Shape of a Mountain,” a “frozen peak asleep in the snow” is a metaphor for her heart. “I won’t write ‘that person broke my heart.’ It will probably be in there, but I don’t write in a straightforward, narrative way,” she said.
Lapell has described herself as a folk-noir singer, specializing in dark folk songs. In that vein, “Gonna Be Leaving” looks at the troubled side of a relationship and hints at a pending breakup. She described it as, “A feeling of wanting to leave and planning to leave and not quite getting around to it.”
“Little Noise,” a lively, celebratory tune, is Lapell’s response to the #MeToo movement. In it, she sings, “You can run, run and hide, you can’t get away.”
At her performances, Lapell accompanies herself on guitar. Self-taught, she’s an acclaimed fingerstyle guitarist. “I do tend to fingerpick because it has kind of a rhythmic style. My way of playing is pretty idiosyncratic and really flexible. It’s a very versatile way to get a lot of different sounds going,” she said.
Lapell’s musical background includes time she spent as part of Montreal’s indie-folk scene in the early 2000s. She came of age as a singer-songwriter during the DIY era of recording. Much of her 2011 independent debut, Great Survivor, was recorded in a bedroom by Heather Kirby, who was then the bassist in the indie-pop band Ohbijou.
Getaway is an extension of Lapell’s previous release. Both albums were recorded at Union Sound in Toronto, with producer Chris Stringer, for the boutique indie music label Coax Records, and with many of the same players. “Those albums are similar in that there is a lot of variety,” Lapell said. “There will be a very stripped down guitar vocal and the next song will be a kind of a folk-rock thing. It’s a kind of a mix of genres. They both feel pretty eclectic.”
The album is available at abigaillapell.bandcamp.com/album/getaway. Lapell will perform in Toronto at the Speak Music Be Kind Festival, which runs from Jan. 17-19 (speakmusicbekindfest.com), and the Winterfolk Blues and Roots Festival, which runs from Feb. 21-23 (winterfolk.com).