What was your first introduction to music?
My grandfather was quite musical. He played guitar and piano. I remember sitting on his lap and singing with him as a little girl. When I was in high school, I sang in the choir and band at church. That was my first exposure to playing and singing. You definitely learn the basics of singing in a big choir.
What kind of music was always playing in the house?
My parents were highly influential. There was a lot of James Taylor and Carole King. My mother was a huge country music fan, so a lot of 80‘s and 90’s country played in the house. It is some of the worst and best country ever. [Laughs] Whenever I do the dishes now, those country songs are what play in my head.
Where did you grow up?
Pensacola, Florida. It is about 5 miles from the Florida-Alabama state line. I would say I am heavily influenced by the music and culture of the Gulf Coast.
Do you consider yourself a southern girl?
Yes, absolutely. Although I don’t feel like I have an accent at all, but maybe that is a conscious decision. Whenever I am around my parents though, my accent definitely comes out.
Talk to me about the influence of southern culture. What did you love about growing up in Pensacola?
A lot of it has to do with the fact that we don’t have seasons. Down on the Gulf Coast, we have two seasons: summer and not-so- much summer. [Laughs] That alone means that we have outdoor festivals year round. I remember playing a music festival in November and my Canadian friends couldn’t believe that it wasn’t freezing at that time. I also grew up by the water and with lots of seafood. There’s a warm sense of hospitality that comes with growing up in the South. It’s a lot slower-paced than the Northeast or Northwest.
Did you grow up going to a lot of music festivals?
There were a lot of local festivals that we went to. We went to Hangout Fest in Orange Beach, Alabama. We would go to Austin City Limits Music festival almost every year. This exposed me to so many great, talented bands. Going to open-air festivals was something I realized a lot of my friends have never done. It was always a family event for us.
What did you study at school?
At university, I started off as a biochemistry major and thought I would minor in music. But to be honest, I realized quickly I didn’t want to do biochemistry and music theory really scared me, so I pursued environmental science for both my undergrad and masters. Now, I’m doing a PhD in forestry. I’ve always really enjoyed music and it’s because I enjoy it so much that I decided not to make it the focus of my studies but instead to study it informally. I didn’t want it to turn into a love-hate relationship like so often the things you are ‘forced’ to study do.
Is your PhD what led you to Vancouver?
I recorded an album in Vancouver with a friend of a friend. I was up there for a month in 2012 and was in the market for a PhD program. I like to say that music took me to Vancouver and studying kept me there.
Why pursue a PhD in forestry?
I believe the environment is worth conserving. One of my goals is to educate people on the environment and the beauty of it. I want to help with the bigger picture in some way. Day to day, I do a lot of geo-spatial analysis. I do a bit of field work, but I work a lot on the computer doing data analysis. Hours on the computer; that’s the not so glorious side of a PhD.
What have been the most beautiful and natural places you have visited in America so far?
I went to Yosemite in 2011; it’s the birth place of conservation. John Muir took Theodore Roosevelt there to convince him that it was worth preserving and eventually this led to the creation of the National Park Service. Hiking around and seeing the bears was really awe-inspiring. I’m also lucky to live in British Columbia. It is full of gorgeous things all around, although I admit sometimes I take the mountains for granted. Growing up in flat Florida and then moving to mountainous Canada was a huge change, so I’m constantly reminding myself to take it in while I’m there.
So how do you balance your PhD and your musical career?
Pursuing my PhD means I have a somewhat flexible schedule. As long as I get my work done, I’m good. The biggest factor is that I have a very, very understanding advisor. She’s been very receptive to me if I say I’m going on tour for two weeks. She enjoys music herself and has come to my shows. Without her support, it would be very challenging to do both. However, I think it would be hard to pursue a PhD without an outlet like music. I like having the mental stimulation of songwriting in addition to science. Working both sides of the brain is great for creativity.
Why did you name your album “Virginia”?
I wrote all the songs 3 years ago. Virginia was the last song that went on the record. I have had a long and complicated relationship with that state. It seems I always find myself back there in some capacity or another. The album is somewhat about my culmination of years with that place.
Can you tell us about some of your songs, like 3002 Miles?
That’s my bitter heartbreak song. I wrote it in the heat of the moment and because of that wasn’t sure if I wanted to include it on the album. I didn’t want it to come off as too scathing. But ultimately I figured people who have felt the same way would relate because it is a very honest song about relationships. That said, not all of my songs are about love. A Farewell to Arms is an argument about religion between two people. I wrote that after having a lot of theological discussions with friends of mine. That song had been brewing for a while and it just came pouring out one day.
How would you describe your music genre and style?
I would say indie and folk. I’m a singer-songwriter, but that response often leads to a head tilt. My friends like to say that I play acoustic guitar and vengeful lullabies.
Who do you draw your inspiration from?
My inspiration comes from a lot of places. Do you mean musicians?
I guess I’m wondering who or what inspires you when you’re writing a song?
It only takes a situation or something I’ve been pondering about to draw up a song. With my family and many friends being so far away, I’ve found that I draw inspiration from those relationships. My imagination tends to run wild when there’s a little distance between me and someone.
What has been your favorite performance you’ve seen live?
I saw The National at Austin City Limits in 2010. It was one of the best shows. They played an encore right as The Eagles were taking the main stage to perform. The lead-singer of The National said he bumped into Don Henley of the Eagles in the bathroom and that Don said “we could play a few more songs.” [Laughs] It was a perfect show.
What concert would you love to see live?
Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan together. I know it won’t happen, but I loved the two of them in high school. I also would like to see Bruce Springsteen and Elton John. I recently saw James Taylor and that was a huge one on my bucket list.
Where do you dream of traveling to?
I’ve been listening to stories about India from a good friend of mine from New Delhi, so now I want to travel there. I would love to get to Patagonia in Chile. There’s also a lot of Canada that I want to see like Alberta. If I don’t go to the Canadian Rockies while I’m here, that’ll be a shame!
How do you drink your coffee?
I actually don’t drink coffee. I drink tea!
What about your favorite tea?
Sweet tea. Plain black brewed Lipton. This is the southern girl coming out of me.
What book do you recommend everyone check out?
Mawson’s Will by Lennard Bickel. It’s about the exploration of Antarctica.
What’s your favorite film?
Stranger than Fiction.
And lastly, how do you define beauty?
Beauty is found in so many different things. True beauty is genuine. It may be messy and dreadful and sad, but that is true beauty.
For more of Tanya’s work, stream her music here.