Last April we saw Ariel Engle, AKA La Force, opening things up for Canadian indie folk singer/songwriter Leif Vollebekk at The Music Hall at World Café Live. Engle — perhaps best known for her time as a vocalist in Broken Social Scene over the course of the past decade (Her husband, Andrew Whiteman, has been a full-time member in the Canadian indie rock collective since 2001.), in addition to one-half of noise-pop duo All Hands_Make Light, alongside Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Efrim Menuck – performed select tracks from La Force’s 2018 self-titled debut full-length, in addition to premiering a handful of tracks from a recently recorded follow-up LP.
La Force’s sophomore LP, XO Skeleton, dropped September 29th via Secret City Records, and has already received notable praise from a number of major outlets, including MOJO, who said, “Engle sets the emotional controls for the heart of the moon, stirring up gothy atmospheres […] The Bat For Lashes smoke-and-mirrors of Outrun The Sun and How Do You Love A Man’s minimal Lana Del Rey moves are supple pop, saxophone and synth supporting Engle’s taste for theatre. All the ethereal turmoil, though, can’t mask XO Skeleton’s good songwriting bones.”
This Thursday, October 12th, La Force will be returning to The Music Hall at World Café Live to support labelmates Patrick Watson — with whom Engle has also worked and will be performing – on opening night of their US tour. I recently got a chance to catch up with Ariel Engle, after just having wrapped the Europe leg of the tour, who tells me about her latest album, in addition to her recent and upcoming experiences playing live.
Izzy Cihak: The last time we spoke was in March of last year, when you had just finished your second record (and were trying out some of the songs live), which just dropped. How do you think XO Skeleton compares to your debut, in terms of sound, process, and inspirations?
Ariel Engle: I’m oddly stumped by this question. Let me see. Inspiration is likely similar. Both records engage with themes of the body and metaphysics and psychodynamics and living and dying and how death will shape a life. I suppose one big difference is that I was in the rawness of grief on my first record and now that is softer and has become a curiosity rather than a fear of death. I feel like the sound and process are similar enough between records, but maybe I’m too close up to see.
Izzy: Have you had any favorite early reactions to the work?
Ariel: Yes! I’ve had some beautiful messages from people so far. I’m immensely moved by their reaction. It’s imperative that I help generate feeling in people with my work, otherwise I don’t see the need to share it and elbow my way into people’s already harried lives.
Izzy: How did you come up with the title XO Skeleton? I just “got it,” and I totally love it!
Ariel: Ha! Yeah, it’s a pun? Perhaps it’s more of a drawing? As Frank Zappa is said to have said, “Music is sculptures made of air.” Here, the love we anoint one other with is a kind of armour made of air. It’s real and it protects you, but it also can’t keep you alive. I just looked it up and it seems I’m misquoting Zappa. He says this: “Music, in performance, is a type of sculpture. The air in the performance is sculpted into something.” That’s a brilliant quote and not what I’m saying, however, it’s a kind of magical act in which we engage in the intangible as though we could touch it.
Izzy: The album was co-produced by Warren Spicer of Plants and Animals. How was it working with him? What do you feel like he brought to your sound and the recording process?
Ariel: I can’t say enough good things about working with Warren. The first time we ever worked together was on the first record. I remember being ultra shy to show him anything. His voice came in on the talkback saying, “You think you stink.” It was that warm kick in the pants that I needed. He’s not interested in virtuosity, he’s interested in heart and he himself has heaps of it.
Izzy: The album was released on Secret City Records, which is such a cool label. How is it working with them and being a part of that family?
Ariel: It was a natural fit because they are a hometown label and are host to many of my musician friends. They’ve been very supportive and hardworking. I like the idea that I can walk over to where the label people are working. It makes it feel like a community, which it is.
Izzy: You just toured Europe with Patrick Watson. How were those dates? Any particular highlights?
Ariel: A highlight was the Paris residency because it allowed us to be in one place for 9 days. One of the most grueling parts of touring is the travel. I say that my soul is always lagging in the town I just left behind. The venue itself in Paris was bananas. It was perhaps the hottest we’ve ever been on stage. The club had retained heat from a recent heat wave and there was no A/C and the people were packed in. It was intense to say the least. Most nights I did the opening as La Force (with my amazing bandmates Liam O’Neill and Thom Gill) and then quickly changed and joined the Watson world.
Izzy: And how are you liking being on the road with Patrick Watson? I know you’ve worked together professionally before.
Ariel: I’ve been singing with Watson and co. on and off for 10 years. They are incredible musicians. Every night is a little or a lot different. My favourite shows are ones that feel free and as though teetering on a knife’s edge. Those wilder shows are where the band gets to play, surprising both ourselves and one another. We tend to laugh a lot on those nights. It creates a spirit of communion on stage and with the audience, like something is “happening.”
Izzy: The US leg of the tour actually kicks off right here in Philadelphia, at World Café Live. What can be expected of your live show? Is there anything you’d tell Patrick Watson fans in order to encourage them to show up early to see your set?
Ariel: I’m playing as a three piece with Liam and Thom. It’ll be a mix of old, new, and unreleased music. As far as encouraging people to come early. . . yeah, book the sitter with enough lead time, it’ll be worth it.
Izzy: Even after these dates, I will have only seen you at World Café Live, which is like an exceptionally large listening room. Do you have a favorite type of venue in which to perform, or certain things that make a space especially enjoyable to play?
Ariel: The World Cafe is wide and shallow-ish. It has good site lines. The stage is high? Do people always eat or is it just sometimes? I think this might be my fourth time playing there. More than the room, it’s the crew, the sound on and off stage, and the audience that truly count. Some rooms are old and charming but impossible to tame.
Izzy: You’re doing a handful of shows in Canada as part of the XO Skeleton Performance Series, which seems like a super cool live experience. Would you care to talk about what fans can expect of the performances, and even what it is that inspired the concept?
Ariel: The small Canadian run is the show I’d love to present everywhere but is too expensive. I’ll have lighting, projections, costumes, and other surprises. These Canadian shows are what the music looks and feels like as well as sounds like.
Izzy: Finally, what’s next for you? How are you hoping and planning to close out 2023?
Ariel: I have those Canadian shows we just mentioned. More dates opening and playing with Watson. A headline L.A. show and two nights rejoining my family in Broken Social Scene in December. 2024 is shaping up to be a lot of touring… North America and Europe.
*Get your tickets here.