Language Arts: Soothing the soul through forward thinking art pop

By Tashon Daley

Image courtesy    Language Arts “Neighbour” Official Video    - Director of Photography Charles Hutchings

Image courtesy Language Arts “Neighbour” Official Video - Director of Photography Charles Hutchings

Kristen Cudmore swiftly plays her guitar while her serene vocals fill the room, her eyes focusing intently on the words from a songbook she created. The sounds echoing from guitarist Patrick O’Reilly’s guitar causes Cudmore to pause for a moment.

Depending on the nature of the song, Cudmore might say that it needs Patrick's “touch.” O’Reilly, who mainly plays the guitar, is also the driving force behind the synths of the songs. Amidst their discussion, drummer Neil MacIntosh comes up with an innovative approach that will alter their tune.

With help from the rest of the band, they remove the legs of the drums. MacIntosh then bangs the legs together, allowing for strange and unexpected sounds to emerge. Then, a strong baseline kicks in, prompting synth bass player Chris Pruden to extend it until there are two parts.

“I like this baseline,” he says as the floor shakes.

This is just another day of practice and the music making process for the Canadian art-pop band, Language Arts. They work on every aspect of their music together.

With support from the Ontario Arts Council (OAC), to which the band acknowledges as a game-changer for Ontario artists, Language Arts is dropping their brand new album, Lemon/Lime, this fall.

The OAC is a government agency that provides funds for artistic projects in Ontario. With financial support from them, Language Arts can afford to pay Grammy-winning producers.

Lemon/Lime, the band’s third album, sets itself apart from Wonderkind (2014) and Able Island (2015); taking on more of an electronic sound.

“Somehow, we made it onto some EDM playlists. I don’t know how, but cool. I like EDM,” says Cudmore, “It definitely has … a storm kind of sense to it.”

She says that drum and synth sounds, combined with effects pedals create their “own little flavour.”

For Language Arts, this album is a perfect opportunity to explore different genres. Cudmore says that she has always admired how artists like Beck manage to make each record different.

For Language Arts, a change in genre is a glimpse into the artist’s vision and approach to songwriting.

“I think that there’s nothing wrong with just being who you are and if you don’t fit in a genre, so be it. Just make songs that you want to hear,” says Cudmore.

Produced by Grammy-winner David Bottrill, and Juno-winning producer Joel Stouffer, Language Arts got the perfect collaborative approach the band was looking for.

On April 5, the band dropped their first single for Lemon/Lime called “Against the Wind.” The song is an explosion of sound, bursting with synth bass beats that balance Cudmore’s soothing voice.

Steady, pulsating drum rhythms bring a stronger emphasis to the chorus. Cudmore needed to find the perfect way to “give them an excuse to break out.”

She says that writing the song happened quickly. In order to process her writing, she shut herself into her room and brought out her loop pedal, creating multiple layers to which she could sing along to. Cudmore then used her keyboard to set up baselines for pre-choruses.

Video courtesy LanguageArtsMusic via YouTube

Accompanying the song is an equally artistic music video. Visuals with bright colours of faces and creative lines move at the pace of the song. The band themselves collaborate on the artwork used in their videos.

Following the song’s release, Cudmore couldn’t hold back her excitement. It was everything she wanted it to be — heavy, yet uplifting. She said she floated off onto cloud nine as soon as she popped the headphones into her ears and pressed play.

“I didn’t hear it in that kind of capacity outside of the studio for a few weeks … and then I went out and went into it and I was dancing like a crazy person.”

While some songs from Lemon/Lime are relatable to everyday situations, others are deep and personal. Even her band members, she says, allow her the intimacy of practising emotional parts of these songs. Cudmore’s emotional trauma comes from her horrifying experience in a car accident in which she was hit by a drunk driver and suffered a brain injury.

At this time, Cudmore was required to attend physiotherapy appointments and take medications— all of which came out of her pocket. She was in and out of the hospital for months and would encounter multiple flare ups stemming from different symptoms.

“My brain would work in different ways where I would remember things that happened to me when I was younger that were really traumatic,” says Cudmore.

However, Cudmore did not expect for her recurring suppressed memories to become the driving force of the music for the record. Many of the songs were written in the hospital.

Cudmore was taken to a psychology unit to be evaluated, where she stayed in for six days. It felt like a jail to her, as she was prohibited from being in the room by herself and having restrictions on electronics. The environment was stressful at first, but Cudmore was able to turn to her music to soothe her soul.

Image courtesy    Language Arts “Neighbour” Official Video    - Director of Photography Charles Hutchings

Image courtesy Language Arts “Neighbour” Official Video - Director of Photography Charles Hutchings

With permission from the staff, she was allowed to go to an observation room close by the nursing station, or sometimes she would stay in her room with the door opened.

“I just sat in there and wrote,” Cudmore says, “Those were the two places that I would go to just to, kind of, write down my thoughts and my lyrics.”

While the album recalls deeply personal moments Cudmore went through, there are also a number of moments that any listener can relate to.

In Lemon/Lime, Cudmore nods towards the growth of movements like #MeToo or the narratives on privilege and other popular topics of awareness.

Language Arts plans on doing two more shows in Toronto, the first being at Monarch Tavern on May 23 and the second and final show during the fall after the full record has been released.

Following the shows, Language Arts will be taking a break due to the brain injury that Cudmore still suffers from.

“The amount of stimulation that I experienced in Toronto just makes me feel sick when I’m not working,” she says.

To help recover, Cudmore plans on moving back home to Nova Scotia with her partner, her supportive service dog, Sprout, and his little adoptive brother. They plan on living near the sea, with the band communicating long-distance during their break. In the meantime, Cudmore’s artistic nature will not stop her from making music.

“There is no other species in the world that's so aware of the art they're making and expressing themselves through it. There are only humans,” said Cudmore. “So, I'm hoping that it will become more important in this society and the world because it really makes people's lives worth living.”