Folky Roots (Profiles in Canadian Folk Music): The Fig and the Flame

by Krlmagi

I talk to Natalie Inga Gautier and Sonia Deleo (The Fig and the Flame) about their musical compatibility, their creative process and their sources of inspiration.

Sonia Deleo and Natalie Inga Gautier first met each other through their involvement in Calgary's theatre scene. During their initial meeting, they both talked about their passion for music but they didn't really consider making music together. A few years later, they had a chance meeting in which the topic of music came up again.

Natalie explains, "We had a good synergy and having a really trusting creative relationship was important to both of us. We decided to try jamming with no expectations and we were really honest about it."

Sonia takes up the story and says, "When we started playing Natalie had a chord progression and an idea for a song, but no lyrics. I had a bunch of new stuff in my lyrics book that I'd written. When she started playing, I realized that I had lyrics and a melody line for this song. It was the song I'd written but until then I didn't have the music for it."

Natalie concludes, "We felt kind of magic on that first day and we actually ended up spending a month or two preparing for a tour we did together as Natalie and Sonia. We did a handful of shows in a few different Albertan towns in January of 2016 and after that we decided to become a band."

The Fig and the Flame
The Fig and the Flame

Both women approach songwriting from different directions, but ultimately they've found a good balance for collaboration. Natalie says, "I'll often write a song after I see patterns emerging in my life.  It'll either be a behavioural pattern or a metaphor that emerges in a few different places. I'll start to get layers of poetry and lyrics. I usually have bigger existential thoughts that I'm going to write about."

Sonia adds, "I'm not one of those people who is constantly writing. I just write when I feel like it. A lot of my songwriting is inspired by people outside of myself, their stories and what has happened to them."

She continues, "I often have poetry, lyrics,words or even just a thought and often I can write an entire melody line for a whole song before I put chords to it, and then I'm trying to get Natalie or someone else to help me write a song around it."

Natalie comments on why these contrasting approaches work well together. She says, "When I hear Sonia sing a whole melody, it's like I can hear the key changes in her melody or the little turns of the chord progression that she's instinctually created but that she doesn't hear. Sometimes I've got chords and I've got a cool melody but I don't know how to take the song to the next level when it gets to the third verse or something. Sonia can help smash it out of the box."

Generally the pair don’t make major alterations to their music once they establish a song. Sonia points out, "I would say that the first time we play something, it might change a smidge because we fell into a groove but overall we have the general structure ready before we perform it. It tends to stay within that realm."

Natalie elaborates, "The first two or three times we do a song live, we might pick up on something that's not working or something that we were trying to achieve that's not translating, so we'll address that but once we feel its in the pocket, we just leave it alone."

One of the duo's biggest strengths is their consistency. Natalie explains, "When we recorded our album, we multi-tracked the instrumental parts of the album but we tracked all of our vocals in the same room. One thing that the producer commented on is how we're locked into such consistency. I think that, as a duo, we're way more consistent than we would be as individuals."

The main challenge that Sonia and Natalie face is finding a balance between their musical career and their busy lives. Sonia says, "Our lives are very different so one of our challenges is time. I have kids and Natalie has about 562 jobs and we have a lot going on in our lives outside of music. It's so much work but it's also the best."

Calgary's music scene is strong but Natalie observes, "We both have a theatre background and in theatre people get hired for a project and  work together on it. After the project ends they'll go on and meet other people, so the whole community has a strong sense of unity and a really supportive vibe.”

She continues, “That vibe also exists in the music scene but it's harder to feel connected to the whole community. If you're a youth fiddler, you'll hang out with other youth fiddlers. If you play jazz standards, you'll hang out with people who play jazz standards. The relationships that we've made with other groups have been really authentic but it is harder to do."

After a year together, Sonia and Natalie are thinking about their future as a duo. Natalie says, “It’s been a great year. We made an album, we’ve added some cool little elements and we’re starting to think about the size of venue we’re playing and the image we have. As we are, we don’t have drum kits, we don’t have a bass guitar so what’s the largest venue we’re going to be able to fill with our music and do we want to go past that?”

She adds, “I don’t know that we need to be changing too much. We play in intimate venues where we get to talk to people and have a relationship with that audience on that particular night. I’d love to keep doing what we’re doing but doing it in more cities, more often.”

Sonia comments, “We are in this cool position where we keep getting asked to open for people because we’re the right size. We pop right in, we pop right out and that’s cool. I like that about us. It keeps things very simple.”

Inspiration is something that comes from within and without for the duo. Sonia says, “Keeping tuned into the industry and seeing live music helps me. I often leave other people’s shows revved up and ready to do something of my own. When I’m being creative, I feel the most like myself and the most comfortable with my place in the world. I just want to stay there!

In Natalie’s case she says, “I had a back and forth with one of my cousins in a letter. She was talking about books and I was talking about music but  we were both really talking about the place that we went when we were growing up that made us feel the most safe and understood. Music is in me and it’s not going anywhere. The one thing that can’t be removed from me is this language of music.”

To read more about The Fig and the Flame, please visit them here online.

This profile of the Fig and the Flame is based on a telephone interview with them conducted on March 16, 2017.

Updated: 03/20/2017, Krlmagi
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