Anne Louise Genest came to music later in life than many musicians. She had dabbled in playing guitar as a university student but didn’t play seriously. It wasn’t until she moved to the Yukon and met people who would play at kitchen table jams and around the campfire. Genest says, “I was struck by the fact that I could play that music too and I wanted to play the songs that I loved to sing along to. I started out learning songs by Neil Young, the Grateful Dead and Kate and Anna McGarrigle on the guitar. That’s how it all started.”
Strong Roots (Profiles in Roots Music): Annie Lou (Anne Louise Genest)
I talk to Anne Louise Genest about expression, creativity and becoming more connected with the world through music.
Anne Louise Genest
Genest sees herself as a musician who writes songs that reflect people’s everyday lives. She is inspired by bluegrass, old time music and especially mountain music. She says, “The old music from the hills speaks to me and inspires me. I’ve spent the last few years looking to those traditions and trying to evolve my own interpretations of them. I’m a songwriter and I’m trying to write things that are authentic to me but expressed in a traditional manner.”
She adds, “I want to feel open to whatever is bubbling in me and not limit myself but I really do prefer an acoustic expression. I really like that immediate evocation of sound that comes from a stringed instrument.”
The songwriting process is largely solitary for Genest. She has begun to make the process more of a discipline rather than something purely driven by flashes of creative inspiration. She says, “I’m not a super prolific writer but I chip away at it. I’ve got a whole bunch of fragments on the recording app on my phone and jottings in my notebooks inspired by anything from a tree to something going on in the world or in my family’s life. I’ll be very focused and produce a fair bit in a short period of time.”
In terms of arrangements, she says, “I’ve been working with the same band for a few years now and I tend to bring those songs to the band. Arrangements are based on what everybody’s ideas are and what they think they can add to the piece in that context. I don’t have it all spelled out ahead of time although now I’m stepping up to the plate a bit more and imagining how I want things to sound and what we can do to make that happen and being more directive to the people with whom I’m working.”
One of the biggest challenges for Genest is the physical distance between her and the members of her band. She points out, “I live on Vancouver Island and all the members of my band live in Toronto and I miss them but these are people with whom I have a long history and I think that what’s lacking in not being able to get together every week is, to a certain extent, made up for by our musical relationships. It works but I would really love to live in the same town and be able to do a weekly gig because I think that you just evolve in a way that you can’t when you’re getting together three times a year.”
Another issue that Genest highlights is the difficulty in finding gigs as a folk/roots musician. She says, “Once you get out as a roots musician and play the festivals, it’s difficult to go back because festivals are always looking for what’s new and refreshing. It’s great and I support it but it does make it a challenge for people who’ve been around for a while and who are working musicians to keep on going.”
She adds, “A lot of the folk festival budgets are now going to really big name acts and it’s fantastic but I worry sometimes that the budget is being taken away from nururting lesser known or grassroots acts. I think the festivals have done a great job of programming those things but sometimes your playing opportunities aren’t very many at a festival. I feel we could be doing a better job of refining some of these things.”
Making an income as a musician is always a challenge but Genest says diversity is the key. She explains, “I’’ve been focusing more on myself and my own chops as well as defining my solo identity. I’ve lived in Parksville for just a few years and because I tour a lot, I haven’t connected with the musical community here as much and my current efforts are aimed in the direction of trying to make something a bit more local for me. I still want to work with my fabulous band but I also want to enrich my situation when I’m at home.”
Another way for Genest to both augment her income and gain creative inspiration is teaching. She says, “I love teaching. It’s very inspiring and it’s just lovely to share music with people. I work with adults and even much older adults who’ve never played before and they’re discovering music. It’s just a thrill for that to happen and to be a part of it and I think as a teacher I always learn too.”
The future is full of plans for Genest. She wants to keep creating and teaching. She says, “I don’t have any sense of just needing to do one more thing and then I’m going to make it. I kind of feel like I have made it. I want to keep learning how to be kind and sharing more music with more people.”
She goes on to say, “I’d like to tour a little bit more in the ‘States. I want to expand my touring territory and get out of Canada because I’ve done most of the big festivals. I’m looking to collaborate with more artists as well. I play with Chris Coole1 sometimes. Chris and I will realize we’ve got a couple of weeks free and decide to go on tour. It’s manageable and affordable because a duo can go out and do house concerts We can do the smaller, grassroots shows that I just can’t afford to do with a big band.”
The need for humans to connect over shared experiences is a big inspiration to Genest. She explains, “As humans, we all have this nameless yearning for expression. We want to share those things that inspire emotion. Even though we’re so different and have such different experiences, we are so much the same. To me, music is a way to bring us together and connect us. I want to find ways for us to keep connecting because we need to connect in this world.”
1. Chris Coole is considered one of North America's best clawhammer banjo players.
For more information on Annie Lou, please visit her website here.
This profile is based on an interview with Anne Louise Genest conducted and recorded on June 14, 2016.