Interview – Little Miss Higgins

Manitoba-based award-winning musician and songwriter, Little Miss Higgins has unveiled her multifaceted project, The Fire Waltz.

Inspired by stories of her great-grandmother, Eva Bersay, Higgins has created a one-of-a-kind audio experience—a riveting tale of an extraordinary woman. The Fire Waltz follows Eva on her journey to Canada from Jersey Island, off the northern coast of France, during the early 1900s, depicting the power and perils of love, the realities of a world at war, and the uncertainties of the aftershocks. Using old photos, postcards, letters, a travel journal, and stories gathered from family, the music-driven project took shape in October 2019. Higgins and her two main collaborators, Kris Demeanor and Eric Rose, began by telling the story through song titles. After that, eighteen songs were written in 12 days.

Initially, it was intended for theatre, but when live entertainment changed due to the global pandemic, Higgins switched the approach to be completely auditive.

She wanted to link the songs with narrative, drawing on ideas of old radio plays. The script was written, more artists were gathered and even more songs were created. Working both in studio and remotely, Higgins and her extremely talented team from across Western Canada recorded the music and the script. Then she sound-designed the entire piece while recording engineer, Jamie Sitar, put everything together. Thus, Season 1 of The Fire Waltz has come to fruition.

Check out the album below, and find out more about Little Miss Higgins via our mini-interview.

First off, care to introduce yourself to our readers?

My name is Jolene Higgins, though I also go by Little Miss Higgins. I live in Manitoba though I have planted roots and many gardens in various parts of Western Canada. Speaking of gardens, I am a gardener when the weather is right and I’m not on stage or doing laundry. I am a mother, a musician, a songwriter, and now a creator of narrative podcasts.

You have released your project, The Fire Waltz, the album, and a five-part miniseries podcast. How did you come up with the idea to do the podcast with the album release?

The whole thing was something I had envisioned as a theatre piece. The initial creative team, Kris Demeanor, Eric Rose and I, were going to create a theatrical, song-cycle, storytelling performance piece. I have a background in theatre and I wanted to revisit that part of my artistic-self. Kris is also an actor, as well as being an amazing songwriter and musician. Eric is the artistic director of Ghost River Theatre in Calgary. So, I know we could create something really cool with the story I brought to the table. We started with the songs. In fact, we started with song titles. We told the story through names of tunes that might be in the show. Then Kris and I went away and wrote 18 songs in 12 days. Subsequently, we performed them at three gigs in Southern Alberta, near to where we created a lot of the songs and where part of the story takes place. Then, the project was shelved to find funding and the pandemic hit.

Refusing to give up and consuming a lot of auditive material (books and fiction podcasts), I decided to write a script in the style of a radio play. I got funding and gathered my team which had grown. Kris and I were joined by Matt Foster and Adrienne Smook to perform and sing, as well as a bunch of other musicians and a sound engineer. Recording both in person and remotely, depending on what wave was happening or not, we made it happen.

The project is inspired by stories of your great-grandmother, Eva Bersay. What was the highlight of writing the album?

Creating with Kris and Eric in Southern Alberta was certainly a highlight. The rush of a new project, the pressure to get the songs written because we had gigs booked telling people we were performing these songs was exciting. Plus, we were in Twin Butte, close to where my great-grandmother had immigrated to in the early 1900’s. It is Treaty 7 land near the Blood Reserve. It was important to me for us to be there for part of the creative process. Apparently, my great-grandmother spoke of a mountain that the Blackfoot call Ninastako. It’s a big square mountain that stands out from all the rest. She could see it from where she lived along the Milk River Ridge near a little town called Whiskey Gap. I think we still have a lot to explore with this story, the characters, the land of Southern Alberta and the Indigenous and settler relationships of that time which we’re going to examine in a future season of The Fire Waltz because we couldn’t give it proper attention at the time we were developing Season 1. In a round-about way, maybe that’s the highlight: discovering that we are going to continue with two more seasons of the podcast which includes two more albums of music. There will be a trilogy box-set. Ha!

The album features 21 tracks, if you could only choose one for a new listener to hear, which would you choose, and why?

Let’s pick #9 ‘Flock In My Head’. It’s different from anything else on the album. There is a huge variety of style and instrumentation throughout the songs. I feel very fortunate to have had the extremely talented, high-caliber musicians that jumped onboard. However, ‘Flock In My Head’ is me and a single bass drum beat from drummer Joanna Miller. Working with Kris has helped me venture out of my wheelhouse. We used a loop to create a flock-of-geese-like chorus, the drumbeat, and a sandalwood fan for more percussive nuance. I really love the exploration of this one. I don’t even know if people would recognize it as one of my songs if they heard it without introduction.

What’s next for you in 2022?

I’m writing a script and music for a puppet builder out of Calgary, Alberta. We’re working together to create a show. It’s not a children’s puppet show. It’s a show with mature content, we’ll say. It’s storytelling with beautifully built puppets. Really excited about that!

I’m also starting the research and admin for Season 2 of The Fire Waltz. It took almost four years to create the first one. Though I’m hoping to cut that timeframe in half, the gears need to keep moving. Since I’m the producer, it’s up to me.

Then, I’ve got a handful of shows (fingers crossed) and I’m ordering seeds for the garden.

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