Of all the developments in the ongoing evolution of Kelly Haigh, the biggest and most welcome one has been a change in her preshow routine. But before we get to the unsavoury details, the fact she now has a preshow routine is in itself remarkable.
When the Georgia Straight first interviewed the professional hairstylist, accomplished painter, and die-hard taxidermy aficionado four years back, she was steadfastly opposed to the idea of performing live, mostly because the prospect scared her shitless. At the time, Haigh—who came to writing songs and making music late—had just released her debut album, Country Western Star, a completely DIY bedroom project she figured no one would be interested in but friends, family, and her singing dog Frances. But, picking up on her loving re-creation of vintage country, Vancouver’s roots-music-scene players eventually took notice. Recognizing the strength of songs that Haigh had only ever played for herself, friends became determined to get her in front of an audience.
Eventually, against her better judgment, she did, making her debut at the Railway Club.
“My friend Dave Hadgkiss put out an album as Folk Thief, and he got me to sing backups for him, and that was my first step,” Haigh recalls, interviewed at the hair salon she owns in downtown Vancouver. “So I made him play guitar for me at the Railway because I knew I would be a complete mess. I needed a buddy—it was the buddy system. I couldn’t stand up to play guitar because my legs shook so bad. And my hands were so sweaty, all I could think was ‘What if I drop my pick? What if I drop my pick?’ I had a friend beside the side of the stage with a pocket full of picks for me. But it went off well—it was good. Nobody threw vegetables at me, and I wasn’t lynched outside.”
After surviving that, she decided to do it again. And again. And again, sometimes backing others up, and sometimes playing her own sets. Once adamant that wild horses ridden by Patsy Cline and Hank Williams couldn’t get her on-stage, Haigh now performs weekly. As a bonus, she’s managed to put an end to a not terribly pleasant ritual.
“In the last six months, I’ve stopped throwing up before I have to sing,” she says with a proud laugh. “I used to have to bring a lot of breath mints, and have a toothbrush with me in my guitar case. It would be like, ‘Oh, excuse me for a second—I’ll just be a minute.’ ”
Except that it wouldn’t be a minute. Haigh, who describes herself as shy since birth, says her preshow jitters ran deep.
“It would start a few days beforehand,” she admits. “But now I just try and live in the moment. ‘What am I doing right now? Let’s not look ahead—I might get hit by a car before I ever make it on-stage.’ That seems to cheer me up.”
Haigh has another cause to be happy these days, namely her excellent new record, Post Apocalyptic Valentines. For reasons that go beyond the music, the album is a solid front-runner for most ambitious release of the year, locally or otherwise. The singer is billing Post Apocalyptic Valentines as a “new full length album that comes with a book”, which, while true, doesn’t begin to do it justice.
The book is no Xeroxed effort assembled at Kinko’s. Instead, you get a bound hardcover containing photographs, old-timey looking illustrations, detailed breakdowns of the songs, extended original stories, and reproductions of Haigh’s amazing paintings.
What she’s figured out is that, even though everyone keeps making them, no one gives a shit about CDs in 2015; you either buy music on vinyl or rip it for free from the Net. With Post Apocalyptic Valentines, which was pressed in a run of 500, Haigh has given folks something special: a multifaceted piece of art.
“I had the record done first, but I didn’t want to just do a CD, because I was going, ‘What’s the point if no one wants CDs?’ ” she says. “Even when I get CDs that I love, I don’t know what to do with them after I’ve loaded them in iTunes. I don’t even have a CD player—the one in my car is broken. So I had to think, ‘How am I going to justify fobbing off another CD on everybody?’ And I realized, ‘It better come with something interesting.’ So I wrote some short stories and put all my paintings in it.”
One might be forgiven for suggesting that those stories and paintings are the product of a warped mind, given the fact Haigh’s salon is populated by a menagerie of taxidermied animals, from badgers in baby carriages to dogs wearing minicrowns. Among the painting reproductions in Post Apocalyptic Valentines are images of breast-feeding mongrel dogs perched in front of belching Beetlejuice-like smokestacks, two-headed pigs and deer, and twins cradling the dripping remains of a beheaded bunny. As for the stories, Haigh gives every indication she might one day make a fine novelist. The whisky-sour revenge tale “Little Trees”, for example, bursts with the kind of details—pine-tree air fresheners, Ray Price cassettes, tiny flying-bird pendants—that separate good writers from great ones.
“I love writing and have always written little things here and there,” Haigh offers. “Usually, I stop and go, ‘I’ll get to this later,’ but never do. These stories are sort of fully formed—they usually come from dreams. I then embellish them and put them together. I was really pleased with them.”
And those who’ve been lucky enough to discover Haigh’s work—whether it’s her painting or music—are going to be more than pleased with Post Apocalyptic Valentines. The music is every bit as beautifully crafted as the book. Badasses with a taste for murder ballads will want to head straight to the dark, loping “I’ll Bury You”, while folks determined to keep on the sunny side of life will love the gorgeous acoustic standout “You’re Not Here”. Living up to its title, “The Sparkling Look of Love” swoons with saloon-boogie piano and incandescent mandolin, while “If You Go, I’ll Follow You” soars on Haigh’s wonderfully angelic vocals. Tying everything together is a golden-era-of-country vibe that suggests the singer’s lifelong goals include spending an evening swapping stories and doing hair with Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Jeannie C. Riley.
Fittingly, Post Apocalyptic Valentines marks a new chapter in the evolution of Kelly Haigh in more ways than one. For a start, where she toiled on Country Western Star alone, she had no reservations about calling in outside talent for Valentines, with local heroes (Carolyn Mark, Paul Rigby) and out-of-town players helping flesh out the songs. That’s led to some magical connections.
“ ‘Looking Glass’ is one of my favourite songs on the record—it’s by this lady, June Webb, who’s old-school,” Haigh gushes. “She was friends with Hank Williams and Marty Robbins and all those guys. She kind of disappeared for a while, but my friend Jimmy Roy played one of her songs for me on YouTube. I was like, ‘Oh my God, who’s this?’ So I recorded her song, found her on the Internet, and sent it to her. She still writes and
records, and she was so pleased, and now we correspond. It’s so amazing to be sending emails back and forth with someone like that.”
Country Western Star was released just as a long-term relationship was crumbling. Haigh acknowledges there’s a positive feel to many of Post Apocalyptic Valentines’ numbers, and says there’s a lightness to her that wasn’t there during her first tentative steps into the music business. Big changes have included living by herself for the first time ever.
“I’m in my first real apartment by myself, and it’s like a playground,” she says. “It’s all lots of chips and salsa by Fresh Is Best—there’s onions, tomatoes, and cilantro in there, so to me it’s like having a salad. I’m in my own magicland.”
More importantly, Haigh is in love, and that’s coloured the way that she looks at the world—a world that no longer makes her want to puke. Literally.
“I felt a lot happier singing these songs,” she confesses brightly. “I wasn’t brokenhearted or upset—instead, I was hopeful of what the future might hold. I was adamant that I would never date again, so it wasn’t like I was hoping to find true love. My guy, Don Clark, is really cute, and plays music, so he knows all the Buck Owens songs, so we can sing together. And he doesn’t care if I eat chips for dinner. So, anyhow, I ended up getting excited about true love, and about people. I love music, and I love cutting hair, and I love painting. I’m just excited about everything.” -
Kelly Haigh plays the Revel Room on Sundays with the all-star roots group the Do-Rites.