While throwback country is her current obsession, Vanessa Dee remains hardcore at heart

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      A former Fraser Valley hardcore kid who found salvation in music, Vanessa Dandurand couldn’t be more grateful for her past, mostly because it continues to shape who she is today. So, as much as Vancouver is embracing her these days as a throwback country queen, her primary influences don’t stop with the sound that defined Nashville in the ’60s and ’70s.

      Growing up an outsider theatre kid in Abbotsford, Dandurand found her tribe after discovering punk rock, her world initially rocked by the Ramones­—who provided a gateway drug to hardcore heavyweights like Bane, Hundred Demons, Blood for Blood, and Comeback Kid. The uncompromising, fighting spirit of those acts, she suggests, runs deep in the artists that inspired Loving Longing Leaving, last year’s debut EP from her grassroots country project Vanessa Dee & the Brightsides.

      “I’ve always thought that,” Dandurand enthuses, “if you listen to Tammy Wynette or Loretta Lynn, there is no other fucking genre that I can be in, as a female, where the attitude is, ‘I’m going to knock your fucking teeth out, and I’m not taking off the ballgown to do it.’ For me, that’s the absolute crux of hyper-feminine strength—to be able to do that sort of gracious queen wave and Grand Ole Opry smile, even though you know that things are going horribly awry.”

      Victoria Black.

      She continues: “It’s because when I actually went into the studio to make this EP, I had a vibe playlist that I’d send to the session players. My mom was over—we were hanging out, drinking tea in the kitchen—and she was like, ‘I never would have pictured you listening to any of this. If your grandmother was alive, she would have made this playlist.’ I mean, one of my earliest memories was listening to Roger Miller.”

      Loaded with pedal steel and Twin reverb guitar, Loving Longing Leaving is proudly a country record, Dandurand sounding like someone nursing doubles, brokenhearted but strong, at the same end of the bar as Bobby Gentry, George Jones, Tanya Tucker, and a young Dolly Parton. Even if it’s not obvious at first listen, the album is also rooted in punk rock.

      “I feel like I’ve never talked more about hardcore than I have since starting this country band,” Dandurand says with a laugh. “It’s like I have this gnawing thing where people keep going, ‘Tell me about this part of your life.’ And I’m like, ‘Ooh—it’s actually the complete opposite.’ I feel like I live a double life where people know me from either one world or the other. But, really, I’m kind of a blend of both.”

      Combine her love of old-school country with an undying affection for the DIY-proud aesthetic of punk rock, and you’ve got a window into why Dandurand couldn’t be more jacked about what the immediate future holds.

      With Loving Longing Leaving set for a vinyl release, conventional wisdom suggests that she should be excited today about having her debut immortalized on the only format cooler than 8-track cartridges and cassette tapes. Instead, her thinking is more along the lines of Henry Rollins’ Get In the Van, except without the misery and angst.

      Following a hometown show at The Pearl, she’ll head down the West Coast with a roster of friends collected along the way of her musicial journey so far. Joining her at the Pearl will be Big Fancy & The Shiddy Cowboys, Dennis Bouwman, and the Unbranded. Elliot Way will deejay for the swing, with Jo Durée and Carrie Dawn turning in drag performances.

      Follwing that show will be the road-show extravaganza, featuring a new support cast including backing musicians with hardcore roots Dandurand has long considered friends. That swing is billed as The Light Up the West Coast Tour.

      For Dandurand, the North American tour isn’t just a string of dates—it’s a golden chance to reconnect to the community that changed her outlook on the world.

      “At this point in my life, I want to build a body of work that, creatively, I’m really proud of,” she says. “But it’s all about being able to connect to people. Touring has always been a huge draw for me. I’ve got a lot of friends in other places, a lot of bands that I’ve booked that I want to play with. I want to drop into places where there are people that I love, and then participate in what they’re doing.”

      First making a name for herself as a member of high-octane garage-soul upstarts the Ballantynes, Dandurand has gone on to carve out a respected behind-the-scenes career in the Vancouver music scene. For the past half-decade, she’s worked as a talent wrangler, booking venues including the Heatley on Hastings and the Painted Ship in Kitsilano.

      Her inside-track would prove invaluable when she not only began thinking about making Loving Longing Leaving. Hired guns for the EP include guitarists Ian Badger and Janky Bungag, bassist Max Sample, pedal steel player John Evans, drummer Ryan Driscoll, and backup singers Rempel Roquette and Victoria Black.

      “There’s this whole younger, cool, weird wave of country that’s really taking hold of Vancouver right now,” Dandurand says. “I was lucky enough, booking the Heatley—and being behind the bar—to literally have a front row seat for who I wanted to cherry-pick for this record.”

      Laughing, she notes that she’s grown tired of talking about Loving Longing Leaving, mostly because she’s been doing just that for the past year. 

      “I tried to find the specific things that I loved about classic country for this record,” Dandurand allows. “I didn’t need to make the record weird, because I’m the weird one—like the last song on the record [the blackhearted “She Dreams of Snakes”] is about a demon offering. I do have a deep love and respect for the genre, so I don’t want to come in just aping it.”

      Her experiences at the Heatley have her excited being on the other side of things for The Light Up the West Coast Tour.

      “The behind-the-scenes label promoter and booker wants to see how other places operate,” Dandurand says of herself with a laugh. “I’m like the weird, creepy fan perv who wants to look in the window.”

      In some ways, the goal is also to inspire others in her community, just as her fellow hardcore kids inspired her. One of the founding tenets of early American hardcore was that anyone can book their own shows, load into a van with friends, and start spreading the gospel.

      Once upon a time Vancouver pioneers like D.O.A. and the Subhumans became legends by turning their sights on the States. Quite correctly, Dandurand observes that, these days, Canadian bands tend to hit the Trans-Canada Highway, partly to avoid the border hassle.

      “Canadian artists think that it’s harder to do than it actually is,” she says. “There’s a lot more work to do than there is for our US counterparts coming up this way. But I wanted to do this tour because there’s always the California dream for Vancouver musicians.”

      Connections also proved invaluable when it came time to find musicians who would be able to tour. That’s become a very real challenge in a city where everyone’s going full-grind just to make rent. 

      Major goals of the tour—besides enjoying the things that make America great, like cheap gas station beer and menthol cigarettes—include walking in the footsteps of past giants who’ve inspired her, hardcore, country, or otherwise.

      “It’s going to be an adventure,” Dandurand says excitedly. “I’ve never been to Joshua Tree before, and I’m very excited. I specifically booked a day off to go fuck around in the desert, take photos, and do all the things you wanna do when you’re on the road. When I was younger I always wanted to see something completely new and different. Now I feel like, if you stand in the footsteps of someone you really love—maybe they deposited a bit of magic­—that’s way more exciting.”

      Vanessa Dee & the Brightsides play a kickoff show for The Light Up the West Coast Tour at The Pearl on April 4. Get tickets here.