Right of the release of her debut single “!Warning Signs!” I got a chance to pick the brain of Montreal-based songwriter Dawn Cadence. Self-produced, Dawn’s music transcends genres, a soulful blending of jazz and rock inspired by 80’s pop. We talk about how Dawn put together the track, how she approaches her music and songwriting as a whole and dive into some of the artists that influence her approach to the craft.
Listen to !Warning Signs! on Spotify and read on for the interview below.
Your single “!Warning Signs!” gives me a soulful almost-Annie Lennox-meets-Gladys Knight vibe, like as though it wouldn’t be out of place within their repertoires. Can you tell us a bit about what inspired the song?
If you know me, you know that I’m a huge fan of genre-blending so my influences really span across the board. On this track, my intention was to take a journey back to the good ol’ days without following a traditional formula for instrumentation. I’ve always been told that my voice is well-suited for jazz and soul so the addition of rock elements in my songs tends to be unexpected.
I had written the lyrics of the song previously for another project but thought they fit super well here. During the chorus, I visualized warning signs flashing as the guitar did its thing. So, I went with the lyrics et voila.
It definitely hits that 80’s synth soft spot, who are some of your biggest influences from that era?
Sade is a big one for sure. Not very synthy but she was one of the first female artists to fuse jazz and rock so seamlessly in her tracks. I’m also really into Prince’s discography at the moment. I made a Spotify playlist for anyone who wants to listen to some of the songs that inspired !Warning Signs! specifically:
This is your first release as Dawn Cadence, but you actually released a song of the same name with your debut self-produced EP as Vanessa Richardson. What separated this project from that, and how did you decide upon the new name?
!Fun Fact!: Dawn and Cadence were actually two names I liked for my future children. I noticed how much they contrasted in meaning; with Dawn being the beginning of a new day and Cadence, the end of a musical phrase. So of course, I put them together. I was deciding whether I wanted to use it as the name of my song or as my stage name. As we know, I ended up choosing the song. This was because I was still quite uncomfortable with the idea of going around calling myself a real artist. However, this year I talked myself out of all the insecurity and decided to start taking my music seriously. Now I perform that song live as a strategy to get people to remember my name. I think it’s been working.
Do you think you’ll ever release more music under your given name or is it all Dawn Cadence from here on out?
I definitely have a vision for Dawn Cadence, but at the same time, I don’t like to restrict myself. Maybe one day I’ll sneak another release under Vanessa Richardson, perhaps some more stripped-down tracks. Who knows what the future will bring?
There’s so many cool elements that pop in and out of this track, but what grips me the most is all the different backing vocals and how they all sit at different depths of the track, luring you in like a mermaid siren song. Can you talk a little bit about the direction of the production of the track and what drove those decisions? Was this a self-produced effort as well or did you collaborate with anybody on it?
All the songs I’ve released thus far have been self-produced, including !Warning Signs! Two audio engineers, Luis Colmenares and Juan Jiminez, worked on the song for the final mix and master. My production style is really a ‘whatever I feel in the moment informing my decisions’ sort of thing. Each element of the track was inspired by a prior element. I wanted to have some fun with call and response, so I really exaggerated it in the second verse with the high and low vocal extremities. Initially, the synth part was going to arise out of nowhere during the bridge but I decided to add it to the beginning of the song as well so it could act as a motif.
Our readers don’t know this, but we actually first met because you were organizing and hosting a Wrongful Conviction Day event and I happened to be included as part of the performing artists. Can you tell us a bit about what drew you to that event and why it was important to you to be on the team for it?
Yes, that is true; and you absolutely killed your performance by the way. Everyone should listen to Crooked Forest! I’ve been the project manager of events for the International Wrongful Conviction Day Committee since last summer. It’s a cause that’s very dear to me with the prevalence of wrongful convictions in North America and how little our justice systems are doing to help those who had years of their lives stripped away from them unjustifiably. I thought hosting a benefit concert would be an effective way to raise awareness. Music brings people together. We did have to run it virtually but overall, the turn-out was pretty good. Hopefully, we’ll be able to plan an in-person concert for the near future.
Who’s 1 artist that you believe is worth the trip out to a different province/country to see perform live?
July Talk. 100%. No explanation needed. Go see for yourself. I attended their concert in Montreal a few weeks ago and had an out-of-body experience.
You’re based in Montreal if I’m not mistaken, what are some of the places or events you find yourself frequenting there?
Brutopia hosts my favourite open mic night in the city. Very intimate venue, the atmosphere is so cozy, and the audience is always welcoming; definitely a go-to spot for me.
What artists upcoming releases are you most excited and eager to hear?
I’m currently counting down the days until Mitski’s next album, Laurel Hell, is released. Really looking forward to the sad girl anthems. I dream of collaborating with her.
Can we talk a bit about your song-writing and production process? What do you typically start with when you’re sitting down to put together a new track?
I typically start with a hook that comes out of my improvising when I’m recording voice memos. Then I translate that hook to the production software I use and work around it. It’s hard to describe my process because I tend to have an entire song in my head after I find something I like. It’s really only a matter of getting it down with a MIDI keyboard. Whenever I have a song sketched out in my mind, I have to stay up for hours making sure I’ve translated everything so I can remember what it sounds like the next day. I write lyrics in two different ways. I’ll either write them separately as little poems that aren’t set to music whatsoever and do a mix-match once I have the production completed; or write them during my sketch of the instrumentation, then revise later.
Is there an instrument or production element you’re working towards perfecting these days or one that you’d like to get into and learn more about?
I would love to experiment with the theremin. Don’t have one in my possession as of yet but I plan to get my hands on one (or I guess, get my hands above one) and play around. It’s got such a unique, haunting sound.
What would you say to your younger self to encourage them that you still find yourself saying to yourself today?
My mantra: “Write with the intention to feel, not to please”. I always found music to be a sort of catharsis for me. There’s so much pressure these days to be the best and produce music that will be picked up and played on repeat by the masses. At the end of the day, I believe music is a form of artistic expression. I create for myself first and foremost. If I am proud of what I create, I release it. If people connect with what I put out, that’s a bonus.
Anything else coming up that you’d like to plug that we should keep an eye out for?
I may have just shot a music video… keep your eyes peeled. Subscribe to my YouTube channel.