The life and work of artist Geneviève Castrée will be celebrated on Saturday, December 10th at the Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery in Seattle. There will be an exhibition of her original artwork, and local musicians Mount Eerie, Ashley Eriksson, Nicholas Krgovich, and Lori Goldston will perform covers of Castrée’s songs.
Castrée died in 2016 from pancreatic cancer. Though only 35-years-old at the time, the wildly-talented creator left behind a wealth of works in her wake. As a musician, she recorded under the names Woelv and Ô Paon, releasing numerous albums, EPs, singles, and contributions. As an artist, she published a rich bibliography of beautifully-articulated comics, radiating warmth and emotion in each tiny squiggle.
The work she left behind continues to reverberate in her absence, and in 2022, her artistic disciplines were celebrated in different ways. Last month, renowed Canadian comics publisher Drawn & Quarterly released Geneviève Castrée: Complete Works 1981-2016, a gorgeous 500+ page collection of "rarely- or never-seen illustrations and comics, to album covers and photographs, to studio scraps," lovingly-curated by her widower Phil Elverum.
And earlier this year, the compilation Ô: A Tribute Album to Ô Paon and Geneviève Castrée was released on vinyl. The album features covers of her songs from a range of artists including the ones performing Saturday night, as well as Black Belt Eagle Scout, Karl Blau, The Drink Up Honey, and more.
To commemorate the upcoming evening, we asked the artists on the tribute album to share with us, why they chose the song they did to cover, and what the experience was like for them. Listen to some of their replies below in our Sound & Vision on-air segment, and read more replies below. For more information about Saturday's event, visit drawnandquarterly.com.
"Hors-Terre" was my favorite song to play with Geneviève when we performed what would be the final Ô Paon shows together. It was emotionally difficult to have to loop what would have been her part, but it was also fun to put my own spin on it. I will always fondly recall those shows and the rehearsals leading up to them. The types of notes included in the gatefold LP are similar to her initial notes to me, which are nearly indecipherable to anyone who is not Geneviève — was very funny to receive those instructions and then have to be like "okay, this is beautiful, but what does it mean?" — Nick Rennis, also owner of The Business in Anacortes, WA
"It was hard to choose [a song to cover] because I was so intimately familiar with all of them, like through their creation, you know, all the years she spent like developing them. I'd just hear her working on this stuff all the time and it felt like totally hers. And I don't usually do covers, so it was a strange prospect. But I did love the idea of this compilation making everyone sing in French. I enjoyed that project of having to wrap my tongue around these French lyrics."
"I remember when she was recording ['Gris'] in the house and basing it on this song "Persian Love" by Holger Czukay, who was in Can. It's this amazing song from the seventies that just has this groove and it's based around this tape of, like, Persian singing, this mysterious vocalist. And so she she based on that rhythm, but with these somber organ minor chords moving up and down, just the same chords back and forth. I really liked how it has this kind of trance, but also kind of fun groove. I don't usually make songs that are groovy, and she didn't either, but I liked that about it. And also it was my favorite chords. F, G, A Minor, G and it just was so easy to be in that zone with it."
"I only really thought about what the lyrics were about after I was working on it. They were written during the Bush era, so they're about torture and war. They're about like, who's going to stop this nightmare, these child politicians, these babies that are ruining the world. Yeah, it's a heavy song. All her songs are heavy and so personal. But that one, it's still stuck in my head. Still fun to do." — Phil Elverum
"'Chevaux' was a favourite song of ours already, so it took us like 5 minutes to decide :) This text is so powerful. We love this poetic and social criticism side present her lyrics sometimes. Being very sensitive to the other-than-human animals, this metaphor of our capitalistic society and the running horses being used to the core was getting to us, and Geneviève describing each one of the horses with sort of a human personality, and their rank and life expectancy in the race or human society, that was just brilliant. And the fact that she seemed to add a personal input at the end, with the two last horses. Heartbreaking given her tragic destiny. The biggest challenge for me was to record the vocal tracks without bursting into tears, really. And of course, the opposite of a challenge was the pleasure to sing in French, my own mother tongue in which I do not sing very often for my own musical projects." — Geneviève Beaulieu
"We were very humbled to be asked to take part in this celebration of Geneviève's life and work. We were fortunate enough to get the chance to meet and play a few tour dates together with her in 2014, memories I will always cherish. In choosing a song to work on, we had a few key things in mind — brevity, stylistic considerations, and lyrical content — 'La Panne' ended up checking all of those boxes. Brevity, because it lends itself well to grindcore (short, fast, profound), while also acknowledging that we only briefly knew Geneviève personally (though her impact on us loomed large!). Therefore I felt like our part of the album should be a quick burst of bright energy without taking up too much space.
"Stylistically speaking, she had such a neat, unique writing and playing style, I love it. 'La Panne' happens to have some riffs and melodies that translate into what we do very organically, so it was fun to put together in that sense. And then of course, her lyrics are wonderful, and the lyrics from 'La Panne' in particular are eerily similar to something [vocalist/guitarist] Madison might write, they paint pictures in your mind; abstraction being presented in a very matter-of-fact way. We opted to have Madison sing the English version, as we felt that it would be better to go that route rather than try a phonetic approach. We also pulled Geneviève's original vocal track and layered it in as a tribute to her, adding depth and textural juxtaposition to our more angular distorted guitars/drums/harsh vocals." — Rorik Brooks
"I remember seeing her play it live when I was in high school and just feeling so much from that live performance. I remember that she used a loop station, and at one point I had asked her, what is it? How do you use this loop station? What is this pedal even? And she gave me the info and really inspired me to get my own loop station. And so this song is, you know, one of the earlier reasons of the tools that I use to create my own music with loop station."
"It's a beautiful song, the original version of it and the live version of it that she did is so beautiful as well. And I really connected to the emotion that is put behind it. I try to sing in French, but, you know, it's a little hard sometimes. And I just wanted to cover the song because it means so much to me." — Katherine Paul
"As 'Psychiatrie' was originally recorded by Genevieve and Karl Blau, we thought it was suited to our band, being that we are a duo."
"The definitive factor in choosing to cover 'Psychiatrie' is its use of round or refrain (ritournelle) structure in the vocals. We are drawn to working with repetition, and interwoven vocal lines and felt that we could take an approach that would both respect the original, but also make it our own. The first of the two vocal melodies repeats throughout like a mantra of sorts that is both simple and powerful with the lines alternating between two takes on the adage 'you reap what you sow.' The second vocal melody puts forth a series of statements that illustrate the sheer folly of human kind in relation to the natural world. We liked that the piece is sad, engaged and critical of the absurdist reasons behind our radical interventions on the natural world."
"We listened to her whole discography before narrowing down our choices, and it was a challenge to listen to without crying. Covering a song written in French by a fellow Québecoise musician was a treat. We have a difficult relationship to Quebecois music as it is predominantly written in classic 'chanson francaise' style, so it was great to be able to explore a song in our mother tongue that does not adhere to that classic form." — Andrea-Jane Cornell and Marie-Douce St- Jacques
"I chose to cover the Ô Paon song, 'Bouée,' because this song had always appealed to me musically very much. It sounds to me like a very old folk song."
"Learning to sing the lyrics in French brought me closer to this song and the story within it. It is about an oil spill, those responsible, and the environmental catastrophe that takes place. When she sings, 'O, o, o,' I originally thought this was simply like an 'ooo' or 'aah,' which are common in music, but upon deeper inspection, I came to understand that the “o” shape represents a visual of the mouths of the dead and dying floating in an oil spill, gasping for air. The English translation is:
bob about out of breath
and their frozen mouths
"O!" "O!" "O!"
"Among Genevieve’s artwork for the record that 'Bouée' is on called Fleuve, there is a drawing/painting of hairy heads in water amongst frozen patches of ice, which look like they might be depictions of Geneviève herself. My interpretation is that this represents that she empathizes with the victims of the oil spill."
"Once I started working on learning the lyrics in French, I quickly felt in over my head. I took a little bit of French in high school, but I don’t speak French, so I asked a couple of friends on Whidbey island, Tessa Hays-Nordin and Lucy Brennan, to sing it with me."
"In the recording, my husband and bandmate, Eli Moore, performs the guitar through the whole song. I added a little piano and drums for emphasis during the choruses." — Ashley Eriksson
"Years ago I helped make an EP with Geneviève and Gus Franklin called Quatorze/Quinze Ans and we worked on this song, but didn't see it to the finish line. If I remember right, I think I got a little overly fussy with some of the arrangement ideas and we all just got a little confused and frustrated so Geneviève was like 'ah, let's move on.' I feel a sense of immediacy is important to her in her music and since that wasn't happening she seemed unbothered by just letting it go. A truly free and punk move."
"I always liked this song a lot and thought that making a version of it for the compilation would be a nice roundabout way to add it back into her catalog. I ended up sampling the audio off a short iPhone video I had of Geneviève and Gus in the studio trying to dial in the bass sound, so with Geneviève's bass playing and presence on the track I was surprisingly able to put the rest together very quickly and effortlessly. I hope she would approve — both of the recording and the spirit behind it all." — Nicholas Krgovich
"While there are other Ô Paon songs that we might consider favourites, we chose to cover 'Fille Tannée/Fille Tendue' as one that would be more readily adaptable to the Nadja style and sound. The song is already a little heavier and sort of 'grungier' sounding than some of her other work, which felt fitting for us, even as we made it heavier and grungier."
"In terms of technical challenges, we did have some difficulty reproducing the vocals, as Geneviève always had a sort of uniquely off-kilter delivery which was not so easy to emulate... but really, the bigger challenge was emotional. While we have recorded covers and tribute songs before of artists we like and respect, we have never done one for an artist who passed in tragic circumstances and whom we considered a friend. It was quite difficult, listening to that song on repeat, trying to capture its nuances and subtleties, to separate the song from the artist, while attempting to recreate it." — Aidan Baker
"I came across this song and just the flood of memories of her performing this song just came across. And I thought it might be simple enough that I could actually do it. And yeah, it was tricky because covering her French singing was hard for me. It's a challenge to sing in French and I'm sure I butchered it. I don't know how it translates. Like, if it's charming, you know, the way some accents are charming when they sing songs in English. I don't know if it goes the other way in this case, but it was really fun." — Karl Blau
"The other one I recorded is called 'Un Peu Comme Dersou,' which is a reference to a kind of obscure movie that we both really liked. I think she based the melody off of a melody from that movie where the character Dersou is singing to the fire, or he's sitting in front of the fire just sort of singing to himself. And so she sort of made that into a song about him, I guess. I don't know what it's about. It's a pretty bleak song. It's about that sort of difficult man, like romanticizing solitude, sort of this masculine, tough guy figure. And then I sing it with our daughter, because we were listening to the record all the time and so she was singing it with me on on the recording. But kinda. She's like saying some of the words and then kind of trails off and just sort of follows along and like mumbles them. Yeah. She recorded that when she was like five. So, a little tiny voice." — Phil Elverum
Ahead of KEXP’s Music Heals: Beyond Cancer event, Sound & Vision host and producer Emily Fox talked with Elverum about tackling grief in his music, performing these harrowing songs in front of festival crowds, and reflects on the art and void left by his late wife.
Unpacking the many works of the talented cartoonist, illustrator, and musician, who passed from pancreatic cancer in 2016