Sarah MacDougall’s first trip to the Western Canadian Music Awards played out just like the title of the song she sang on stage.
The Swedish-born, Whitehorse-based singer-songwriter performed Sometimes You Lose, Sometimes You Win at the ceremony at Casino Regina on Sept. 30.
And she did.
MacDougall’s second album, The Greatest Ones Alive, released in August 2011, won Roots Recording of the Year, while Sometimes You Lose, Sometimes You Win, the album’s first single, earned a nomination for Songwriter of the Year.
“I don’t know if I was super surprised that I won,” said MacDougall, who described the evening as a “blur.”
“But for sure, it’s a weird feeling, hearing your own name come up.”
She was the only Yukon artist to leave the ceremony with hardware. Brandon Isaak was nominated for Blues Album of the Year for Bluesman’s Plea and The Pretty Warblers’ Pretty Good earned them a nomination in the Contemporary Christian/Gospel Recording of the Year category.
“I just tried to think of it as another show,” said MacDougall. She’d brought a designer dress to the event, but instead opted for a blouse and black jeans – closer to what she normally wears onstage.
But this was not like any other show she’s done. Industry professionals fly in from around the world to attend the ceremony, which comes at the end of the BreakOut West 2012 festival. Just performing at the show is a great opportunity, said MacDougall. Already, it’s led to spots at upcoming festivals.
“I was thinking before I found out that I actually won, that I actually won anyway – not in terms of the prize, but in terms of the weekend being a really good weekend for me.”
Good, yes. And the show was incredibly well-produced, she said. But it was not necessarily glamorous.
“I wasn’t actually allowed to sit in the audience,” said MacDougall, laughing. Even performers and nominees had to purchase tickets to watch the show in the theatre. She didn’t.
Instead, she watched the ceremony on a television in a back room. She did not start working on her acceptance speech until about five minutes before the Roots Recording winner was announced, she said.
“I think I thanked the Yukon in general,” she laughed.
MacDougall lost to Dan Mangan and his song Post-War Blues in the Songwriter of the Year category. MacDougall knows Mangan from Vancouver.
“I was definitely expecting Dan to win,” she said.
MacDougall, who released her first album, Across the Atlantic, in 2009, moved to Whitehorse from Vancouver in 2010. She still has a storage trailer in British Columbia. A self-described minimalist, she has plans to one day sort through those items. But as of a few weeks ago, “everything’s still there,” she said.
When not touring, she lives in a one-bedroom cabin in Wolf Creek and works for the Yukon government in a group home.
It still feels strange hearing her songs on the radio, she said. But it’s becoming more common. Once at work, she told some of her co-workers how the satellite radio station Galaxie often plays her music. They turned on the television to a Galaxie channel-and there was one of her songs, filling the air.
But the trophy gives her something tangible to show for her work.
“It feels really nice to have the confirmation that you’re doing something that people are appreciating. Because, you know, it’s kind of a hard business and it’s kind of a hard life. And it’s nice to feel that it’s paying off a bit. And it makes you feel inspired, it makes you want to write more and get more stuff out there.”
MacDougall is already doing just that. She’s finishing up the songs for her latest album and getting ready to start a five-week European tour at the end of this month. In the new year, she hopes to tour Eastern Canada and finish recording.
The latest album will have a similar lyrical focus as The Greatest Ones Alive, but the music may have more of a rock feel, she said.
Many of The Greatest Ones Alive’s 10 tracks describe growing up and figuring out where to call home. But despite lines like “And I’ve walked so many miles/Now I feel old, though I’m young,” in Sometimes You Lose, Sometimes You Win, she has a silly side not seen in her songs.
That’s the only way to survive touring, she said. For example, she often tours with buns.
It started last year, while playing the United Kingdom, when MacDougall and bandmate Tim Twedale returned from a “horrific” show to a plate of sandwiches – processed ham on white bread, something they both dislike.
They returned to the home where they were staying. It had “weird vibes,” MacDougall recalled. The wife went to the store and purchased around 40 buns, and sent the musicians off with the baked goods.
The shows got better after that, so they kept a bun on their dashboard as a good luck charm. They do that every tour now.
Many of her songs’ reflective lyrics describe the journey to finding home. “And I’ve burned all the bridges I can burn/The road is closing in,” she sings on Sometimes You Lose, Sometimes You Win. The song also admits to “always looking for happy on the other side.”
She’s still on the journey.
“I think it’s my temporary home,” said MacDougall of Whitehorse. “I don’t know where I’ll end up. I think I’m still searching for that home-home. Time will tell.”
Before she heads to Europe, Yukoners will have a chance to see her play in Whitehorse. She and Jason Collett, of Broken Social Scene, will play the Yukon Arts Centre on Oct. 22 at 8 p.m.
Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for 12- to 19-year-olds and seniors. They are available at the Yukon Arts Centre box office, Arts Underground and online at www.yukontickets.com.
Contact Meagan Gillmore at