Leela Gilday is finally taking a break of sorts, and the Juno award nominated musician has chosen Dawson City for the near-rest.
Thanks to the first-ever songwriter retreat supported by the Dawson City Music Festival and the Klondike Institute for Art and Culture, Gilday will take a leave from “gigging” across Canada and spend some time writing and kicking back in the Klondike for a month.
“It’s the first time I’ve had in almost four years to just dedicate to writing; it’s a really nice place to be in,” she said, referring to the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture residency at Seventh and Princess.
On Monday, she looked relaxed and rested after spending two weeks in Dawson.
Free of make-up and any concern of the public’s perception, she was happy to chat at the local coffee shop that just opened for the first time in three months.
Her previous schedule sounded, well — nightmarish.
“I write on the road,” she said. “It’s a pretty slow process when you don’t have your own space and you don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to it.
“I do all my own management and promotion, so that is like another full-time job on top of being the band leader, a musician and songwriter.”
Plus, the 31-year-old, originally from Yellowknife, travels from coast-to-coast-to-coast, playing in front of 200-300 people per gig, on average.
She’s been to 15 places in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut alone.
“You gotta fly,” she said. “It’s not like the Yukon. You gotta fly everywhere. It’s like everywhere is Old Crow.”
Gilday remembers one performance at the Muskox Frolics in Cambridge Bay, when she was upstaged by the Inuit Gospel Singers, a simple duo that plays accordion and guitar and sings Christian hymns
“They are community favourites though; it was very hard to take the stage before or after that act.”
Gilday let out a big laugh, taking a moment to reflect on the experience, possibly for the first time.
“It was really funny.”
The last four years have not been all fun for the classically trained Dene singer.
She experienced great highs in 2002 and 2003 with the release of her first recording: Spirit World, Solid Wood.
Gilday won three awards at the 2002 Aboriginal Music Awards: Best Female Artist, Best Folk Album, and Best Songwriter.
She followed that recognition with her 2003 Juno nomination for Aboriginal Recording of the Year, losing out to Derek Miller and his recording Lovesick Blues.
Though too busy, the attention Gilday now receives because of the awards has changed her career for the better, she said.
“It’s funny because I don’t think of awards as validating for a musician. I’ve toured all over this country and I know musicians that would just knock your socks off and will never see the light of day. It’s not the mark of what’s the best.”
In 2004, she crashed hard and almost gave up her career, and 23 years in the business, after a bad gig in northern Alberta.
She did not want to publicly reflect on the time, but said it had more to do with business than art.
“I quit music all together.”
She returned to it when she realized that music is what she does, and she had better accept the road that goes with it — even if that means spending three-to-four hours per day on business-management issues, including booking and travelling to shows, producing a second album in Toronto and arranging a four-piece band.
Gilday’s “colleagues on the music circuit” are always stunned when she tells them she has no manager.
That fact even mystifies her, she said. She would love to have a manager, considering she is going into a Toronto recording studio to record a new album in three weeks, she said.
So why doesn’t she have a manager?
“That’s the million-dollar question. If you can answer that for me, I’ll pay you. It’s not the cost; I’d love a manager.”
Trying to attract a manager and live in Yellowknife is difficult, said Gilday.
“I spent a good nine or 10 months before that breakdown looking for a manager, sending out packages, and I didn’t attract any interest, which really surprised me because I make a fairly decent living.
“I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s because I don’t live in the major centres anymore.”
Gilday said she expects to be on the road straight for three-to-five years after her Dawson rest stop.
And she needs help to get to the next level — entertaining internationally, and doing the sales work to get the appropriate gigs to make it all pay.
She detests that work, she said.
“I’m not a forceful person when it comes to selling myself. I hate that aspect of the business. I’m a musician and a performer. I love the energy you get between the audience and the performer.”
Dawsonites will have two opportunities to hear Gilday’s soulful voice this weekend.
She is hosting a singing/songwriting workshop at the Danoja Zho Cultural Centre on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Gilday will also perform a concert at KIAC on Tuesday.
“I will be singing a couple of songs I’ve written on this residency and I will be bringing up a couple of special guests to help me. I think I will do two sets.”
The workshop will teach people that anyone can sing, she said.
“People generally have hang-ups about singing in western culture,” she said.
“Confidence is the first roadblock. You go to other countries and everybody sings. There isn’t that self-consciousness.
“I always found it a shame and a pity that not more people sing.”
Gilday encourages people to bring music and instruments to the songwriting portion of the workshop, which will follow the singing.