Published Nov 02, 2015Emilie Kahn was trapped inside Studio B-12 during a snowstorm in February. The Montreal musician, who goes by Emilie & Ogden — the latter being the name of her trusty harp — was spending the week recording her debut album 10,000 at the Valcourt, Quebec studio an hour east of the city when a barrage of snow hit the rural area.
The white exteriors of the pristine home-turned-recording studio began to coalesce into one with the piling snow, but snuggled up in the basement with her Ogden (which is a brand name but also her colloquial moniker for her harp), Kahn spun a tale of love and longing. That night, at two a.m., she wrote the final track on her album, "Dream."
"It was a super romantic moment," Kahn says, looking back on that evening months later. The final product finds Kahn alone with her instrument and an accompanying trumpet, as she fantasizes about a far-away lover over mirage-like harp flutters. "We actually recorded some of the storm, but I don't know if it made it onto the track." (Unfortunately, it didn't.)
When musicians aren't using the variety of marvellous pianos set up in the tall, spacious common space, artists are known to throw shows and parties in there. "The first time I went there was to record," Kahn explains. "But I've been back a bunch of times for shows and stuff."
By the end of her stay, Kahn had laid down the foundations of the ten tracks that would make up 10,000. The album, sprawling with beguiling harp flourishes that are elevated by additional strings, horns and sparring but visceral drum rhythms, all harmonize to help Kahn tell stories of harrowing heartbreaks and romance.
Ogden has become Kahn's most reliable tool for telling these personal stories. She spent her teenage years writing with friends on the guitar and piano, two readily available instruments around her at the time, but it wasn't until she saw the Barr Brothers' Sarah Pagé perform on the harp while attending Vanier College that she found her true calling. (Kahn is quick to point out in interviews that she has had no further interactions with Pagé.)
Like anyone with a computer would do nowadays, Kahn hopped online and found herself a harp instructor on Craigslist right away. "The first time I got to touch a harp and feel how amazing it felt, I knew there was no better instrument," Kahn remembers.
"I'm sure my parents thought that this wouldn't last," Kahn explains, of hauling yet another instrument into their home to practice. (On top of the guitar and piano, Kahn played the ukulele and got into music school by playing the flute.) "I think they were surprised to see that I was sticking with it."
Within days, she would trek to Ottawa to rent a harp. Months later, she bought one. "I don't remember what brand it was, it was kind of a shitty harp," she laughs. "With folk harps, the strings are a little bit looser and I don't really like the sound of nylon strings. I like the one I have now better."
The one she speaks of now is, of course, Ogden.
"The harp and guitar have the same notes, [and] there are only so many notes on the scale," she says, comparing her experiences with both instruments. "But the way they're laid out on the harp just makes more sense to me. I just like seeing the scale in front of me so I can see the shapes and know exactly what I'm doing."
While transporting her harp to Studio B-12 proved to be a simple process, as Kahn and her band embark on a European tour, she faces a new problem — leaving Ogden at home. "I don't have a flight case yet, so I'm just going to be borrowing [harps]," she says. "We did a couple of dates in BC this month and I played on a harp that wasn't even the same kind, so that was a little bit confusing.
"But apparently that's the main dilemma of touring harpists, is finding a harp, so I'm just going to get used to it."