Julie Arsenault’s songs are about resilience, rage, and hope in the face of adversity. Her stories are our stories.
I’m not sure how I am only now hearing about Toronto-based artist Julie Arsenault, a truly undiscovered gem in the Canadian music industry. Arsenault’s songs are home to some of the best kept secrets of musicianship: honesty and empathy radiating from one of the most beautiful vocal tones. So much incredible music comes from hard work and passion, but there is an extra special quality to music that comes from emotional labour — Julie Arsenault has that quality.
Teaming up with Son Canciones in Barcelona, Julie Arsenault gives new life to old songs, reimagining the industry as a scene that values craft over consumption. While tragically underappreciated in Canada, Arsenault’s distinct talent has inspired a passionate following of international listeners. From the archives of 2014,the songs on The Creature That I Call Myself are remade in a show of resilience, attesting to our ability to start anew with each new day. Singing of a great many trials, including an ongoing dance with depression, body politics, and “bad habits”, Arsenault transforms deeply personal experiences into a conversation about humanity.
The song “Good Mourning” seems to tell the story of an unintended pregnancy, waking up “the morning after” with “morning sickness” and feeling abandoned by a partner’s trust. In “Pro Choice”, Arsenault urges us to look critically at how damaging it can be to vilify an individual’s rights: “if I had no choice, I would scream until my body was my own”. Arsenault’s songwriting shows true bravery when facing many of the difficult, yet very common, experiences that have been treated as taboo in popular culture.
Opening the door for acceptance, Arsenault addresses mental health and all of the internal struggles that come with illness. “Little Old Me” speaks of feeling like the dud of the family: “the creature that I call myself…a monster no one else can seem to see”. While there are increasingly better resources for mental health, “Little Old Me” also addresses the fatigue of coping with chronic illness “for days and years on end”. Named after that imagined inner demon, The Creature That I Call Myself is a collection of insights from hardship and an homage to the woman persevering even in moments of defeat.
The power of Arsenault’s voice is subtle but unmistakably honest. As both a songwriter and a vocalist, Julie Arsenault has that element of something extra special in her tone of voice; an instinctiveness to the way she sings that both calms and excites. Her characteristic sound is built on nylon strings and nuance, drawing on electric guitar, bass, keys and percussion to round out the mix. Repurposed from original recordings made at The Trailer in Toronto, all fourteen tracks of Whisper & Shimmer I: “The Creature That I Call Myself (Extended Edition)” remind us of the beauty and wisdom even our toughest experiences carry. Arsenault’s songs are about resilience, rage, and hope in the face of adversity. A true folk-singer, her stories are our stories.