How Tanya Tagaq’s Polaris-winning album came together

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Yellowknife, NWT – Tanya Tagaq has Canada’s best album, and the $30,000 prize will put her kids through school.

The Polaris Music Prize, which disregards genre and sales in favour of raw quality, belongs to the Nunavut throat singer who spent her high-school years in Yellowknife.

Jesse Zubot, from Vancouver, played violin alongside Tagaq at Monday’s award ceremony having produced ‘Animism’, the album which beat entries from the likes of Arcade Fire and Drake to the prize.

“It was actually perfect,” Zubot said of their performance on Monday. “We didn’t think about the performance, it was 100% improvised, and we had a 45-piece choir that we’d never performed with.

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“But we’re all used to doing this – we let ourselves go and it came out exactly how we wanted it to.”

How will they spend the prize money? “Probably just to eat,” said Zubot, with a laugh, before adding: “I think Tanya is going to try to help her kids and put some of it aside for education.”

Robert Everett-Green, who authored this profile of Tagaq for the Globe and Mail newspaper in May, told Moose FM the Polaris victory rewarded a new maturity and clarity in her work.

“This album really brought everything together in a more focused way and brought what she’s doing into contact with our political and social situation,” said Everett-Green.

“Formerly it was possible to hear her music and think, ‘Here’s someone playing around with unusual sounds.’ It felt like an art project.

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“In this album it’s much more clear that she’s exposing a process of living, of breathing, of being alive, and that’s related to the earth, ecological politics and so on. It has more punch, conceptually, and it’s more mature than what she’s done before.”

Creating the winning 11-track album primarily involved four people: Tagaq, Zubot, drummer Jean Martin and electronic artist Michael Red.

“The four of us got together, or sometimes the three of us would record and we’d add Michael doing electronics,” explained Zubot.

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“We spent four or five days recording improvised creations, and Tanya had a lot of lyrics written out and ideas she had put on tape. As we went along creating in real-time, Tanya would figure out how to construct it into a piece.

“After we had all this material, I took it all, edited it and cut it down. We added overdubs a little bit to take it to a new level, and basically constructed an album out of two or three albums-worth of material.”

Did they know, the first time they settled on a finished product, that this was an award-winning album?

“It definitely felt like something unique and special,” recalled Zubot.

“It was a massive undertaking – there were many down, low periods working on the album where basically I kind-of felt like everything was falling apart and there was no way it was going to work out.

“Once it finally came together it felt like… you go through a long whirlwind of emotions and I think, because of that, it helped to create a better album.”

With shows already on the calendar up to a year from now, Zubot expects their schedule to “start getting full pretty quickly” following Tagaq’s Polaris success. Next destination? “We’re trying to break into the USA.”

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