ANCIENT ALBUM VAULT – Hyperdramatic by Damhnait Doyle – 2000

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This original review was written in March of 2000, before Damhnait saw huge success with her next albums as well as collaborations with the band Shaye as well as with Bruce Cockburn among many others.  You can read more about Damhnait Doyle here.

I hate Yorkville. I always feel like I’m not dressed appropriately, or that I’ll get charged a cover as I round the corner from University Ave. And to top it all off, I’m sitting in Starbucks, sipping an overpriced coffee and writing in a journal. The air is thick with the smell of pretense and cappuccino.

I’m here to meet Damhnait Doyle, the 24 – year-old singer/songwriter from Newfoundland who’s stunning showcase of her new album “Hyperdramatic” had recently sent an electric shock through Canadian Music Week. Forget the unrelenting hipness of the venue she used (This Is London). Forget all the martinis and long cigarettes. Forget the miles and miles of high-powered music industry folk whose eyes were glued to the stage. There was only one conclusion to be made this night:

That woman can sing.

Suddenly she’s sitting in front of me, surrounded by an almost visible aura of enthusiasm. There is no doubt from this vantage point that there will be some truth spoken here. Almost immediately we are discussing music and musicians. “I’m always listening to new stuff, but there’s a few I always go back to,” she states. “The entire Ben Harper catalogue is usually within easy reach. And the new Fiona Apple I think is brilliant. And Aimee Mann…” she whispers as she suddenly breaks into “Wise Up” from Mann’s ‘Magnolia’ soundtrack. People turn around.

There’s that voice again.

The onlookers are trying to figure out how they know her. It’s doubtful that they associate this striking woman with the 19-year-old from the East Coast who briefly graced the musical landscape in 1996. At that point, her debut album “Shadows Wake Me” had earned a Juno nomination for Best New Solo Artist and her single “A List Of Things” was charting respectably. Suddenly, her record label went belly up, leaving Doyle and label-mates like Sandbox to eventually be ‘inherited’ by EMI Music Canada. While Sandbox eventually parted ways with the record company, Doyle decided to keep the flame alive.

” I was kind of in limbo there for a couple of years. I was excited to be on a major label, but I was fully aware of how I got there. They didn’t court me or anything, and obviously the A&R department at EMI had signed acts that they believed in and wanted to develop. And I didn’t really have the conviction about my music that I have now. So it took a little time for both of us to get on the same plane. But we are there now, and it’s just amazing.”

The feeling seems to be mutual. The attention that EMI is paying to this developing artist is almost unprecedented. Cross-country promotional tours and showcases have already started, and judging by her Canadian Music Week appearance, they are going to be very high profile. As well, EMI allowed all the tracks on “Hyperdramatic” to be downloaded online for a month before release date. Although the files are no longer usable after March 14th, the extent to which the record company used this kind of promotional tool is pretty much unparalleled in the music industry.

The risks seem to be working. The first single, “Tattooed”, co-written by Christopher Ward, has already started making its way up the charts and both major Canadian pop music channels are embracing the video. But just as important as her record label’s support is the fact that Doyle has created a really solid piece of work.

“Hyperdramatic” is a passionate foray into the mind of a young woman in flux. From the eerie throb of lead track ‘Maybe It’s You’ to the closing lament of ‘Maybe A Son’, listeners are immersed in the artist’s soul – and all the joy, desperation and hope that encompasses. The music is dynamic and crisp, flavoured throughout with an effective balance of catchy hooks and moody eclecticism, and the lyrics are simple and painfully sincere.

“I didn’t write songs. I wrote little stories about me, not intending for them to be crafted songs that would appeal to anybody else,” she says frankly. “They were written purely selfishly, purely as a therapeutic tool.” Indeed, that therapy gives the album the fundamental elements of good art – true expression based on raw emotion.

And then there’s that voice.

Damhnait sings like she’s opened a wound and is letting the blood flow freely over everyone around her. The listener feels the crush of ego as she sings ‘I’m helplessly happy you’re happy, I just don’t want to know’, and joins her playful frustration as she laments, ‘why you treat me so well/why you treat me the way I deserve to be treated’. Her voice soars and aches and reaches out in supplication. It ebbs and flows through the album’s themes and ties them all together. That, Doyle gratefully acknowledges, has as much to do with producer Dave Hodge as it does with her.

“During pre-production, Dave sketched out all the songs on his computer first, so I really had 2 or 3 months to get used to the structure of the songs and where my vocals would be before we actually went into the studio to record. It was great because I really had time to think about how I wanted to approach each song.”

Doyle with SHAYE compadres Kim Stockwood and Tara MacLean. MacLean left the group in 2007 and the band folded by 2009. The band is named after MacLean’s sister who died in a car accident in 2002.

Nearly four years after she flashed across the Canadian music scene and quite literally disappeared, Doyle is obviously thrilled with the way this album has turned out. “I felt like there was a singular goal when people came in to work on this record, like some karmic retribution was going to happen. You know when you have a friend that you watch struggle to do what they want to do creatively, and then you see them having the opportunity to achieve that, so you do whatever you can to help them. That’s what this record was about to me.”

She has every right to be confident and self-assured about what she’s created. After all, there has never been a better time to be a Canadian musician – especially one who is female.

“The success of people like Sarah, Celine and Shania – that’s wonderful. I think it says a lot about the respect the world has for Canadians as artists. If it happens for me, that’s great, but I’m not looking for it. Any kind of commercial sensibilities that happened on this record happened purely by accident. If I look at a piece of art and I know that it’s been created to appeal to everyone, it doesn’t hold the same value to me as a consumer. If it’s created from the basic need of an artist to express themselves, and turns out to have a wide appeal, well that’s just a bonus. I think I’ll always hold my music up to those standards, no matter what.”

With that philosophy still hanging in the air, she thanks me and leaves to accommodate the next interview, and I’m left once again with an overpriced coffee and my journal as company. For a moment there, however, the pretense was gone, and I caught a glimpse of the Yorkville of the past – the Yorkville of Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young, and Joni Mitchell. The gentleman next to me admits meekly that he overheard our conversation and wants to know who this young musician with integrity is, and where he can hear her.

I assure him not to worry – he’ll hear her very soon.

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