Songs about being real, honest

“Don’t you wonder sometimes how we got so good at lying?” asks Lacombe singer/songwriter Justine Vandergrift.

Justine Vandergrift performs a fundraising concert Friday (July 8) at The Hub in Red Deer.

Justine Vandergrift performs a fundraising concert Friday (July 8) at The Hub in Red Deer.

“Don’t you wonder sometimes how we got so good at lying?” asks Lacombe singer/songwriter Justine Vandergrift.

By “we” Vandergrift includes you and me — and everybody else in our “I’m fine (even though I’m not)” Western society.

Vandergrift’s song I Stand in Front of the Wrecking Ball takes apart the say-nothing social niceties that many of us repeat throughout the day and declares that “singing sweet songs” if you are a “wounded child soldier” doesn’t cut it at all.

“The song is about being real, being honest, about who we are and about how we are,” said Vandergrift.

She added that many people don’t want to lay their negative feelings on anyone. “We think it’s too heavy a burden . . . But in music we can be honest about these things.”

Vandergrift, who performs a fundraising concert Friday (July 8) at The Hub in Red Deer, tries to find the truth in everyday life experiences on her debut roots CD Yes Alright OK, that on first listen, is striking for its lyrical depth and mature style.

Central Alberta’s Juno Award-winning musician Bill Bourne, who does a blues-ey duet with Vandergrift on it, praises her as “a new artist . . . who immediately demands respect and attention.”

Yes Alright OK is already getting some, in the form of radio play from CKUA and CBC Radio 2, and has also received a great review in Sweden, where the 24-year-old singer is thinking about touring.

When asked about how she managed to achieve such a unique, veteran sound on her debut recording, Vandergrift chuckles and says a lot of people have asked her that. But Vandergrift actually began singing many years ago in Christian Reformed Churches at the age of 9 or 10 in Vernon, B.C., and later Lacombe.

Both of her parents were teachers. Her mother taught her the piano. Her dad, who performed in choirs, set the singing precedent in the family.

Vandergrift later played for audiences in university coffee shops and at benefit concerts.

By the time of her recent graduation from the University of Alberta with a degree in social science, “I’d been doing shows for four or five years without actually recording anything. I waited until I felt I was ready to go into the studio,” said the singer who felt the timing was right last April.

One of the deciding factors was finding producer Stew Kirkwood’s Sound Extractor Studio in Edmonton, which has “incredible equipment . . . I always wanted to go with a high-quality sound.”

Vandergrift, who’s still not sure whether her career path will lead her to the international development field someday, draws on her travels in developing countries, including Honduras, Kenya and Mexico, for song inspirations.

“People that I meet have taught me so much about the complexities of life and the world and the human condition.”

For instance, The Rubble is about how everything tends to go to pot if you don’t constantly work on improving it, she said. “From a North American perspective, it could mean broken situations — lives and jobs that are not as they should be.”

Garden Song contains a metaphor about burying love in a garden until it can bloom for the right person.

Vandergrift admitted she’s become jaded from all the weddings she’s attended over the past few years. “I think a lot of people are getting married blindly. They’re making commitments without waiting for anything better to come along,” said the singer, who doesn’t believe in settling for good enough.

In The Ballad of Analytical Lovers she uses “extreme metaphors” to describe those ephemeral romantic feelings most of us have a hard time putting into words.

“It’s a full-on love song,” said Vandergrift, whose tunes have been called post-modern because it’s often hard to pinpoint their exact meaning.

“Sometimes when I start out, I don’t even know what a song is going to be about,” she said — until the lyrics start flowing and the big picture forms in her head.

“I see music as a gift I can give other people by sharing my ideas and my thoughts, and a lot of stories I’ve heard.”

Tickets to the 7 p.m. concert are $10 from The Hub at 4936 Ross St. Five dollars from each ticket will go to the local Push for Nature Society, which works to make the outdoors more accessible to people with mobility challenges. For more information about the concert, call 403-340-4869.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com