Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Rheaume bags Stripes gig

Ottawa rocker is the hottest button to button

Credit: (Dubois Photography)

Singer-songwriter Amanda Rheaume kicked off a weekend-long tour playing to a packed house at Zaphod’s Jun 16 in support of her new album, If You Never Live. All the rockers who were left wanting more can get just that when she takes to the Bluesfest stage ahead of the White Stripes Jul 8.

“Ottawa was by far the highlight for sure,” says Rheaume of her three-date tour, which also stopped in Toronto and London.

“The band was awesome, everyone really put on their game face. The crowd was there to have a good time and that made all the difference. The high carried me through the weekend.”

Concert goers — gay and straight — mobbed the front of the stage and bobbed on the heels of their feet while flashing Rheaume the rock sign. The band played a seamless set, and Rheaume was at her best, commanding every note.

Rheaume answered their calls for more by playing two encores — the sexiest rendition of Black Sabbath’s “Crazy Train” ever performed and Neil Young’s “Keep On Rocking In The Free World.”

Rheaume has an undeniably powerful voice that fits perfectly with her self-written material, or any other song she chooses to perform. Like a light switch, Rheaume can go from a bright comforting harmony to a dark hard edge at the crowd’s request. This is something she admits she had to work at.

“I’ve spent a couple of years singing over a band, and playing almost every day of the week,” says Rheaume. “It’s had a lot of time to grow; it’s like a muscle, and the more you work it out the better it is. I just stopped being scared and was like, ‘I’m going to give’r, and really sing my heart out.'”

With lyrics as personal as Rheaume’s, her heart is definitely out there for all of us to see. Rheaume says she writes lyrics with the listener in mind.

“As an artist I’m just trying to connect with myself, and I think that it’s a lot easier for people to connect with me,” says Rheaume. “If I’m feeling what I’m singing and writing, right off the bat it makes it better for the listener. I could write a 10-minute song and babble and it could be an artistic endeavor, but I definitely always keep the listener in mind. All the experiences are true and honest. I think sometimes a lot of people are going through the same things and no one’s really talking about it.”

The title track of Rheaume’s new album discusses fear and life. Set against a calming melody, Rheaume says it is her favourite track.

“If fear stops you,” Rheaume says of the song, “It’s a lot easier to never try and do something because you’ll never fail at it. If you’re too scared to try then you’ll never know if you’ll fail at it. Then you don’t have to go through the whole failing emotion. It’s about overcoming fear and living life to the fullest.”

While she is full of life, friendly, attractive and humble, Rheaume’s career is a product of her talent and persistence. She began playing piano at age nine and switched to guitar at age 12, a natural transition. At 15, Rheaume wrote her first song titled “Red”, which remains a fan favourite to this day. Then in 1999 while backstage at Lilith Fair’s Toronto stop, Rheaume was personally invited by Sarah McLachlan and the Indigo Girls to join the ensemble on stage to perform Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.”

“That was when I really started to think this is what I wanted to do,” Rheaume said. “I really started taking it more seriously. Seeing those women so established and confident was really very good for me to see.”

Her first CD, Unraveling, released in 2003, contained a track titled “Piggyback” which was handpicked to be featured on a compilation of up-and-coming Aboriginal artists. And Rheaume acknowledges her native heritage, playing at the national Aboriginal Day concert three years running.

You might think an artist who is part native, gay and female might have a pigeonholed sound, but a listen to her music will definitely rebuke those thoughts.

“It’s a part of who I am. I don’t market myself that way but I don’t hide it, I’m not pretending to be straight,” says Rheaume.