Two years after her ground-breaking and critically lauded debut album Reflections, singer/songwriter Annie Sumi has taken her observations of humankind, the natural world and her own deeply poetic and delightfully revelatory imagination to concoct her second album, In the Unknown. It is a masterpiece of compositional elegance and lush, ethereal lyricism that, much like its predecessor is already generating rave reviews.
A short album launch tour is taking place throughout Ontario, with dates already completed in Toronto, her hometown of Guelph, Mattawa, her adopted hometown of North Bay and Ottawa, wrapping up with dates in Napanee on Oct. 26 at Ellena’s Café (part of the Starstop Concert Series), a special fundraising show back in Ottawa Oct. 29, wrapping up where her family now lives, Whitby, on Oct. 29 at Thornton Hall.
Although some of the material for In the Unknown was penned at different points over the past two years, there is a seamless emotional and spiritual thread the runs through all the songs, although it wasn’t necessarily a theme that necessarily came about through some grand design.
“It was quite a long process. For me, the writing just kind of happens as it happens. So some of those songs are up to a year and a half old – and the oldest song on the album I actually wrote about two years ago, but it seemed to fit in with the others that I wrote more recently and it has come to light now. When you’re not writing a collection of songs for the sake of writing a collection of songs, to find that common ground that allows for the album to be a whole piece of work, is definitely the goal,” Sumi explained.
“I think for me, when I listen to the album, I feel the songs are meant to inspire introspection and also inspire personal growth. And it brings people on this journey, this human journey that we’re on, in hopes that we can do better by each other, and better by our environment. That’s what the core of my writing really comes down to, I believe. I love stories, so many of my songs are stories. I collect stories from people or from personal experiences. But then often times when I go to write creatively about them they turn into an entirely new story. It’s like being inspired by a person and then creating a character who is like them. They are a bit skewed but based on real life situations.
“I find that singing and songwriting is a way of understanding myself sometimes. When something overwhelms me with emotion, it could be joy, it could be sadness, it could be total despair, then I just have to sing about it because it seems like the most natural way to understand how I am feeling in that situation.”
Although Sumi was born in and raised in Guelph, ON she moved to North Bay for her post-secondary education and also threw herself into the local music scene, honing both her performance skills and songwriting chops over those four years. Surrounded by the Boreal forest of the Near North, Sumi became even more rooted and connected to nature – a trait that fuels not just her artistry but guides her life. Even in casual conversation Sumi exudes stillness and a peaceful air, speaks in measured, thoughtful and upbeat tones. All of which is almost the antithesis to the fast talking, high stress, fact paced world around us all.
“For this album I was particularly feeling issues about the environment, especially feelings of connection to this divine feminine energy that was kind of feeling like it was being destroyed. It just felt like in many ways, the songs kind of took on the body of our earth, and the journey that we have kind of been a part of which is in many ways has been part of the destruction of the earth,” she explained.
“So I guess the songs, in some ways, they are like criticisms of myself or words to help me remember my own connection to the earth. And in other ways it’s just really trying to be a witness and observe this personification of earth, this beautiful feminine spirit, and trying to give hope and breathe hope into that creature.”
Certain songs on the new album are almost tactile in the way they are so thoroughly and deeply enmeshed with Sumi’s connection to and appreciation for the natural environment.
“I think that the song that is most to the point is In Everything. I wrote that song while I was spending some time on Lake Superior and it felt like that song just came through me. I felt like I didn’t even write that song. Another one that would be very specific to that theme would be Baby Blue. That song was inspired by some time I spent in South America, and I was learning about the migratory patterns of blue whales and how they have had to adapt based on the environmental changes that have happened over the last couple hundred years because of the fisheries,” she explained.
“The song speaks to the hope that we don’t go too far; that we don’t allow ourselves to reach a point where we are beckoning these beautiful things back into our lives. Because I know if we did reach that point, the whole world would notice how much we are missing the earth, how much we would miss all these beautiful things that we have been gifted.”
Sumi’s powerfully evocative imagery is at its most vivid on the song Eye of a Rose.
“That’s a fun one. A lot of the writing for that one was done one morning. I just kind of woke up out of a dream, and I was imagining this character. And the words are asking people to see the world through their heart. And I think if you can open the eyes of your heart you can see so much of the beauty that is surrounding us. It’s difficult, although I find children have this innate ability to see and somewhere through all the twists and turns of life, it gets more and more difficult to see with those eyes. And those eyes of the rose are really just the eyes of your heart and asking people to remember them,” she explained, whereas Get By sees a reflective Sumi examining what it means to make sacrifices and do things you don’t necessarily want to do, but have to do, in order to make your way through life.
“It was definitely based on a real character which took on an imaginative form. That one was very specific to someone I met when I was headed out west a few years back. He was actually going to go work in the tar sands out in Alberta and that was a hard thing for me to think of, realizing he had to leave his family behind to go be a part of something that he didn’t really want to be a part of it. It was the only job that he could find at the time. And I think it’s applicable to many things in life.”
Besides her burgeoning and critically-acclaimed solo career, Sumi is also ¼ of the folk group Hidden Roots Collective alongside singer/songwriters Brigitte Lebel, Rose-Erin Stokes and Holly Cunningham. The group’s debut album, Come Up, Honey, was released last year and helped garner the quartet a 2017 Canadian Folk Music Award nomination for Emerging Artist of the Year.
“That’s a hugely powerful collection. All four of us, all separate singer/songwriters just came together to support each other and it ended up turning into this amazing opportunity for us to create together. So far our existence as a band has been amazing. We have received so much support and love. We are taking a little bit of a break right now, but I am pretty confident that in 2018 we will be back at the creative process in anticipation of a new album,” Sumi said, making note of the fact that she will also be pushing forward at promoting In the Unknown far and wide.
“I really like the idea of continuing my path. I do want to pursue music but the only way that I feel I will be able to do it is if it continues to feel authentic to me. That is my plan. In the spring of 2018 I am hoping to do an entire international premiere which is amazing, and possibly my first Australian tour as well, which would be so much fun. I have big dreams for 2018, including hopefully Germany, Switzerland and Italy.”
In the interim before Sumi goes into what she jokingly calls her own form of winter hibernation, fans in Napanee, Ottawa and Whitby will get a chance to see Sumi perform songs from In the Unknown, Reflections and perhaps a few surprises.
For more information on the Napanee show, visit http://www.starstop.ca/annie-sumi
For the Whitby show, visit https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/annie-sumi-album-release-whitby-tickets-37980537811.
For more information on In the Unknown, and other upcoming Annie Sumi news and information, visit http://anniesumi.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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