Debra-Jean Creelman has figured out her own perfect recipe for music making; “When I’m giving voice to my vulnerability, that’s when the magic arrives. I’ve been re-learning how to trust my instincts, and so far I’m being shown that they’re good. I’m a singer first and foremost and now I’m leaning into, and not apologizing for, that strength. I used to feel lesser because I didn’t play all the instruments and arrange all the songs, but I’ve grown to realize that the skill set I have is good enough.”
On Threshold, her newest album out July 16 2021, Debra-Jean has surrounded herself with a supportive cast of creatives who make her feel her most free. “I’ve been fortunate to get to know so many amazing artists over the past two decades. Looking back, I can see that I was sort of subconsciously taking note of who I wanted to work with in the future”.
Her main collaborator on Threshold is Joseph Hirabiyashi (Jo Passed), a fellow Vancouver Community College music school alumni who produced, engineered, and mixed the album. Circumstance led Jo to have a hand in her first solo demos back in 2013 (helmed by the virtuosic Jesse Zubot) when she traded him vocal lessons for recording time. So, she was well aware of Jo’s multi-faceted abilities when she enlisted his help in asking his parents, prominent Butoh dancers Barbara Bourget and Jay Hirabayashi, to perform in music videos for her 2019 release Triggers & Mirrors. The family operates KW Studios, a multipurpose space in the Woodward’s Heritage building that Debra-Jean now feels is her creative home, and where Threshold was recorded. Again, her intuition organically leading her in the right direction.
The album heavily features string arrangements from Hirabiyashi, James Meger (bassist/co-producer), the Zubot brothers Jesse and Josh, along with performances by long-time friends Molly Guldemond (Mother Mother), Louise Burns, and Peggy Lee (Cello). But the focal point is unapologetically Debra-Jean’s voice. Her vision on this project was to use the vocals as bed tracks, and strings as the predominant harmonic foundation of the recordings.
It would be remiss to not talk about the history and influence of one of Debra-Jean’s first projects, the incomparable indie-rock misfits Mother Mother who have recently found themselves with a multitude of new fans thanks to TikTok. Interestingly, it is their earliest songs that seem to have caught fire, of which Creelman was an integral part of along with the Guldemond siblings, Ryan and Molly. Together with producer Howard Redekopp they recorded the independently released Mother, and after signing to Last Gang Records, Touch Up and O My Heart. Having also connected in music school, their music didn’t quite fit into the pre-streaming top 40 radio categories of the day, yet it seems the world has caught up. “Ryan’s songwriting might have been a bit ahead of its time….” Debra-Jean ponders, “but now those tunes have found a new life and that makes me very happy. There was something so potent and magical about that early stuff. Mother Mother has worked their asses off, and deserve everything that is happening. It gives me goosebumps to feel that rebirth.” There is a beautiful synergy to Creelman’s sense of finally being back in touch with her instincts as the universe once again shows her that the connection she creates when using her voice from that soulful place is undeniable. The makings of those early Mother Mother recordings found Debra-Jean and her cohorts so innocent and fresh that they weren’t yet playing from anyone else’s rulebook, and the full-circle creation of Threshold sees her coming from that same place.
Threshold is a body of work on the brink of catharsis. While Triggers & Mirrors was created in the immediacy of grief and held the confusion and upheaval of a “crash course in mortality”, Threshold finds Debra-Jean delving into the deeper truths of the human experience, on a steadfast path towards light and release.