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A Short Conversation with Debra DeMuth of Opal Canyon

2 February 2022

As always, can we start with a bit of background, how did the band come about and what are the individual musical paths that have each of you to where we find you today?

Debra: We wanted to create a place where people could find escape through music. A dreamy, majestic soundscape that could bring comfort, joy and solace. Opal Canyon was inspired by both the open skies of the sea and the desert. A place that brought those opposing elements together in harmony. Musically, Dave (Houghton) and I have varied backgrounds and together it creates its own sound and synergy. We are backed by a very talented and experienced group of musicians who all add their own dynamic energy and do what’s uniquely suited for the song.

Even though the music you make is understated and spacious, there are clear styles to be heard, folk, country, soul, cinematic…what are some of the influences that you draw on, musical and otherwise?

Debra: As writers we look to tell a story, to share an experience, to make a connection. I was a writer before a musician so at my core is the need to use words to share and evoke emotion. So, I love that you hear a cinematic element to the tunes. I do look to move people to a place and a time. As far as musical influences, there is so much I can say. From Francois Hardy to Loretta Lynn, Joni Mitchell to PJ Harvey. But I also look to nature for inspiration as well as what is happening around us culturally.

As you, yourselves, admit, there is a clear line drawn between Opal Canyon and the Laurel Canyon sound, was this a conscious decision and what is it about that sound and scene that you admire?

Debra: I think the pull towards the Laurel Canyon sound is in the communal sense of the music. It was a happening and it was supportive and relevant. Opal Canyon formed first with Dave and me but then we pulled in musicians we love and respect. When we play live we always have these moments where we wish we could go on pause to watch each other play. Just pop out for a minute and be in the audience as an admirer and fan. We support one another and respect one another. I think it comes through in the music. And, I feel that the writing resonates with the times.

It was great to hear your take on R.E.M.’s (Don’t Go Back to) Rockville, so why did you choose that song to cover rather than perhaps something more ’70s and Californian?

Debra: R.E.M. was a game-changer for me musically. In the era of Loverboy and The Gap Band came Michael Stipe and R.E.M. I found it so refreshing. I was a DJ at my high school radio station (shout out to WKHR, 88.3fm), my brother had just gone to college and he called me to say, you have to play this band. He sent me a copy of R.E.M. Reckoning. It is still one of my favorite albums and Rockville’s alt-country twang is a home run for Opal Canyon.

For Debra, in particular, the songs come from a very intimate place, what is the message that you hope that others will pick up on in the music and the lyrics?

Debra: On a macro-level, the message I hope to convey is that expression is healing. With music, writing it, singing it, listening to it can be transformative. It has been for me and I wish to share that gift with others. On a micro-level, each song conveys an experience and emotion that others can connect to; while I write from a personal place, the emotions expressed are about our shared humanness.

If Beauty and Loss is the album that established the band, what do you think that the new album represents in terms of where the band has gone since that impressive debut?

Debra: The first album was about establishing us as a band. We recorded it mostly live with an excellent engineer, Justin Pizoferrato. We wanted the record to feel like you were with us live and in the moment. This record, Tomorrow to the Sea, is more attuned to the song; its melody and vocals and the space between those elements. We focussed more on the layering of sounds and letting the songs be expansive and open. Our producer, Jon Evans, helped us shape the record in that direction. He was very attuned to having each musical part be about what is best for the song.

How hard was it making an album with the isolation and restrictions that Covid ushered in?

Debra: There were really tough parts such as not having the whole band together. But the unexpected result was the evolution of the sound. We were fortunate to have our drummer, Jason Smith, with us for most of the songs. Our lead guitarist, Bob Hennessy, added tracks remotely but our bass player, Ray Mason, was unable to join in. Fortunately, Jon Evans can play just about anything like a ninja. And Ray is ready for our live gigs.

And finally, where next for Opal Canyon as a band and you all as individuals?

We will keep writing, keep evolving and we are excited to get out and play these new songs.

Thank you for taking the time to talk with me and best of luck with the new album release and everything else.