Singer-songwriter Andrea Ramolo is reaching deep into human connection, loneliness, and vulnerability with the release of her stunning new video “DUST” from her forthcoming record Quarantine Dream. Exploring the hunger for human connection, and an acceptance that we are all carrying our own demons, “DUST” reminds us to meet others and ourselves with radical love and compassion. Choreographed by National Ballet of Canada and Red Sky Performance’s Jera Wolfe, the video is a beautiful visual piece portraying the intricacies of relationships with ourselves and others.
Written in isolation, “DUST” is a song about human connection and toxic attachment. How did it feel writing a song about connection while in isolation, disconnected from others?
Well the experience that led to the writing of the song happened late into the first summer of the pandemic when restrictions in Toronto had loosened slightly. And so I was able to connect with another human… just one… and ever so briefly. But I think the experience was heightened which evidently inspired a piece of music. I felt this immense sense of hunger to connect with another human… to be held and seen and loved for a moment and that hunger was also met with a lot of trepidation because this pandemic has energetically separated us and I think I grew some walls to protect myself over the months of grappling with this all alone. At times I thought my loneliness would swallow me up and that I’d just disappear so this encounter reminded me of my humanity and reminded me that we do need each other… us humans… with all of our wounds and scars and shadows. We all have them and they are a part of us.
The track describes an intense relationship fuelled by loneliness, which can oftentimes lead to toxic attachment. I think many of us have found ourselves in relationships or friendships like this. How did writing this song help you work through the emotions that can come out of these types of relationships?
The song is about how we are mirrors for one another in this life. I don’t really believe that we cross each other’s paths by chance. I think we are meant to dance with the people that we dance with in this life and that they are here to teach us about ourselves and about compassion. Writing the song helped affirm for me that essentially we are all one and the same, even though our traumas and baggage and shadow selves might take on different forms. I am you and you are me. Aspects of this person terrified me but when I looked closer with compassion, it became clear to me that radical acceptance of ourselves and others is where I’d like to aspire to live from and love from. Writing this song took me on a journey to understanding that more. To not live in fear. To meet people where they are and to never hold judgment. I think judgment comes out of fear. So writing and singing the song helped me process the interaction and these understandings. I like to think that my idea of love has expanded during the pandemic even throughout the harsh loneliness.
The choreography in the video beautifully represents the themes of a toxic connection. What was your favourite part of working with National Ballet dancer Jera Wolfe and choreographer Shawn Bracke to create this piece?
The whole process was beyond thrilling. I have never been a part of something so inspired where everyone involved was so deeply connected to director Nikki Ormerod’s vision and to the soul of the song. Shawn’s choreography was brilliant and imagistic and really illustrated the entanglement and the push and pull between the two characters. And working with Jera Wolfe was a dream. He’s such a star and such a lovely human being and beyond that he is such a beautiful dancer. There were moments when I had to slap myself in the face because I couldn’t believe I was being given this opportunity to dance alongside of him. It’s been a childhood dream to partake in partnered choreography like this. My favourite moments beyond getting to know both Shawn and Jera in the two-day rehearsal period were the moments where we were physically entangled in one another. I felt so physically and emotionally supported in Jera’s arms and as a dancer who hasn’t danced in ages, he really provided me with that safety and therefore freedom to really explore my body alongside his.
You’ve said that the song is about “…the acceptance that we are truly mirrors for one another in this life. We all have our poison, which must be embraced without judgement. And we all need love.” How do you think we can offer more compassion and love to one another, especially as we begin to come out of isolation?
As someone who is practicing radical self-love and acceptance to be able to carry that into my relationship with others, I really think in order to feel more compassion we need to start shifting how we view ourselves in relation to others. We need to start to deconstruct very limiting ideas that have been born out of patriarchy and colonialism which work to separate humans… not connect us. These notions of “other” and of hierarchy and of power and control do not leave space for true human compassion and connectivity so we need to destroy these structures. We need to be responsible for each other and gentle and kind to one another. I’m so tired of this rat-race of self-improvement and success. I just want to spend the rest of my time on this earth lifting people up and sharing and connecting. There’s a song on the upcoming record called “Free” featuring Kinnie Starr who co-wrote it with me and Hill Kourkoutis and we sing “We can’t be free ‘cuz we’re not all free” and it’s true. When we start thinking as a collective and start tearing down walls that have kept certain people down for so long, that is true compassion. To be able to step up and fight for the good and well-being of all people. And so as we emerge from isolation, I would say keep your hearts and minds wide open, lead with love, and be gentle with yourselves and with others. It’s been a heck of a time!
The visuals for “DUST” are breathtaking – what were some of the visual inspirations for this video?
Thank you. Nikki Ormerod had a brilliant vision inspired by the song that she brought to life. We both knew we wanted “DUST” to be a dance and at our first production meeting she shared the most incredible storyboard vision with images of dancers surrounded by explosive dust, serpents, various cloaked characters, and various couples being tied together and constricted. Some of my favourite vignettes are when mine and Jera’s heads and legs are tied together with rope. Those moments for me really captured the essence of the song and of attachment. That idea was loosely based upon some performance art work that Marina Abramović did with her then partner Ulay. They have this one photograph where their hair is tied together but they are facing away from each other. I believe it was called ‘Relation in Time’ and took place somewhere in Italy where they were stuck together for 17 hours. We definitely wanted to illustrate this theme of being attached to someone, and those moments when mine and Jera’s faces were so closely tied together and I could feel his breath on me where even if we got uncomfortable, we couldn’t disconnect, was our version of that. But we also wanted to explore the ‘dance’ of relationships that teeter on that fine line between connection and toxicity. The push and pull all came to life through Shawn’s choreography. The moths glued overtop of Jera’s eyes of course represent our blindness to perhaps ourselves and also the world around us. Our blindness even toward love. And the snake represents the poison and the addictions that we all have even if they don’t look the same on the outside. I love this video so much. Nikki truly created a gothic mini-opera.
You worked with long-time friend Nikki Ormerod as the director for this video. What made you decide to work with Nikki on this particular video?
I met Nikki back in 2009 I believe and she shot the cover for my second record called The Shadows and the Cracks at The Tragically Hip’s barn out in Bath, Ontario. We became instant friends and worked together mostly in the medium of photography for years. But Nikki started to evolve as a film director. I saw a short piece she did and was blown away by the raw imagery. It was oozing with humanity. When the pandemic first hit, we were communicating and we simply wanted to make some art together and then this experience happened and the song came out of it and I approached Nikki with actually a few choices of songs off the record asking if she’d like to direct a music video for me. She instantly chose “DUST” and said that it spoke to her and evidently the world of the song already existed in her brilliant mind, so we worked for months planning and prepping and I am beyond thrilled with the final production. She’s doing some really exciting work and recently shot a piece for Rupi Kaur which debuted on the Jimmy Fallon show. I completely trust her as a visionary and can’t wait to work with her again. I also made a conscious effort to hire women in leadership roles as opposed to men for this record and all productions affiliated with it because this industry has been a ‘man’s world’ for way too long.
Dance was your initial foray into music. How has your training as a dancer informed your songwriting?
Well it definitely gave me a strong and eclectic basis from which I appreciate music. I grew up tap dancing to jazz music, doing ballet to classical and baroque, dancing modern and contemporary forms to ballads and gospel music and folk and country. And then there was hip hop to rap and R’n’B and jazz dancing to funk and Motown and pop. So all of that lives in me and comes out in my work to some degree. Also as a dancer, I respond to music through my entire body and soul. So music for me is a truly visceral experience and I write trying to bring to life this visceral experience through words and melody. I also think a lot in rhythms and you can probably hear a lot of my phrasing impacted by syncopated rhythms. I’m grateful that I got to explore music through my body first because as I got older I was able to invite my heart and my mind and my tongue into the process of creating my own music.
What can listeners expect from your upcoming album Quarantine Dream?
The record is my favourite to date. The collection of songs definitely represents this time in the world’s history where all of a sudden everything stopped. And in slowing down and being forced to be alone with ourselves, we had the time to see it all and finally take in some truths we maybe missed along the way because we were so busy trying to keep up. The record is about extremes and about dreams. About extreme fear and loneliness and extreme hope for a better tomorrow. It explores the dreams we like to have and maybe also the nightmares that find their way into our beds. Themes of loneliness and freedom, human rights and violence, time and the environment, growing older and being a childless woman, longing for others and even wanting to disappear all show up on this record. I hope people will listen. We can’t change the world without dreams and these are some of mine.
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