Deadbeat & Camara Talk Religion and Cowboy Junkies

The duo recorded an album-length cover of the classic Trinity Session.

A shared love of the Cowboy Junkies’ classic Trinity Session brought producer Scott Monteith — aka Deadbeat — and musician Fatima Camara together for Trinity Thirty, a slowed-down, slightly creeped out tribute to the album. Since the original was famously recorded in a church, Scott and Fatima decided to have a conversation about their religious backgrounds. They met in April at a cafe in the sun.
—Josh Modell, Executive Editor, Talkhouse

Scott Monteith: I can remember when I was young, in the churches that my dad first ministered, both in Ontario and Quebec, a lot of the people that were going to church on Sunday mornings were living otherwise very isolated lives. So it was there, in church, that they felt part of a community. Even if they were alone the rest of the week at least they had that one day where they would go and see people and be in an environment where people cared about them at least enough to say “Hi.” How about you?

Fatima Camara: The community aspect of church was huge for me as well. It was mainly a Portuguese congregation, because in Cambridge, ON where I grew up, 30 percent of the population is Portuguese.

Scott: I had no idea. That’s crazy — 30 percent.

Fatima: It’s true and in that sense, the church was a central meeting place and basis of support for a lot of people in the community. The church was named Our Lady of Fatima. My mom was very active in it as well. She started a prayer group and was leading meetings weekly. We sometimes had huge gatherings at our house. I had to go to church every Sunday, and had to be in the choir and even read readings in Mass on Sundays. But your dad was a preacher?

Scott: Yeah, in the United Church, which is Protestant. If religion was gauged on a political spectrum, it’d be pretty socialist. They ordain gay and lesbian ministers, support gay marriage and a woman’s right to choose abortion, but they are also responsible for heinous crimes in the residential schools era just like all the other churches were in Canada. They certainly don’t have clean hands. But yeah, I was always involved with youth groups and, when I was in the Eastern townships in Quebec, doing youth weekends as well two times a year where different topics were addressed. There would be 50 kids sitting in a church or school basement discussing dreams or AIDS or whatever the topic might be.

Fatima: And how was the atmosphere of the church? Because in the Portuguese church, I remember it was intense and it was very… I think the Catholic church is very heavy anyway, but the brand that was being imported from Portugal was heavier than what was happening in the other Catholic churches I had been to. Especially when I was younger. It got lighter as time went on but as a child, I remember there was an incredible heaviness everywhere.

Scott: I can totally identify with that difference, remembering the funerals and baptisms that I’ve been to from Catholic families and friends. I remember being really shocked at the gravity of Catholic ritual because my experience of church was very light in comparison. I remember for a number of years there was always one part of the service when my dad was ministering where he would come down from behind the pulpit and sit on the steps and all the kids would come and sit with him at the front. It was very free, and they were encouraged to behave however they were in the moment. The polar opposite of what one would expect from church of the old school. Very loving, very inclusive, and very unfocused on sin — really much more celebratory. I guess these things really depend on the church and who is leading it actually, and that comes sharply into focus with the music involved. While neither is necessarily better, the inspired skipping piano figures of a young parishioner who wants to share music with their newfound congregation can be just as inspiring as the fire and brimstone heaviness of an old choir director pounding out ancient hymns on an organ that hasn’t been serviced in decades.

Fatima: It was also different from congregation to congregation in my experience. The other local church had a full band. We tended to have an organ and a choir with a mix of English and Portuguese singing.

Scott: It’s funny, but I think in retrospect, I connect with the feel-good-lighter-gospel stuff, and particularly thinking about experiences with youth ministry, all of the call-and-response stuff that we did at camp and with the youth group was a lot of fun.

Fatima: We also sang a lot of call-and-response songs.  

Scott: But I also think aesthetically all of the really fucking heavy traditional, funeral dirge stuff has aspects I’m really drawn to. In terms of the heaviocity of it all — like in production and writing music. I’ve really grown to appreciate it more and more over the years. That heaviness or that weight of eternal damnation.

Fatima: Yes, but all of that heaviness with this underlying sense of hope and optimism which was there even when the Priest was singing in Latin. I think that’s something that music-wise is still there for me in my work. Darkness with an underlying optimism.

Scott: It’s interesting because I think that’s why I sometimes turn my nose up to so much of the dark techno that has fallen into fashion in the last few years. I guess not just techno, but a dark turn that electronic music has taken generally in the last few years. I think at a root level it lacks that hopefulness underneath that traditional religious music holds. Darkness as an aesthetic device on its own is pretty empty really without some juxtaposition.

Fatima: When I was first making music, I kept trying to make feel-good dance music for dance floors and I couldn’t do it. What kept coming out was very slow and heavy. The first album is reflective of that I think. Even now with my singing. People have said it sounds like church singing. In the end, it’s also probably because of my limited experience.

Scott: I think that’s interesting as the heaviness of religious music always has this underlying hope or optimism.  When looking at the Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Session, which is also a very churchy sounding record in many ways, beyond the fact that the original was physically recorded in a church and the sound of the church is so prominent. But also, of course, due to all of the traditional old country folk songs they covered, as well as their originals. They all have this very country, churchy feel about them. Of course, we did our version by very different means — with synthesizers and a lot of processing in the box — but I think that there’s still that church-like element.

Fatima: I’m sure there’s a reason why we both love the original, we both share that same aesthetic preference and it would come out whether we wanted it to or not. I mean, our original intention was to produce a very electronic cover version, but in the end, that didn’t happen at all to the extent that we had anticipated.

Scott: Even in terms of the technical side of things. Decisions like slowing everything down as much as we possibly could reflects these very heavy Presbyterian fire-and-brimstone hymns that were all very slow where you would meditate on the individual words to really hammer them into your soul. I think that also comes through philosophically in our having played all the instruments even if we weren’t technically skilled in doing so. It was all hard work and penance.  I mean, I certainly don’t consider myself to be a very good instrumentalist, but there was something very sort of needle-and-thread, DIY about the way we created every aspect of the album with your own hands.

Fatima: The way we treated the vocals in addition to that, using so many layers. It’s very choral.

Scott: Of course, Coaimhe, was like a full choir in her own right with her back-up vocals. She really brought a very traditional Irish folk quality with her.

Fatima: Actually, during the recording she would often ask if it was too much. Our harmonies definitely reflect that.

Scott: In many ways our own amateur singing has a lot of commonality to small church choirs. Well not Caoimhe, who was our harmony consultant. But when you think about how there often is the choir leader who’s generally a really good musician and singer putting things together and then you’ve got the old croakers who are not pros but there because they love it and having tea and cookies with the other people from the church a couple times a week.

Fatima: Or a bunch of kids who are forced to be there because their parents won’t let them do anything else after school. But I guess we’re more like the old croakers in that scenario.

Scott: And may we continue to be happy old croakers for many years to come.

(Photo Credit: Kieran Behan)

Deadbeat (Scott Monteith) and Camara (Fatima Camara) are Canadian musicians/producers who are based in Berlin. Their collaborative album Trinity Thirty is out on 26 April via Constellation.