Creative Space is a series where we explore the relationships between physical and temporal space and how those relate to an artist’s creative process.
Recently, we had the pleasure of speaking with Toronto-based artist Caitlin Woelfle-O’Brien about the making of her debut self-titled Blunt Chunks EP. We talked with Caitlin about her creative spaces past and present and all the places that helped move her from heartbreak through writing and recording this album; read on for the full conversation.
Slumber: Can you describe some of the places you wrote or recorded this EP?
Caitlin Woelfle-O’Brien: We recorded some of the tracks at the (now defunct) Trailer Studios in the East End of Toronto, very close to where I grew up. My mom came by halfway through the day with homemade muffins and snacks. It was really important to record these songs there because my old friend Aaron Comeau ran the studio and it was set to be demolished for condos later that year. It was the coolest trailer, set up like a little cottage. We were the very last official recording session. It was a unique experience that I will never forget. A lot of musicians I know and love had recorded there over the 5 years the studio was running. It was my very first time recording my own music as well.
The majority of the EP was recorded at David Plowman’s Patchwork Studios, also in the East End of Toronto. I was born and raised in the east end and it made so much sense to me to have this all come together so close to home. David’s studio is in a basement, and it’s got a sort of bunker feeling, but it’s very casual and comfy. We had David’s pug George supervising every session, approving the mixes, etc. It was all a real friendly and cozy vibe.
“More abstractly, I associate intimate spaces I was completely alone in with this record. Spaces that I am grateful were there for me so I could explore, and really feel, my emotions.”
Slumber: Are there any spaces that you associate with the writing of any of these songs on the EP?
Caitlin: “Part of Me, Going Back”: Written in 2019 in my small bedroom I was renting in the west-end of Toronto.
“Body Rush”: Written in 2013 in an office converted to a bedroom in St. John’s Newfoundland that I would stay at when I visited family. The office had once been used for my Father’s NGO “Ocean Net” in the 90’s. I remember hanging out with his secretary there many times. It was a safe place but a bit creepy. There’s this huge iron door to a vault in the room that was once used for a jewelry company that occupied the building in the early 20th century.
“BWFW”: Written in an artist loft in Berlin in 2019 right after my friend had given a drum lesson to another friend. I was inspired because it was all a very queer/grunge/diy environment.
“Natural Actors”: Written on my tiny kitchen table in the morning, in my tiny 1 bedroom apartment I shared with my boyfriend in Hamilton Ontario, in 2016.
More abstractly, I associate intimate spaces I was completely alone in with this record. Spaces that I am grateful were there for me so I could explore, and really feel, my emotions. Spaces that gave me time and silence to write in. I also associate certain parks and bars in Berlin. I associate plane travel with “Going Back”, as I literally was “crying all the way” on the traumatic plane ride home, lol.
I associate Vienna with “Part of Me”, and the huge art museums. I associate my friends showing me love when I didn’t expect them to, especially one moment I had with an ex-lover in Sorauren Park in Toronto, as he helped me to my feet after a long talk over coffee. I associate springtime at Trinity Bellwoods park in Toronto for “Body Rush”.
I wrote “Natural Actors” the morning after I went to The Ex in Toronto, that’s where the cotton candy came from. Jackson Square in Hamilton also comes up for me with “Natural Actors”, I did all my grocery shopping there at the time (where I bought the wine, too). The east end of Toronto will always be associated with these songs too. Shouts out to anyone from Scarborough to Cabbagetown lol.
Slumber: When you sing about “Going Back”, do you have a place or time in mind?
Caitlin: Yes, specifically to a lover in Berlin who was not very good for me at the time. That was around 2018. More generally, going back to toxic or dead-end relationships because of the need for love and intimacy.
Slumber: In general, do you write in the same place or room or does the location vary?
Caitlin: Location always varies! It’s random, and aside from the occasional writing burst, it’s not one consistent place or time. Basically always in private places though; bedrooms, odd moments caught alone. Intimate/spiritually-safe spaces. Usually ON my bed.
Slumber: Is your current space dedicated to your practice? Or is it an area you use for other things as well?
Caitlin: Currently my creative space is my bedroom. I prefer to have a different space for creative work but the cost of rent is a problem.
Slumber: Are there any objects that you need present in a creative space in order to work?
Caitlin: Plants are nice, good lighting, a notebook, and whichever instrument I’m playing, but other than those things, I would say just a cozy space on the floor is good enough for me.
Slumber: What is more conducive to creative writing for you, a small intimate space or a larger space with more room to move and work with?
Caitlin: I love both. You can really create magic in any size of space, I used to jam and write in a closet. Larger rooms however, I think give expansive performative-quality possibilities, and are great for playing and moving/dancing. Intimate places are where I can get really into the depths of my pain and emotional stuff. I think it really depends on where I’m at spiritually and emotionally. If I’m going through a heavy heartbreak, I’ll likely be writing and recording demos in my bedroom. For a while I was driving around a lot and would write little songs in my head and record them to voice-memo, while driving! I also write while I’m taking the bus or streetcar. The muse can visit anytime and anywhere!
“You can really create magic in any size of space, I used to jam and write in a closet... intimate places are where I can get really into the depths of my pain and emotional stuff. I think it really depends on where I’m at spiritually and emotionally.”
Slumber: Do you prefer your creative spaces to be clean and orderly or more wild and messy?
Caitlin: I prefer my bedroom to be relatively tidy but honestly this idea that things need to be “clean” to be creative is just some kind of OCD thing. If I am truly tapped in, it shouldn’t matter if I’ve done the dishes or put my laundry away. In fact, I think being able to create in messy spaces or any space really, is a show of creative resiliency. So I’m happy to be creating in mess or order, it’s all part of it. I think I’m inherently kind of a messy person anyway, no matter how hard I try, my environment is always a bit unkempt.
Slumber: Would you describe your writing process as precise and methodical or organic and free flowing?
Caitlin: I would say my writing process is organic. I never know when a song is coming. I can write in my to-do list “play music today”, “practice”, “jam” everyday, but never touch an instrument. Then one day something will trigger my emotional depths and I won’t be able to put the guitar down. I don’t know if I’ve ever been methodical or precise with my songwriting, in fact that idea makes me laugh because I might be the exact opposite.
Slumber: Is there a time of day that you prefer for writing?
Caitlin: Again, it’s random. However, I assume I write most of my songs in the afternoon or evening.
Slumber: If the Blunt Chunks EP was a time of day, what time of day would it be?
Caitlin: The late afternoon, when you’re kinda buzzing around aimlessly, wanting to take a nap.
Slumber: What is your favorite object in your current creative space?
Caitlin: A really nice digital piano that my friend loaned me.
Slumber: Do you set your space up in any particular way before sitting down to write or record?
Caitlin: When it comes to setting up a desk, it’s gotta have the right feng shui, and it’s nice to have a view of the outdoors. When I write a song, it usually happens out of the blue, so I don’t have time to set anything up. I usually just grab my guitar or sit at whatever gear I have set up and record into voice-memo on my phone. If I’m being serious or more professional about recording, I have things set-up properly and as organized as possible, but that has more to do with some kind of OCD than anything.
Slumber: Do you have any rituals before creating?
Caitlin: I’ve spent a long time figuring this one out. I think my best ritual is to move my energy physically first. Go for a vigorous walk, or exercise. Ideally go outside and jump around or DANCE! I come from a background of contemporary and ballet dance, and I know it’s still very important for me to get that energy out before I can sit down and pour my soul into song. Although, sometimes I smoke weed and stretch, sometimes I just wake up and drink a lot of coffee and write. Sometimes I like to dress up really crazy, in a costume or something that makes me feel like I’m going on stage. It helps me get into the mood. It really depends on the day.
Slumber: What does your creative space smell like?
Caitlin: Probably just like… me?
Slumbe: Would you describe the EP, or the making of process, as having a specific color, texture or flavor?
Caitlin: Gold, brown, red, navy blue, dark gray, smokey, fresh air, COTTON CANDY, RED WINE, COFFEE!!
Slumber: Are there any physical objects you associate with the writing of this EP?
Caitlin: This is cliche, but an acoustic guitar.
Slumber: Of all the spaces that you wrote or recorded any of the songs of this EP, do you have a favorite?
Caitlin: They are all truly equal to me. All served a divine purpose in my life at the right time I needed them. Each room nurtured and held me through the pain of heartache. I can remember each one clearly.
Blunt Chunks’ debut EP is out now on Telephone Explosion Records: