The best part of breaking up

Ila Barker sublimates heartache into her heroic first full-length

Barker’s latest album is fueled by heartbreak and her experiences on the land. (Supplied photo)

From gorging on ice cream to a rebound with an old flame, everyone has their preferred consolation when love goes sour. For Winnipeg musician Ila Barker, it’s something a bit more productive.

“Literally, I was packing my bags, and I said, ‘Okay, here’s the record. I feel that it’s coming. I don’t know what the heck I’m going to do, but these are going to be some good songs,’” Barker says.

And thus, her forthcoming LP Fool Under Water was born.

Emboldened by the experience of healing after ending an abusive relationship, Barker started work on her first major release since her self-titled EP in 2013.

“I was literally a child when my first record came out … there’s been a lot of growing,” Barker says.

The concept for the titular track came out of an impromptu jam session with good friend and fellow singer-songwriter Hera Nalam, who shares co-writing credits for “Fool Under Water” as well as the pre-order bonus track “Girl I See You.”

“I had a guitar in my lap, and she was telling me about some stuff she was going through, and I ended up singing back the things that she was saying to me, and that birthed the song ‘Fool Under Water,’” Barker says.

The two singles released thus far, “Intuition” and “25,” have both made a splash with the former hitting No. 1 on the Indigenous Music Countdown and the latter’s music video receiving an exclusive premiere on Entertainment Tonight Canada. The cuts are emblematic of the project’s unique folk-soul hybrid sound.

Barker cites an unorthodox, non-musical influence on the album.

“The land! One of my biggest inspirations is the land and nature and water. I know that when I’m feeling creatively stagnant, I have to go be by water. I have to go touch the earth. That’s a really big piece of my identity,” she says.

Production on the album is handled by multi-instrumentalist Rusty Matyas and musician/artist Sierra Noble, the latter of whom strove for a hands-off approach in the interest of intimacy.

“I’m much less keen to tell someone what to play or tell someone how to sing something than to go on the emotional and psychological ride with them of getting there and getting them there on their own,” Noble says.

“Strong emotionality was really at the core of it. I’m just giving her a landscape to emote and let all of those feelings out through her awesome vocals.”

Despite the traumatic circumstances surrounding the project’s origins, Barker hopes it can be a beacon of both positive and negative feelings.

“At the end of the day, my most desired outcome is that I make you feel something. Let’s laugh together. Let’s cry together. Let’s experience all of the pieces that life has to offer,” Barker says. “Let’s live life and have a moment for that in song.”

Fool Under Water launches on Oct. 28, with a release party at The Good Will Social Club on Oct. 21.

Published in Volume 77, Number 06 of The Uniter (October 20, 2022)

Related Reads