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Noisey

Joanne Pollock's "River Flood" Video Captures the Lonely Magic of Prairie Winters

Never forget that Winnipeg can get colder than Mars.

by Matt Williams
Dec 7 2016, 2:56pm

It's not very common to make the move from the bustling big city atmosphere of Toronto to the secluded Prairie outpost of Winnipeg. Usually musicians flock to Toronto from all over the country in an effort to "make it" (whatever that means), but, with the world becoming more interconnected by the nanosecond, some are realizing they can trade the old school access of industry centres for low rent, creative freedom, and increasingly precious time and space. Electronic musician Joanne Pollock is one such artist who came to that realization after spending almost a decade in the Big Smoke. After a spat of bad apartment situations with landlords making up excuses to kick her and her roommates out the door, Pollock's collaborator and Poemss bandmate Aaron Funk suggested she come live with him for a while. Now she pays hideously low rent and is able to create constantly.

Over the phone, Pollock described living in Winnipeg as "a fairytale," something that I as a native Winnipegger have never heard anyone, from anywhere, say ever. Even Funk released an oft-misunderstood album under his Venetian Snares moniker called Winnipeg Is a Frozen Shithole in 2005. Pollock's newest track, "River Flood," captures her initial feelings about the city, holed up in Funk's basement studio crafting tunes and mostly staying out of the extreme winter weather because she "would literally freeze" (not an exaggeration—many people know Winnipeg as the place that was "colder than Mars" a few years ago). The video features Pollock walking around the River City's winter wonderland on the banks of the Assiniboine River and floating solo through an old party mansion that most city kids born after 1960 have gotten wasted in. It's serene, peaceful, hypnotizing, and hooky, and it conjures the deep isolation of Prairie winters—often lonesome, always magic.

Noisey: How does "River Flood" capture the feelings you had about Winnipeg when you first spent time there?
Joanne Pollock: When I first spent time here, the first year I was here I lived a pretty insulated experience. So I feel like my thoughts and feelings about this place were entirely based on being in Aaron's house. And then if we had to go to the grocery store or if I went on a walk, it just being the most freezing cold temperatures I had ever experienced. It's pretty much like, my first experience with -40 was my experience with Winnipeg. And also working on the Poemss album, because the first time I came here we started working on our first song. So my feelings about Winnipeg were completely entwined with working on that album and it just felt like this really cozy, special, amazing place because Aaron has an amazing studio and so much equipment I'd never seen before even though we worked in the same program, so we were able to communicate really well in that way. There's just all these amazing synthesizers, and getting to watch him work and getting to work with him was unbelievable. I feel like the song is just this insular, cozy kinda song, and that's exactly what my experience of the city was, pretty much for the entire first year I was here.

A lot of Winnipeg artists talk about how the brutal winters are perfect for creating—having all this time and finding things to do with themselves. Have you felt like that since living there?
Absolutely. I think it's not only the brutal winters, but I guess because of the brutal winters and the fact it's so isolated, it's so cheap. So I can go down to working two days a week, and I have a lot of friends who work four days a week or three days a week, and can live really well just doing that, and then work on music. If there were brutal winters, and it was expensive and I had to work six days a week, I don't think I'd feel like, "wow, it's so easy to be creative in the winter time!" I think it's this really awesome combination of like, it hurts to go outside, and you can have this great life working not nearly as much as you'd have to in any other place. I don't know that many people who pay more than $400 in rent. So you can just have this sweet artist life and it's kind of a bit of a fairytale.

It gets cold in Toronto too, and [in Winnipeg] you don't have to work that hard and you get to have a nice place and do your artist thing. So I think if you're somebody who's able to generate your own entertainment with your own mind by making stuff and being creative, then the cold winters are really not bad at all.

What made you choose the old party mansion for the video?
I'm a huge fan of old buildings, I just think they're super gorgeous. I started realizing when I talked to people that they'd ask, "you're gonna film there? What're you gonna film there?" They were kinda bewildered because it's so rundown and known as the party house. But I was like, "man, this house is amazing, what're you talking about?" And they'd say they'd filmed in there but it was always party scenes. I was like, "what're you thinking?! This house is a structural masterpiece!" It's also almost falling down, but who cares? The second I walked into that room with all the plants, I was like, "this is amazing and I can't believe more people aren't taking advantage." The more people I talked to who were like, "why would you do that?" the more I was like, "yes." I was really excited about doing something that's unexpected from all of the people that know the place. I felt like because I was a stranger to the city, I could have this totally different perspective that is part of the fabric of the city, and show people it was this beautiful thing they'd always overlooked.

Matt Williams loves Winnipeg, but he's stuck in Toronto for now. Follow him on Twitter.