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Vanesse Dee and the Brightsides Embrace the Heartache

These lonesome rebels make country music for outlaws, misfits, and the misunderstoods.

by David Gariepy

Photo by Victoria Black

In a dimly lit Wise Hall Lounge at a table covered with chipped black paint, I’m sitting across from self-described “outlaw woman” Vanesssa Dandurand. The basement bar in East Vancouver is an appropriate setting to discuss her debut country music EP, Loving, Longing, Leaving, which her band Vanessa Dee and the Brightsides will perform live in the concert hall just upstairs in a couple weeks. The same night will also serve as the official launch for Heartache No.2 Records, a label started by Dandurand and her longtime friend/frequent collaborator, Eugene Parkomenko (Bison, Black Wizard, Uncle Eug and the Dirty Birds). 

Loving, Longing, Leaving balances between recollections of ardent bonds between people and the searing discomfort when those passions fade. “Pour Out Your Heart to Me” is bouncy and personal, while “She Dreams of Snakes is the haunting grip of the ghost left behind when bonds of trust go awry. For Dandurand, vulnerability is something worth exploring if given the opportunity to feel heard. Her tender vocals further lend to the power of the songs. Some voices, Dandurand’s included, have a resounding weight that brings the roof down into splinters. There is a gravitas to the moments of emotional pivot that make the album an absorbing listen.

Dandurand talks intensely about growing up in Abbotsford, BC, surrounded by berry farms and churches. Not fitting within the prescribed social constructs drew her to the hardcore punk community, catalyzing a move to Vancouver. “If you were a weird kid in a small town, you left as fast as you could,” she says. And her connection to the punk and hardcore music scene still runs deep; the band’s name, “Brightsides,” is inspired by her favourite album of a similar name by NYC hardcore group, Killing Time. 

Meandering back to a place left behind seems strange, but Dandurand found herself doing just that. Between where she came from and where she is now, listening to and singing country music facilitated a reconciliation between the two. “I feel like I can access and speak a language I didn’t know was meant for me, and admit that part of my past exists in a way that others want to connect with,” she confesses. Dandurand personifies a unique phenomenon of overlapping music communities, particularly those of metal, hardcore, and country. While some may think these three genres are incompatible, there is natural cross-pollination. For Dandurand, they each address mutual feelings of the intensity of otherness. Country music, she says, is some of the loneliest music there is. “It’s the songs you sing when you’re working alone to pretend you aren’t working or alone,” Dandurand says. “I write the most when I’m closing down the bar alone at the end of the night.”

Like hardcore and metal, the feeling of loneliness touches the desire for community. The music’s strength comes from telling your story or retelling someone else’s in a way that means something to you. Country, like hardcore, is not for everyone, but as Dandurand says, “everyone can have it if they need it.”

A genre with a long tradition of rebels and envelope-pushers, Dandurand’s self-described “outlaw woman” persona means more than being a lone rider. It also embraces the concept of being the nurturer, and having an affinity for walking in solidarity with people widely misunderstood. They are vulnerable enough to yearn for something, but also have the resolve to take what they need. The only permission they need is possibility.

Raised on DIY ethics, launching the Heartache No.2 label was a natural move. Its namesake draws from two concepts. First is Ray Price’s 1959 country classic “Heartaches by the Number,” where Dandurand found particular significance: “I have got heartaches by the numbers, love can’t win, but the day I stopped counting, that’s the day my world will end.” Pursuing our passions goes hand in hand with challenges. Facing these, counting them, are what make them worth pursuing. The “No.2” signifies the heartache of those you care for and the world around you. What started as an idea to self-release her EP evolved into an avenue for her and Parkomenko’s shared visions, putting a name to the work they were already doing.

Dandurand wears many hats in the Vancouver music scene, not all of them western. From singing with garage soul outfit The Ballantynes to now managing booking and promotion for several venues, Dandurand and Parkomenko draw on many experiences. Heartache No.2 will also include artist development, helping musicians articulate their vision. Recordings will be released digitally and on cassette with more focus on creating experiences to connect people. From Vanessa Dee & The Brightsides and Heartache No.2 we can expect a video for “Pour Out Your Heart to Me” and plans for a web series done in the spirit of the George Jones Show, where artists new and old can bridge the gap between their styles by sharing stories and making “cool art together.”

When asked if the hardcore kid from Abbotsford could have foreseen putting out a country record and label, Dandurand responds, “Between the thing that you ran to and the thing that you ran from, there’s something much cooler in the middle. It’s who you actually are.”

Vanessa Dee and the Brightsides celebrate the release of Loving, Longing, Leaving at the Wise Hall (Vancouver) on Feb. 17 | TICKETS