World Traveler, Studio Composer, and Synth-Tamer Stays on the Move
Photo and header image by John Bews
For a country with a population of 37 million, slightly less than that of California, Canada has given the world a rich array of sounds. The artists hailing from above the 49th parallel cut across all stylistic boundaries. From folk luminaries like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young to indie heavyweights Broken Social Scene and Feist, the geographically massive country boasts sounds as diverse as its inhabitants.
Mary Ancheta exemplifies Canada’s multicultural mosaic. The driven musician grew up in Hamilton, Ontario. There, she cut her musical teeth teaching piano at the Ontario Conservatory of Music while attending McMaster University, eventually earning her B.A. in Music.
Since moving to the comparatively warmer climes of Vancouver, BC, Ancheta has made her name as an in-demand accompanist, composer, and solo performer. Her discography reads like a who’s who of Canadian talent and Ancheta’s skills have taken her all over the world. From backing up Carly Rae Jepsen at a JUNO Awards dinner to opening for A Tribe Called Red and Buffy Sainte Marie with artist iskwé, Ancheta is always on the move. No matter what she does, it’s with a style and grace distinctly Canadian and authentically her own.
Ancheta took a few moments away from her busy gigging schedule for this in-depth conversation about her career, world travel as a musician, and the role Roland Cloud plays in her creative process.
iskwē at JUNO Awards gala dinner (photo courtesy of artist)
You’ve had the experience of performing in musical spots all over the world. What have you learned from playing in some of the more exotic locales?
I have been fortunate enough to perform in Dubai, China, Bermuda, Haida Gwaii, Taiwan, and many other places. From my travels, I've learned that music is universal. We're all going through our trials and tribulations of life and everyone wants to be uplifted. Music gives you the opportunity as a performer or writer to lift and connect with people.
"We're all going through our trials and tribulations in life, and everyone wants to be uplifted. Music gives you the opportunity as a performer or writer to lift and connect with people."
Though you were born in Canada, your family is from the Philippines. How did this affect your musical upbringing?
I didn’t know a lot of Filipinos growing up, but they are very musical people. I am reminded of that every time I return but I grew up listening to mostly hip-hop, R&B, and Britpop. It wasn’t until I started composing that I started to look at and consider other sonic palettes. Lately, I have been looking at seeing how I can incorporate some samples of traditional instruments from the Philippines into some of my writing.
As a female producer and synth player, have you faced any challenges in the industry? Do you see that changing at all in the current climate?
I have tried to check into festivals as a performer and the staff kept asking if I was a volunteer no matter how many times I said I was performing at the festival. When I performed in Qatar, I had an audience member ask me if I was pretending to play the keyboard because they had never seen a female play an instrument before. Other times it’s people second guessing whether you can get the job done at times based on your gender. I think these ideas and concepts will change in the near future. People’s preconceptions will be challenged and their actions will hopefully be more accountable.
Other times it’s people second guessing whether you can get the job done based on your gender. These ideas and concepts will change in the future. People’s preconceptions will be challenged and their actions will hopefully be more accountable.
Tell us about your evocative collaborations with Forbes, “Fiftyonefifty.” How did that come about?
Around 2007-08, I was playing keys with a band called The Vincent Black Shadow. We did some shows with Virgin Festival where Bjork was headlining and did a couple of the Warped Tours. Cassandra Ford was always one of my favourite singers. She also has a unique sense of melody. Fast forward to almost a decade later, and I am writing with Dan Kearley, my co-conspirator in Cookie Cartel, and I asked Cassandra, AKA Forbes, to collaborate with us. She has a strong vision musically and visually. She also directed our video for "Fiftyonefifty."
When did Cookie Cartel form, and can you describe the different roles you and Dan play as part of the production team?
Cookie Cartel started in the winter of 2014. I was doing a gig in the Maldives at the time and Dan and I were starting to exchange ideas remotely. I have always admired his work with his previous band Sekoya and it has been a really fantastic collaboration so far. Dan is such a talented artist is his own right, and his strengths are my weaknesses and vice versa. I feel together we come out with the best musical result between the two of us. Since then, we have been collaborating together as well as doing some remixes.
Cookie Cartel in the studio (photo provided by artist)
You’ve done a great deal of composing for film and TV. What advice would you give to aspiring composers about breaking into that lucrative field?
Compose as much as you can and to stay determined. It’s not an easy market—as is the case with many things in the arts. Just play to your strengths and find what you do well.
In addition to your studio work, you perform with some incredible acts like Kimmortal, Buckman Coe, and iskwē. Can you tell us about them and any other artists for whom you play an auxiliary role live?
Tonye, Khari McClelland, Alex Maher, Dutch Robinson (formerly of Ohio Players) will all have new albums coming out later this year. I am also lucky to perform with artists such as Ashleigh Ball, Zizi (who is based out of Beijing), Graftician, Andrea Superstein, Alex Flock, Joan Bessie, Scotty Hills, and Marlie Collins.
What is your recording process like and what role does Roland Cloud play? Are there any Roland Cloud instruments that have contributed to your creativity or improved your workflow?
Our recording process with Cookie Cartel often starts from a sound palette. We will jam on an idea and then focus in on parts to develop the song. We have the hardware JX-3P as well as the JU-06. "I Feel You," our latest single, features the JUNO-106 and the Roland TR-909. Roland Cloud's versions are convenient, while still sounding authentic. "I Feel You" is available on Bandcamp.
What comes to mind when you think of Roland Cloud?
Roland Cloud is the closest thing to analog software that exists. We go to them first for that warm analog sound. The JUNO's chorus has an immediately recognizable sound that can help create the right context.
Video still (photo provided by artist)
Roland Cloud is the closest thing to analog software that exists.
The JUNO's chorus has an immediately recognizable sound that can help create the right context.
What initially got you interested in synthesizers and music creation?
I initially learned on a Farfisa organ and the organ is like the father of the synthesizer. Also, I was playing in a band in Hamilton as a teenager called The Misunderstood. We would organize shows and I didn’t have a keyboard at the time. I would borrow the DX7 that was at school and that was mainly my first introduction to synths.
You and the amazing BC-based hip-hop artist Kimmortal are taking part in a beat and synth workshop for Producers Lounge in Vancouver this August. The purpose is elevating women and non-binary identified music producers. What can you tell us about this awesome event?
This event takes place at Monarch Studios in Vancouver on August 11th and I am very excited to be involved with Producers Lounge. Our focus will be on making beats, our own process, synthesis and creating synth patches, and examining how beats and synths work together.
What artists are you currently listening to, both locally and on the international stage?
Masia One is an International artist that is always on my playlist. She is based out of Singapore and Cookie Cartel produced a track called "Fabulous" featuring Indonesian MC Bayu Tombak. I have also been listening to Knxwledge, Brian Eno, Anderson Paak, James Blake, Mark Ronson, Tigran Hamasyan, Arnalds Olafur, Irwin Hall, Mouse on the Keys, Björk, and Pomo.
Photo by Joshua Berson
You grew up in Hamilton, Ontario, a wonderful music city. How would you characterize Vancouver, BC as a place to live and make music?
Vancouver is also a fantastic place to be. Although it can be an expensive place to live, the quick access to its beautiful nature certainly helps. I think artists tend to hibernate here in the winter months when the rainy season hits and create. I would love to see more original music venues in different and unique event spaces created, as there is certainly a creative community around, we just need more outlets to express this creativity. There is a scene here in Vancouver—you just need to scratch a little deeper beyond the surface.
Canada as a country is so vast, but we're lucky to have government funding such as Canada Council and FACTOR, and resources like SOCAN and the Banff Centre. I'm proud to be amidst these wonderful, eclectic artists.
As a Canadian artist, are there any acts you want to mention that folks from below the 49th parallel should check out?
Keep an eye out for Nat Jay’s latest release that will be coming out this year. Some other wonderful Canadian acts are Tanika Charles, Star Captains, Pugs and Crows, Zaki Ibraham, David Morin, Gord Grdina, Jessicka, Anomalie, Jeremy Dutcher, Desiree Dawson, Scott Verbeek, Five Alarm Funk, Missy D, Coco Love Alcorn, AstroLogical, Jonny Tobin, Dawn Pemberton, DJ Shub, Little Destroyer, Ninja Spy, Robin Layne, Krystle Dos Santos, Ostwelve, David Ward, Kyprios, Wooden Horsemen, Warren Dean Flandez, and Siobhan Walsh.
How do you feel being a Canadian artist?
I feel very fortunate to be a Canadian artist. Canada as a country is so vast, particularly in terms of touring, but we are lucky to have government funding such as Canada Council, FACTOR, and Creative BC, as well as resources like SOCAN and the Banff Centre available to us. I am proud to be amidst all these wonderful, eclectic artists.