In his new solo album, Anne, Canadian musician opens up about his mother's Parkinson's disease.
Photo: Exclaim!/Chris Gee
"It's a weird thing to talk about, because I think so much of the time when people around you are sick, the overwhelming emotion is, like, you feel bad for them and you want to be there for them and love them, but when someone around you is sick, it often puts a tremendous burden on the people in their life who are the caregivers," Shabason states. "In the end, I feel like I let go of a lot of the shit that I was holding onto before. It was good. I felt like I worked through some things making this album."
Joseph Shabason’s mother and father-in-law both have Parkinson’s disease. Shabason and his wife watched her professor father’s mental decline due to the disease, and then his mother developed the disease. He uses his music as an outlet for the struggles in his personal life and Shabason welcomes the success of his album as a dedication to say more about the disease – in a roundabout way.
Shabason is a member of the indie rock band Destroyer and a Toronto pop outfit called DIANA. Shabason uses his tenor sax to break your heart.
He is now going solo with a new project using only himself, Shabason, as a performer. He is jumping out of a powerful comfort zone of pop and rock music to pursue a “dense choral texture” palette full of tape delays and looping systems. He bends and stretches his sax’s familiarity into obscure dimensions that resemble, to a point, EDM.
Shabason produces music with melodic minimalism that includes some jazz and ambient music. He called the project in 2017, Aytche. Although fans and critics welcomed the project, Shabason feels Aytche is an album with a lack of vision.
"When I hear that album, I hear a lot of me trying to copy people who I love," he tells Exclaim! "People like Gigi Masin and Jon Hassell. I wore my influences on my sleeve."
As he finished the album, Shabason finally understood why the material reverberated with him. The tragedy of his father-in-law’s Parkinson’s disease diagnosis and his mother contracting the same degenerative illness is reflected in Aytche. The album is mainly instrumental, and the only verbalization comes from an old soundtrack of a man deliberatingabout the trauma his father felt as a Holocaust survivor and his ultimate suicide. A video is included that follows the man’s father’s decision to end his own life because of an incurable illness.
Shabason discusses the pieces on Aytche by saying they were not really about degenerative illnesses. But he realized that after assembling the music, that incurable diseases were a considerable part of his life. He tried to talk about what he was feeling and his journey by including videos made for the songs.
Shabason found a voice and an outlet for the struggle he has endured in his personal life – watching his father-in-law and his mother degenerate from active, vital people into Parkinson’s’ disease.
On his album Aytche, Shabason says, “You know, I make instrumental ambient jazz, so it's not like I'm moving tonnes of units, but it was nice to see that people dug it, even just a little bit. That was really encouraging. And I think I got really jazzed and I was like, man, no — there's stuff here that I want to say, and I've got this idea that I'm trying to keep going."
Anne addresses emotions related to his mother’s fight with Parkinson’s disease. He includes contributions from Gigi Masin and Toronto-based Hugh Marsh. Similar to Aytche, the subject of Anne isn’t apparent in his music or in the interview clips he includes. Anne was constructed, however, with the subject of debilitation diseases always at the front of his mind. Joseph Shabason uses his artist’s statements and talent to position the album in the right mix of emotion and fact.
Listeners hear Anne Shabason, Joseph’s mother, wishing she could hide her imperfections. The background is filled with chirping crickets and a synth line from Forest Run. You hear a once vibrant woman besieged with deteriorating motor skills and other psychological symptoms. Anne Shabason feels her pain but deals with the disease in a subtle but emotional territory. What you realize, is you are listening to a mother discussing her intergenerational grief.
Shabason’s Anne is a way to relieve unresolved tension. Shabason says there are aspects of his mother’s illness and the way she handled it that was hard to go through. It was hard for Shabason to talk to his mother about her disease, so Anne gave the two of thema platform to talk about Parkinson’s.
In tracks like Deep Dark Divide and Fred and Lil, Anne Shabason compares her upbringing against how she raised her children.
"You grew up with the feeling that you were worthy. You were worthy of that support. I don't think that I grew up with that feeling," she says over Deep Dark Divide. "I think I grew up with the feeling that as long as I didn't bother [my parents] I was okay."
Shabason felt that hearing his mother talk about her parents was both beautiful and sad. It gave Shabason a better perspective about what his mother went through and how she got to the place she is now. Shabason’s music bridges the space between familiar reconciliation and sorrow. Anne is an unsettling recording, but it has purpose and healing mixed in with the sound of pain.
"It's a weird thing to talk about, because I think so much of the time when people around you are sick, the overwhelming emotion is, like, you feel bad for them and you want to be there for them and love them, but when someone around you is sick, it often puts a tremendous burden on the people in their life who are the caregivers," Shabason discuses. "In the end, I feel like I let go of a lot of the [sh**] that I was holding onto before. It was good. I felt like I worked through some things making this album."
You may not have the wonderful talents of Joseph Shabason to fall back on to find relief in watching a loved one suffer from Parkinson’s. However, you can find his music and listen to the heartrending interviews and soul-searching music. It might help you find peace or at least an answer.