Abigail Lapell’s “prairie noir” explores new terrains of Canadian folk


“There’s a bit of darkness or edge to some of these songs. It’s pretty down-tempo, a lot more mellow than in some of my work in the past, maybe a little more contemplative…kind of dreamy and impressionistic.”

Abigail Lapell

New Release: Stolen Time

Canadian modern folk artist Abigail Lapell has connected with melancholy in new ways.

It’s not that her previous albums were lightweight; the isolation of Covid lockdowns somehow gave rise to themes with a more serious edge. This new record, “Stolen Time,” perhaps encompasses better than any of her past work the feeling her website creatively defines as “prairie noir.”

Lapell said of the April release that the “prairie noir” idea stems from her music’s “sense of place, the geography of it” combined with notes of “restlessness and travel.” In “Stolen Time,” the realities of a natural landscape that’s both beautiful and “scarred” find a home in what she sees as a more profound and introspective song list.

When she talks of her creative process, there’s a sense of an undercurrent flowing beneath the surface that comes to the fore only when the time is precisely right.

“I didn’t really have a concept going into it,” she explained. “It was after the fact that there was a kind of throughline of themes of addiction and recovery."

Lapell's Free-flow Writing

Lapell creates melodies, then adds on lyrics, and only decides what the song was getting at “after the fact.” The way she describes it, the process seems a kind of unfurling, a revelation of self and intention that only surfaces in full conscious awareness after a song is complete.

Lapell said she’s been doing this for a long time; she’s been writing songs as far back as she can remember. She spent most of her adult life performing in indie rock outfits, and only in recent years did the Toronto-based performer identify more with the folk realm. That change grew her career to where she can essentially tour full-time. She’s gigged extensively in Canada, the U.S., and Europe. Her music reached the number one slot on Canadian folk radio and accrued an impressive 13 million-plus streams on Spotify. She’s won two Canadian Folk Music Awards, snagging English Songwriter of the Year in 2020 and Contemporary Album of the Year in 2017. A multi-instrumentalist, her musical toolbox includes vocals, piano, harmonica, and finger-style guitar.

“I never really studied music formally,” she said, “aside from piano lessons for a year and singing in a choir…now that I am older, I’m more interested in theory. But either way, it [music] has always been a big part of my life in one way or another.”

She’s about to start touring Canada and the U.S. with the new record and has plans for what’s coming next. Once touring this year is over, something unique is on her shortlist of future projects.

“I have an album of lullabies,” Lapell said. “I’m hoping to release it at some point.”

She sounds pleased to have transitioned from indie rock to folk, saying one thing she noted is that the crowd is different, in a good way.

“At folk festivals, there’s a real multi-generational feeling,” she said. “The parents and the kids and the grandkids will all be there together. It’s people from all different musical backgrounds.”

Lapell is quick to admit the breadth of her chosen genre; she’s impressed by the various roots traditions, sounds, and instruments that suffuse folk. It’s difficult to pin down, not that anybody would even want to. “It’s really similar to indie in that it’s a DIY approach,” she observed. 

“It’s out of the mainstream …and you’re kind of defining it not by what it is, but by what it’s not.”