Music is that sweet spot where indie folk singer Ella Coyes feels most at home. In fact, Coyes, who has been performing under the moniker, Sister Ray, has developed a loyal following attracted by their poetic angst.
Raised in Sturgeon County, the Métis singer-songwriter moved to Toronto and found international success after the release of their debut full-length album, Communion. It was released May 2022 on Royal Mountain Records and was longlisted for the Polaris Music Prize.
Reviews were hot and Sister Ray toured with artists such as Hurray for the Riff Raff, Basia Bulat and Jerry Paper. In addition, they performed at festivals in Canada and Europe including Pitchfork Paris & London as well as Primavera Weekender in Barcelona.
But Sister Ray’s United Kingdom concerts are etched most solidly in their memory.
“Previously, I didn’t have a special connection to the United Kingdom. But I found I connected with people out there. It was a pleasant surprise, and it became a special place in my heart,” said Sister Ray.
“I was so surprised that my music in Europe made connections. There’s a big appreciation for the arts there. We have it in Canada too, but it’s not as present in the United States. It was a treat to be out there and discover they have a respect for our craft.”
The high-energy performer is not one to slow down. Almost exactly a year to the date of Communion’s release, Sister Ray is releasing Teeth, a four-track EP available on May 12. It is a collection that walks a fine line between despair and hope, an emotional tightrope they tread carefully.
Surprisingly, it was an EP that came together in a matter of weeks.
“I’m a batch writer. I don’t know why that is. In between playing, I’ll be writing snippets and then I’ll have moments when I can finish the ideas. I had written the songs and it all came together from January to the beginning of February."
Working with producers Jon Nellen and Joe Manzoli, cross-border collaborators known as ginla, Teeth developed a real sense of space and depth.
Sister Ray wrote the title track, Teeth, after their manager requested a song with only a few chords unlike most songs that deliver a multitude of chords.
“It only has two or three chords played over and over throughout the whole song. It’s a song about getting older and gazing back at home. I feel comfortable being away from family. But when I was younger, mum was like God. She couldn’t make a mistake. She was infallible. Being away from home, I got a different perspective, and it changed how I looked at things. There was almost grief that my parents were fallible. There’s lots of sadness in relationships changing, and I was not necessarily prepared for that.”
All Dogs Go To Heaven could lead the listener into believing this song is a nod to the 1989 children’s animation centred around a trouble-finding dog named Charlie and Anne-Marie, a young orphan girl who speaks to animals. But it was actually about “wanting to write a folk song with the word ‘pussy’ in it.
“I was born in 1997 and I remember the movie. I referenced it in the song because I love nostalgia and I find nostalgia is present in what I write and the way I write. I’m a very serious person and I write from a serious place. But I like cheeky moments.”
Pressing Down instead is a straightforward song about a romantic breakup.
“It was a montage for me. The first part captured moments and the second part was real time conversation. For me it captures an emotion, a sensation.”
The last song on the EP is Never Will Marry.
“It’s part of my obsession with nostalgia. My grandpa loved the Johnny Cash Show and had all the CDs. My favourite song was Linda Ronstadt’s Never Will Marry. This song is a true Carter Family song. I love it lyrically and I love the foundation. It’s easy to tell the story, but it’s melancholy. There’s a sense in the song I wanted to capture.”
For the summer, Sister Ray plans to tour parts of Alberta including the Edmonton region. But the word is mum since contract negotiations are still underway.
“I’m 25 now. Touring is hard, but I’m glad to do it now because I know it will get harder. I’m trying to do as much as I can before my body fights back.”