“It reminded me how much I missed making music with other people, and it rekindled my appreciation for my craft.”
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Theresa Sokyrka rediscovered her passion for songwriting while recording cover songs during the early days of the COVID pandemic.
“I was so open creatively and musically that I started to trust my writing again, and I have written a lot of songs now,” she says.
The Juno-nominated singer-songwriter and former Canadian Idol contestant found a new audience on streaming platforms with a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time. The song — one of several collaborations with producer and pianist Jesse Brown — was a bigger hit than they could have anticipated.
“It seems that people have really enjoyed listening to it, and they continue to add it to their playlists … There’s something about the rawness, the unpolished realness of that recording that I think people enjoy,” Brown says.
“It was like we hit a home run with it. And it’s up to 3.5 million streams,” Sokyrka adds.
In 2020, Brown approached Sokyrka and suggested they record covers of classic songs together. Brown says he had previously found some success on streaming platforms, and he had high hopes for their collaboration.
“Knowing her vocal talent and ability, I thought it would be worth taking a crack at that,” he says.
They had planned to record separately and share tracks, but Sokyrka didn’t have an adequate recording space.
“I was recording in my laundry room, and there was terrible isolation, and the quality of sound was just not great,” she recalls.
She sought help from producer and vocalist Simon Jasieniuk, whose home studio, Beez Neez Recording, could support the required COVID distancing.
“It’s crazy how people in different places can work together musically to create and make recordings,” Brown says.
The first song Sokyrka and Brown collaborated on was the 1982 hit Our House by British pop band Madness.
“It just seemed so pertinent to what we were all going through because we were all kind of stuck in our houses,” Sokyrka says.
Once they got that first recording onto streaming platforms, people immediately started listening.
“It ended up on an editorial playlist right out of the gates, which surprised me, to find success right away,” Brown recalls.
Sokyrka was especially amazed to be able to watch the streaming numbers as they climbed.
“For someone who’s been in this business for a long time, to actually have that happening in real time was a really unexpected new feeling … It’s like you’re watching the hit happen.”
After the success with Time After Time, Sokyrka recorded Lauper’s True Colours with Jasieniuk, whose vocals accompany hers on the second verse of the song. Jasieniuk says this was a last-minute decision during recording, and they were both happy with the result.
“It ended up being something that just feels really good to listen to.”
Having the opportunity to work with an established singer like Sokyrka was an exciting experience, Jasieniuk says.
“I admire her voice and her drive to be a positive energy in the room … she certainly gives out encouraging vibes.”
Working with the two producers, Sokyrka had the opportunity to experience two different approaches to recording and editing music.
Jasieniuk, she says, has a more calculated and in-depth process.
“The product with Simon is clean and produced, like stuff you could hear on the radio.”
Jasieniuk says the tools available in the modern recording studio help artists experiment and come up with ideas.
“There (are) lots of ways that we can use today’s technology to our advantage without sucking the life and feeling out of songs,” he says.
With Brown, Sokyrka says the focus was on the performance, which is also how she approaches her recordings.
“With Jesse, it was like, take the whole song as the whole song. And with Simon, it was like take the whole song, but we can always manipulate with edits,” she says.
Brown says Sokyrka made it easy to do one-take recordings.
“It strikes me that it’s quite effortless for her to just grab a guitar and start singing and have it sound really, really amazing,” he says.
While it took time for Sokyrka to get used to the idea of editing her recordings, she says she now has more appreciation for the technical side of producing music.
“I love both of those processes so much … it’s just nice to have that different spectrum,” she says.
Through these collaborations, Sokyrka found herself getting excited about music again.
“It reminded me how much I missed making music with other people, and it rekindled my appreciation for my craft … I feel like I’m ready to come out in a deeper way, as far as songwriting goes.”
Sokyrka plans to take a new approach to her own music this time around, focusing on authenticity and kindness toward herself.
“I think compassion for yourself is really important and something that I definitely ignored for way too long in my life,” she says.
Turning 40 last year led to an increased self-confidence that Sokyrka says is reflected in her current approach to songwriting.
“I think I’m more comfortable to talk about my experiences. And maybe now I will become a little bit more prolific in my writing and allow the ideas to come through instead of quashing them so quickly.”
As Sokyrka gets back into music, she hopes to use this avenue to be a positive role model for younger women entering the industry.
“I realize how valid my experiences are and how my perspective on sharing them and how I write is really special. I never really appreciated how lucky I am to have that way of expressing,” she says.
Sokyrka says she saw and experienced inequality and misogyny in the music industry, especially in the early days of her career. Now she hopes to be a part of the change that is needed.
“That’s really important to me — equality and respect … That’s why I’m becoming a little bit stronger and more assertive with my voice.”
Her own involvement in advocating for equal opportunities for women has recently included working to change occupational health and safety legislation for women in contract work positions.
“I really hope that I can continue to be part of the cultural shift,” she says.
Sokyrka recently discovered that comedy — particularly musical comedy — is another tool she can use to find her voice.
She’s currently working on a musical sitcom called Back to Reality, which she describes as “an animated sitcom that is in the vein of what I’ve gone through in my life.”
Though the pandemic put the series on hold, she hopes to bring it to television soon.
She also plans to release a new album in the next few years and get back to performing for live audiences.
“I have really missed the stage so much … I would just like for people to see how I’ve evolved with my craft.”
With the current war in Ukraine, Sokyrka — whose Ukrainian roots contributed to her 2010 Ukrainian-language album, Тереса сокирка — encourages donations to the Canada-Ukraine Foundation through New Community Credit Union on 20th Street West in Saskatoon.
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