Christine Bougie is an accomplished guitarist with one main guitar. She’s also an in-demand lap steel player with one go-to lap steel. Yet while her approach to instruments is admittedly minimalistic, her approach to instrumentation – be it the lush soundscapes of her solo output or the aural textures she adds to the work of a myriad of well-known artists – is quite the opposite.
As a solo artist and composer, Bougie has four instrumental studio albums to her name. The latest, 2016’s Whistle Up a World, is truly a masterclass in creating emotional and enveloping sonic environments with simple but substantial arrangements.
Her discography, however, is dozens of albums deep, and showcases her versatility as a creator and performer. In addition to frequently joining alt-folk act Bahamas and harmony trio The Good Lovelies in the studio and on stage, Bougie’s musical fingerprints grace releases by artists ranging from Stars vocalist Amy Millan and Broken Social Scener Jason Collett to Americana tour-de-force Gretchen Peters to sludgy hardcore outfit Biblical and far beyond.
Bougie first picked up the guitar at 10 years old, learning from her father and playing along with classics from the likes of The Beatles, Bowie, and Zeppelin – “and I just took off from there,” she enthuses.
In her late teens, she enrolled in a new high school with a strong music program and immersed herself in its offerings – big band, jazz band, smaller combos – while also just strumming songs in the hallways between periods. “That was a big move for me,” she recalls. “It put me on a whole new path.”
She expanded her skillset by learning slide guitar on her trusted Telecaster, which led to her interest in and subsequent love of the lap steel, and her method of self-education is a significant contributor to her very expressive and emotive style.
“When I was learning to play, and get the tuning and tone and everything right, I would put on records and actually play along with the vocalist, rather than trying to learn lap steel parts specifically,” she shares.
After studying jazz at Toronto’s esteemed Humber College, the subsequent years found Bougie lending her skills on both instruments to other people’s projects, though as she explains, the idea was always to create her own music.
Her debut solo offering, 2007’s Hammy’s Secret Life, was praised by major Canadian media outlets for its jazz-rooted improvisational prowess. Recorded with heralded jazz percussionist Nick Fraser and drawing influence from Bougie’s longtime idol, Bill Frisell, it established the foundation that she would build on over subsequent albums.
Continually adding to her catalogue of side work, Bougie found relics of sounds she’d absorbed from her many collaborators seeping into her songwriting. “It really becomes a melting pot of everything you’re putting in your ears,” she says. “Since I was primarily working with other artists, I felt a freedom to create whatever it is I want to create on my own.”
Transitioning towards the more structured and atmospheric ambiance of Whistle Up a World, which is as much painted with post-rock as it is free jazz – and which incredibly only features sounds derived from her lap steel – Bougie’s music grew more compelling and harder to classify. “It’s not even me being precious about it,” she says with a laugh – “I have no problem classifying my music; I just have no idea what you’d call it.”
Regardless of how it’s labeled, the very core of her current output is all about the song – and that’s also true of her current collaborations. Bougie has recently performed on albums by Sarah Slean and Sarah Harmer, and work is already underway for a new Bahamas album in 2018. She’s also involved in a slew of side projects, from a chamber group dedicated to The Beach Boys’ classic Pet Sounds to Toronto’s fantastic Queer Songbook Orchestra and more.
As diverse as her discography and dance card may be, though, the focus on good songs is what ties everything together. “Songs, to me, are at the heart of everything,” she says. “Regardless of the style or who’s playing it, if the song is good, I’m just drawn to it.”