Madisyn Whajne has spent most of her life searching: for her purpose, for her family, for herself.
“I was taken away from my family before the age of two,” says the indigenous artist, who, along with tens of thousands of other native children, was forcibly rehomed by the Canadian government in the infamous Sixties Scoop. “The process was entirely closed, which meant I wasn’t allowed to have any contact with my parents or information about where I came from. I didn’t know my birthday. I didn’t even know my own name.”
From that point forward, Whajne’s entire life would be shaped by a hunger for truth and understanding, a hunger that lies at the core of her extraordinary debut, ‘Save Our Hearts.’ Recorded live to tape at Montreal’s famed Hotel2Tango studio, the album is imbued with a visceral sense of loneliness and longing, a burning desire for connection and companionship that propels it endlessly forward in pursuit of something perpetually out of reach. While Whajne rarely tackles her tumultuous journey in explicit narrative terms, her story is written between the lines here as she navigates love and trust, reunion and rejection, faith and fate. Her songs walk a delicate tightrope between indie rock charm and punk bravado, mixing gritty guitars and muscular percussion with dreamy production and intoxicating hooks, and her delivery is emotionally nimble to match, balancing hope and despair in equal measure. The result is a captivating collection that hints at everything from Alvvays and Snail Mail to Rilo Kiley and Real Estate, an invigorating, bittersweet debut that insists on resilience and survival in the face of doubt and disappointment.
“I’ve always felt like a bit of an outcast,” Whajne confesses, “like I didn’t belong no matter where I went. Music was my escape, though, a place where I could lose myself and find myself at the same time. That’s what this album is to me.”
The road to ‘Save Our Hearts’ was a long and winding one for Whajne (pronounced like Wayne), and the path was littered with pain and hardship. Her first adoptive family was abusive, and, after a year, they sent her back into the foster care system. Her second adoptive family was more supportive, encouraging her to learn her native Ojibway language and pursue her passion for healing by studying at the local friendship center, but tragedy struck when her adopted brother, another indigenous child, took his own life at the age of eleven.
“It tore the family apart,” says Whajne. “I started living on my own pretty soon after that, around the time I turned seventeen, and I’ve been on my own ever since.”
It was around that time that Whajne first took the name Madisyn, in part as an effort to begin defining herself on her own terms. While the name change signaled a major step forward in her life, Whajne was still desperate to understand her past, and so she invested what little savings she had in a service that promised to help reunite her with her birth family. The service, unfortunately, turned out to be a scam, and it would take years for Whajne to discover that she’d been robbed. During that time, she would have her identity stolen and wound up sleeping in her car on the streets of Toronto until a local business owner helped get her back on her feet. With his support, Whajne managed to open her own vintage shop, The Mad Gypsy, and it was there that she received a life changing phone call one afternoon.
“I was speaking with a woman at the Children’s Aid Society who recognized all these pieces of my story,” says Whajne. “She said she thought she knew who my family was and told me that my birth mother had never stopped looking for me.”
The very next day, Whajne was on a flight to meet her aunt in Winnipeg, hoping against hope that she might finally be on the path to reuniting with her family. Instead, Whajne’s aunt delivered some tragic news: her mother had been deceased for years (Whajne’s father, too, would pass away before they could ever meet). Alongside that terrible heartbreak, though, came the joy of discovery, as Whajne learned that she had siblings, five in fact, and more cousins than she could count.
Back at The Mad Gypsy, Whajne experienced another joyful reunion when she ran into James Gray, an old high school friend who suggested they get together to play music. The pair’s creative partnership blossomed into weekly jam sessions and songwriting collaborations, and within a few years, Whajne had saved enough money begin recording her debut album in Montreal with engineers Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire, The Barr Brothers) and Shae Brossard (Bahamas, The Dears), who she’d met while singing backups for Canadian indie-folk star Basia Bulat. Backed by her diverse, multi-generational band (which included her husband, Bobby Bulat, on drums, producer Jay McBride on bass, and Gray on guitar), Whajne proceeded to cut the album a
few songs at a time over the course of the ensuing year.
“We didn’t over practice and recorded everything live off the floor to tape,” explains
Whajne. “I wanted to capture the energy you can only get when first learning a song, there’s an excitement you can hear in the take, in pushing yourself to be fully present in the moment like that.”
That excitement courses through the veins of ‘Save Our Hearts,’ which opens with the breezy, washed out “Summer Love.” Like much of the album, it’s an uptempo track laced with melancholy and regret, a warm, nostalgic meditation on the ache of waiting for a love that that never comes. Sometimes Whajne tries to lure that love closer, as on the addictive “Killing Desire” or the sultry “One Shot.” Other times, she pushes it away, convincing herself it wasn’t meant to be on the ragged “Fire” or simply sitting with the sadness on the hypnotic “Never Give In.” Yet even in the depths of her sadness, Whajne always manages to find a silver lining, proclaiming on the lilting “Sweet Talk” that no matter what happens, “my heart keeps beating.”
“I think it’s important to remind yourself how strong you are, to remember that you can get hurt and still keep standing on your own two feet,” she says. “Even when you lose someone you love, you can still carry on and bring a piece of them with you.”
Indeed, if there’s a lesson to be learned from ‘Save Our Hearts,’ it’s that the most powerful way we can honor our loved ones and ourselves is to stand tall, to survive in spite of everything. Whajne’s quest for understanding may never truly end, but with ‘Save Our Hearts,’ she’s come to understand that that’s the point. To search is to live, and Madisyn Whajne has never felt more alive.