Old Soul, new life: A band’s journey

Old Soul Rebel brings their passionate, politically personal sound to the Richmond World Fest on Saturday, Aug. 31. Composed of core members Chelsea D. E. Johnson and Lola Whyte, Old Soul Rebel takes the defiant sound of soul, rock and blues as a means of expressing their rebellious life experiences.

“It’s the rebellious nature of talking about when I’ve felt like crap, and I’m still gonna rock it. It’s in our delivery when we’re just screaming at the top of our lungs or just belting out the last chorus. It’s how we really approach anything in this project,” says Johnson.

Finding their voice

Chelsea D E Johnson (right) and Lola Whyte of the band Old Soul Rebel.| Photo by Mary Matheson.

For Lola Whyte and Chelsea D. E. Johnson, music and expression have always been key facets of life. While neither come from an exclusively musical performance – Johnson was first originally involved in acting, while Whyte comes from a dancing background – they have both been able to find their creative voice through song, discovering music as a natural extension of their respective artistic passions.

For Whyte, song-writing was always a part of her cabaret dance background, and for Johnson, singing was never too far away from the art of vocal performance in theatre.

“I always thought of myself as an actress. When I moved to Vancouver, I went to see a poetry reading for the first time and I got to see CR Avery play piano and sing, and I just was like, ‘Oh man, this is it!’,” says Johnson. “It was like another opportunity for a monologue, like this is my story and I get to write it, and I get to express it with my voice. It just felt right, and it’s just been a journey ever since then.”

After meeting each other through mutual friends in the Commercial Drive music and art community, the two began swapping songs with one another. With each possessing some musical and poetic experience under their belts, it quickly became clear that the connection for this creative duo was something special.

“We sort of just realized like, ‘Hey, this feels really good,’ and started moving towards where we are today,” says Johnson. “You just know what’s right. I’ve been in lots of bands and with Lola, it just felt really right.”

Passion and presence

Part of the connection, which comes to life through the lyrics and energy of the band’s music, has to do with Whyte and Johnson’s shared experiences of defiance and strength in the face of oppression. As Whyte notes, the act of taking space as queer women of colour in the realm of music in Canada makes for a rebellious action.

“I’m First Nations, Chelsea is African-American, and we’re female, we’re queer, and gone through considerable amounts of hardship,” says Whyte. “I think the sheer act of us living out our freedom, this is an act of freedom, and the fact that we can exercise it, that itself feels rebellious, even still in 2019.”

As the name of their band would imply, the performative space that Johnson and Whyte take up is filled with a passionate and audacious presence as cathartic as it is life-affirming.

“I think it’s just cathartic, and seeing how freeing it can be, and how much the soul can expand,” says Whyte. “Like anything in life, it’s a spiritual journey, but in the line of work that we do, it’s hard to ignore how spiritual it feels. There’s this inter-connectedness with this huge community of people, and we’re sharing from the heart and head.”

As the band continues to find opportunities and make their own path in the music industry, Johnson and Whyte hope to travel throughout North America and the world, with no telling where they’ll stop.

“That’s what we’ve been shown. I think that’s what the universe keeps pushing us towards, like going to this television show and that, and meeting all these great people. We’re gonna use that and hopefully we can make good of that,” says Whyte.


For more information, please www.richmondworldfestival.com.