In early May, Fredericton musician Sabarah Pilon is getting ready to play her first live show in two years. It’s taking place in a week’s time, on the same weekend as the 2022 East Coast Music Association awards, where her 2021 album Frantic Ram is nominated for Electronic Recording of the Year. “I honestly don’t expect to win, so I’m not nervous, I guess,” says Pilon. “I promised myself over the last few months that I’d start saying yes to these opportunities. I’m coming to things from a place of gratitude and joy.”
Born in Toronto into a musical family—her father studied under the legendary jazz-drumming teacher Jim Blackley—Pilon took piano lessons through childhood and most of high school, but admits that she was never really passionate about music. It wasn’t until she was living in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where she attended St. Francis Xavier University (StFX) for a year, that she returned to music as a way to reach out when she was going through a period of profound loneliness.
“Up until I created my first song with GarageBand, I thought you had to be in a four-piece rock band. I had tried to start bands in high school with my friends, but it never really worked out.” She posted that first song on a Tumblr page, and through the whimsical ways of the internet, it found the ears of a remixer who suggested that she offer it to the U.S. indie label I Had An Accident Records, which released five cassettes of her music between 2010 to 2014.
That early output, created under the name Orphan, holds the basic shape and tenor of what her music would eventually become: densely packed drones and post-industrial beats threaded with plaintive yet strongly delivered vocals. Her adoption of the moniker DenMother was suggested by an I Had an Accident labelmate. “DenMother felt like she had absorbed the Orphan,” Pilon recalls. “She had a broader scope as a character.”
At one point, however, Pilon needed to hit pause. “I don’t know if I used to use making music as an excuse for getting wrecked, but I used to just get high and make a song in a night . . . and that was the song, there was no going back to it,” she recalls. Likewise, playing live involved alcohol to stave off nervousness. As time passed, this strategy became unworkable; Pilon focused on getting sober, took a year off from making music, and deleted all of her work for a time.
In 2016, she moved to Fredericton to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in forestry at the University of New Brunswick. The city offered her a new geography and a new musical peer group. While purchasing gear at Tony’s Music Box, she met fellow electronic musician Charles Harding, who was recording as Property//. “Music started to creep back in as a way to process my first year of sobriety and the stress of school. Charlie somehow found my songs on Bandcamp and asked, ‘Is this you?’” Encouraged by her new community to play live shows again, Pilon dove into new music, festival appearances, and opening slots for artists such as Julie Doiron and Beverly Glenn-Copeland.
The pandemic ended up being beneficial to her creativity. “2020 was one of my most successful music years, strangely,” Pilon says. “I focused on the business side for the first time and got a grant to write Frantic Ram. I was doing all the things I was resistant to in years prior, like networking and learning about all the things that actually make you successful.” During this time she returned to Ontario for eight months to work on Frantic Ram, taking a break at one point to record and release a mixtape of drone music. She also released an EP of tracks she recorded in 2011. “[At the time] I was into [English occultist] Aleister Crowley and the occult, without realizing what that was all about. [I was] mainly just using sound clips. It was really interesting—like an album that was frozen in time.”
Frantic Ram draws on Pilon’s varied lexicon of the occult, literature, and psychology, and is loosely based on the nine circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno (the first part of the medieval Italian poet’s epic work The Divine Comedy). She drew inspiration from her daily practices of meditation, tarot, and yoga, and from her knowledge of Western mystery traditions. “The basic idea had been floating around for a few years,” she explains. “When 2020 hit and we were confined to our homes, I wrote a poem called ‘Frantic Ram’—because I’m an Aries, which is a fire sign—and so the idea of exploring the situation as a track-by-track emotional response to the nine circles of hell made sense.”
This immersion in the darker places of Dante’s tale was not without its pitfalls. “Meditating on these shitty emotional states got me so depressed I couldn’t create anything,” says Pilon, who took a step back to re-evaluate her creative strategies. Instead of full psychic immersion, she concentrated on the technical aspects of her inspirations and the construction of a new character to inhabit the emotional landscape, allowing herself distance enough to complete the project.
The grant she received to support her work on the album enabled her to upgrade her workstation, making Frantic Ram her first album in a decade not to be composed in GarageBand on a 2010 MacBook. The richer sound results in a deeper certainty in the presentation of her ideas. “Far from my ‘one-take, one-night’ songs, it’s music that feels like I could have worked on it forever,” says Pilon, adding that having Zachary Greer mix and master her music added a new dimension to the album, as did her collaborating on videos with local filmmaker Jordan Greer.
A week later, although Frantic Ram does not win an East Coast Music Award, Pilon’s attitude
about finding a centre for her creativity remains. “I don’t know where I fit in; you could win an award and go nowhere with it, because your genre . . . What is my genre, right?” As far as living in New Brunswick goes, she has more clarity. “I was here for five years before I went back to Ontario, and the minute I got home I thought, Well, I certainly don’t belong here. I felt in my heart the minute I got to New Brunswick that things made sense here, but I guess sometimes you have to go away before you realize that’s true.”

FYI: Sabarah Pilon is a certified forest therapy guide. In June 2022 she released the single “We Want Something Today Because It Was Pleasant Yesterday Not Because We Need It Today” on her Bandcamp page.
Photo of DenMother performing at The Cap as part of Flourish Festival in Fredericton, New Brunswick, June 18, 2022, by Jarrid Deveaux.
Photo of DenMother by Jordan Anthony Greer.