When the Vancouver Island Music Awards came out of retirement last week, they did so in Courtenay — and it was two Courtenay singers who received some of the most high-profile awards.
Helen Austin won the Long and McQuade Artist of the Year and Female Songwriter of the Year awards during last Thursday’s awards gala at the Sid Williams Theatre, and Emily Spiller was named Female Vocalist of the Year.
Earlier this week, Austin was still feeling a bit shocked about winning Artist of the Year.
“When they went to announce that one, there were 10 of us on the list, and I just sat back and expected to clap for someone else,” she said. “(When I heard my name) I just looked at my husband, and we just kind of shrugged our shoulders, oh my God. I wasn’t expecting it, that’s for sure.”
The Songwriter of the Year award means a lot to Austin, who is always writing and who enters every songwriting challenge that comes along.
“I write constantly,” she said. “Out of all the awards, I thought that was the one I really wanted. Out of all the aspects that make up music, songwriting is the most important one. It’s something I’ve been doing since I was a kid … that’s the one I wanted to be recognized for.”
Adding “award-winning” to her name is a pretty big deal for Austin.
“It’s really cool,” she said. “From a business point of view, to be able to say ‘Artist of the Year’ on my bio, it makes such a difference. I just do my happy dance — I think it’s wearing a little thin with my husband, but he’s proud.”
The VIMAs were the beginning of a very exciting week for Austin, as she released her new album, Song of the Week 2, Thursday.
Spiller was surprised to win Female Vocalist of the Year.
“There were so many other amazing women nominees that I didn’t expect it,” she said. “It was really a pleasant surprise.”
She sees winning the award as a nice compliment.
“It’s a nice little perk,” she said. “It sort of helps me out in the momentum of my career. For me, it’s neat because I’m from the Island. It means more for me because it’s a home thing.”
The VIMAs were presented in conjunction with the Vancouver Island Music Business Conference. It was the first time they’ve been presented after a two-year hiatus.
Austin, who sang with her daughter Daisy and with Todd Butler during the awards gala, was happy to see the awards come out of retirement.
Spiller, who also performed during the gala, thinks it’s fantastic that the VIMAs have been resurrected to raise awareness of the talented musicians on the Island.
“It also brings all us musicians together,” she noted. “There are so many awesome pockets … but we don’t get to see each other. Everyone’s so supportive of each other too.”
Spiller thought the most exciting moment of the awards night was when Austin won Artist of the Year.
“I was so excited for her,” she said. “It was so cool.”
Spiller and Austin each received five nominations for the VIMAs.
They were each nominated for Artist of the Year, Producer of the Year, Female Songwriter of the Year and Female Vocalist. Spiller’s song Soul was also nominated for Song of the Year, while Austin’s CD Song of the Week was nominated as Album of the Year.
Spiller is appreciative of how people in the Comox Valley get behind independent artists.
“I’m really proud of the Comox Valley and the way they support independent artists, and I could extend it to the entire Island,” she said. “There is amazing talent on the Island. We’ve created something unique and quite special, and there are really cool people who come support our shows. It’s a neat community, and it’s constantly growing and the awareness is growing, and I love to see that.”
Another female singer with a local connection was honoured at the VIMAs.
Eighteen-year-old Alexandria Maillot, who now lives in Maple Ridge but graduated from Mark R. Isfeld Secondary School, won the Sure Copy Youth Artist of the Year Award.