Buffy Sainte-Marie on Drake, Polaris Music Prize and music critics

Buffy Saint-Marie performs at the Americana Music Honors and Awards show Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. Sainte-Marie talks Drake, Polaris Music Prize and music critics in a Q&A session. AP Photo / Mark Zaleski

TORONTO – Buffy Sainte-Marie marked her Polaris Music Prize nomination not by celebrating, but by listening.

“I took the time to listen to all the other nominees,” said the Saskatchewan-reared songwriter in a recent interview.

“I really enjoyed it. I’m real stoked to be in company with all the artists … I had not heard Tobias Jesso. I had not listened to Caribou. New Pornographers – I liked what they were doing.”

“Of course, everybody knows Drake.”

READ MORE: Drake, Buffy Sainte-Marie among Polaris Music Prize finalists

The 74-year-old singer is also nominated alongside Calgary’s Viet Cong, Montreal-based Braids and three Toronto acts: Jennifer Castle; Alvvays; and BadBadNotGood, up for their collaboration with New York rap legend Ghostface Killah.

Sainte-Marie is among the confirmed performers for Monday’s gala, where the $50,000 prize will be awarded to the best Canadian album of the year as determined by a jury of 11 music critics, bloggers and broadcasters.

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Ahead of the Polaris, she talked to The Canadian Press about the latest plaudit in a career that has already merited an Academy Award, two Junos, a Gemini, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA.

CP: Was the Polaris on your radar at all?

Sainte-Marie: No, no. But I was thrilled, you know. Two of my friends have received Polaris Prizes: Owen Pallett and Tanya Tagaq.

And last year when Tanya won I was just really thrilled. I think we all were.

It’s so exciting for artists because it’s a big jury. You know, there are a lot of prizes in the world that are just kind of like, corporate tax loopholes or something.

This is such a broad jury. It gives you hope.

CP: Music critics comprise much of the jury. Have critics been kind to you in your career?

Sainte-Marie: I would say yes. But you know, I’m not widely heard in North America. But I do have a nice collection of review clippings.

You read them once and then you go on with your day. You don’t sit around and dwell on it. I don’t have ’em framed on the wall. They’re in some scrapbook somewhere.

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If I write an autobiography, I’ll have to dig ’em all out.

CP: Why has Power in the Blood resonated?

Sainte-Marie: True North (Records) has been very smart about getting the album heard. That’s always been a problem for me, is to get me heard.

I think because I started out so early and was so controversial and got nailed so hard and just hushed and gagged and shushed, a lot of people – they know my name but they don’t know what (I do).

Power in the Blood is as fresh as any of the albums I’ve ever made. It’s just as diverse.

CP: You mentioned Drake. Are you a fan?

Sainte-Marie: Of course! Who isn’t?

What I’m looking for is originality. And it’s hard for an artist of any genre to keep on being original and unique. I tend to like an album too that has some diversity in it.

My advice to young songwriters: don’t keep writing the same song year after year. Boring! Use different chords. If you’re a young musician, there are more than (the usual) chords. Get into all those wacky diminished-7, add-9, plus-13 chords.

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Spend some time with it and you might get a different kind of melody or a different kind of thought. I’m always pushing for what some people would call mutation.

Answers have been edited and condensed.

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