Monday, January 19, 2009

Reviews:: Jenn Grant Echoes + Interview

photo by Norman Wong

Undoubtedly, the two biggest releases coming from Nova Scotia this year will be the triple album from Joel Plaskett, and the soon to be released sophomore release some PEI born, Halifax resident Jenn Grant. With her debut - Orchestra from the Moon - Jenn showed the world her talent, enchanting listeners with her voice and melodies.

Echoes certainly reinforces her talent but shows Grant developing a more grounded view of the world she lives in, one that benefits her songs nicely. After the first few lines of Heartbreaker, you sense something is different about Jenn, almost as if the last year has put her through some things that made her stronger, calmer. You really get the sense that Jenn has grown into her voice and more importantly, as a song writer. The maturity and power she delivers on songs like Hawaii and Only Love Can Break Your Heart really hit with the same impact as the first Norah Jones record that became the must have record of the year.

As soon as the sensational You'll Go Far starts, you expect the song to explode into the wood nymph dance party like her smash hit, Dreamer . Jenn and her band (The Night Painters) use many of the same elements and build the anticipation throughout the song, but instead of floating off into another wide-eyed, dream they control the pace and despite the light sounds Grant takes the role of a grounded supporter instead of an unwavering optimist.

Grant has always dabbled in countless styles, and Echoes is no different. The intimate Where Are You Now floats around the empty space, and warms the room like the first rays of light that creep through the windows but even with how easily this song could dominate the radio, it's only one piece of the Grant puzzle. She pays tribute to the sounds of the past with the quirky, country fair vibe of the terrific (I've Got) The Two Of You, a song that would probably leave the listener flat without the purity of her voice and is able to handle with bigger, jazzy arrangements with ease.

Grant's voice has always been intoxicating and flexible, but her interaction with The Night Dreamers can't be overlooked. The spacey undercurrent of the confessional Blue Mountain really makes the track crackle, and they seem to feed off the emotion her voice creates. They add some intrigue and anger to When I Was Your Woman and really help Grant transform Parachutes (another intimate track that uses harmonies perfectly and finally gives Grant's voice the spotlight) by breaking into a full gallop after her voice has already fully entrenched you in the song.

With the success of her debut record and the insane expectations for Echoes, the bar was set quite high for Grant, but her maturity and talent allows her to easily clear the hurdle. She takes chances, opens up her soul to the listener but also shows that at the end of the day, some of her music is written for her (the album's last song, Everybody Loves you almost feels like Jenn reassuring herself that things are going to work out) and the process of her writing is important for her growth. Undoubtedly, this record is one that fans will embrace, but in all honesty, it's one that is going to make Jenn Grant something more than just Halifax's favorite female voice.

Jenn was nice enough to answer a few questions for us, and if you thought we could go a whole interview without talking about Lionel Ritchie, Bill Ocean or Step it Up 2, Electric Boogaloo... well, you obviously don't know us or Jenn.

HH:: You just finished recording and are getting to release Echoes. With the success you had with your last release, did you feel any pressure to build on the momentum?
JG:: I didn't feel any pressure, I actually felt like I was going crazy and wanted to record pretty much right after releasing Orchestra for the Moon. I am so glad I waited. I wasn't ready!!!

HH:: The music on your last record has been described – and rightly so in my opinion – as whimsical and magical. When I listened to Echoes, I hear a more mature and darker sound on a lot of the tracks (like I Was Your Woman). I wouldn't say the songs emit sadness, but they seem less… wide-eyed maybe. Was this a conscious decision or did your own experiences just lead to these songs?
JG:: I noticed that too. But more so like it was unfolding before me. I don't think i could plan something like that even if I tried, nor would I want to. It's just something that happened. but it's nice because I feel like I grew up a bit.

HH:: Much like fellow Maritimer Joel Plaskett, you have achieved success and built a North American fan base without having to leave Nova Scotia for a bigger city. How important is your home, your friends and a smaller, slower lifestyle to you and your music?
JG:: It is very important. I love the Maritimes and really need to come back and fuel up again so that I can keep writing and feeling happy. There really needs to be time to feel like I know what day it is in between all the touring. Big cities although amazing in their own way often make me feel anxious. And I miss the little things the most like making myself a cup of tea after sleeping in my own bed and walking down Agricola street. But i appreciate these simple pleasures all the more for being away from home. It's nice to have something to come back to.

HH:: Do you think your career would have unfolded the same way if your family had stayed in PEI and not moved to Halifax?
JG:: Leaving PEI as a ten year old girl was very hard for me, but I am so much happier today having grown up. in both of them. Leaving the island and having to find my place in Halifax has much to do with becoming who I am. I think a lot of the romanticism I write about comes from the landscapes of Prince Edward Island but it was the diverse community of Halifax that accepted me and encouraged me to develop as an artist. I have left both provinces and appreciated both of them more so afterwords.

HH:: Over the last year, you've had the chance to work with some terrific artists and show how versatile your voice is. You completely transform Matthew De Zoete's sound when you sing with him on his new record and mesh perfectly with Justin Rutledge (not to mention your work on the new Olympic Symphonium release), so I was just wondering how your creative process works when you are supporting other artists? Do you have much input or are you basically just trying to deliver the sound the artist wants?
JG:: I am most comfortable and perform the best when I have creative freedom singing with other artists. I feel the same way about singers who sing with me. Although some direction is sometimes needed, I want their own sound to come through and make it better than I could. That is the point of it for me. And you get to know who you love to sing with. For example, I love to sing with Rose Cousins.

HH:: Without trying to make you blush, your songs are starting to get noticed by a much bigger audience, even landing you a spot performing during the Grammys and pushing your name to the top of the "next Canadian artist to break out" list. Did that kind of change in your life and schedule have any impact at all on your new album?
JG:: That kind of press, although very flattering and appreciated and exciting, doesn't affect the music I'll make. I made this album with a very few specific people with me, and on a farm far away from cities or radios or tvs or anything that would distract me or be an outside influence. The music was created simply for the amazing purpose of creating it. Being able to offer it to the audience I already love who I feel wanted something more from me and who have supported me through Orchestra for the moon is something very special. That's something more than I ever thought would happen. I feel very lucky.

HH:: You are likely one of the most nationally known artists to come out of Halifax recently, but you are also one of the most vocal supporters of our scene. Could you name a couple of other acts that you think will emerge from our fair city in the near future?
JG:: Sure! Share (lead singer songwriter Andrew Sisk) has recently finished recording an album produced by Daniel Ledwell. I love this album. I also think Andrew has developed alongside a really great band who are all showcased on this recording. Daniel is also producing his own work as well which is truly beautiful and i think his songs and production are just going to add to the great things going on in this community.

HH:: It's getting harder and harder for bands to tour, and with so many venues closing down here in Halifax, what would you say to convince National acts to make the trip?
JG:: I think that if you are born to be an artist then you will do what it takes to live that life and if you don't you might be very sad. So i would just say follow your heart even if it takes you to a dingy type of cold band room because it will still be worth it. Bring a sweater and a granola bar or you might die. If you really hate it then you should stop!

HH:: Last question - any chance that your Halifax CD release show for Echoes will see you reprise your Billy Ocean-inspired dance routine from last year's IDOW show? Might you perhaps show Lionel Ritchie some love instead?
JG:: Ha... ah geeze. I was thinking about that tonight but I don't think I can "step it up" ... 1 or 2, for this show. Sorry, that's a reference to a dance movie we watched tonight. I believe it was the first movie of step it up, before step it up 2. It made me realize that I would have a lot of work to do before being in another dance routine. They're nerve racking! So I'm sorry, but you'll just have to wait until the time is right. But I am really, really looking forward to the Halifax show. I imagine it in my head every day. So I really want to focus on making it a true representation of the album. Maybe next time, Gadget.

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