I’m happy to share my family’s immigration story “The Incredible Journey”… from Klein-Zundert, Netherlands to Middleton, Nova Scotia, Canada. Read all about it in today’s Chronicle Herald newspaper > Incredible Journey
Story & Photography: Andrew Herygers
Publisher: Muzik Etc. Magazine
This issue we are on the east coast visiting multi-talented singer-songwriter Jenn Grant, who has just returned home from the Middle East, Cairo, Egypt. I am curious to discover what else has been happening with Jenn in the year or so since the release of her darker and more reflective album Echoes.
On a spring afternoon, Jenn greets me from behind a bright yellow door and is quickly followed by Charlie, her rambunctious Australian Labradoodle puppy. Grant is happy to be back at home in Halifax. Judging from Charlie’s excited demeanour, he’s pleased she’s home as well. “There is nothing as good as coming home to Nova Scotia,” Jenn says, “and going for a quiet walk where I can look at painterly houses and breathe in the salty air. There is a sense of peace that comes with being home, heightened because of all the time I spend away from it.”
Indoors, she drops a CD into the player, Rose Cousins’ album The Send Off. Ms. Grant makes a great avocado sandwich and we chat about her Egyptian adventure, riding camels, and what’s next musically. “Egypt was a chance to see how other people live and to understand their culture better,” Jenn says. “And the chance to be a foreigner is important: I have become accustomed to being a part of the majority and this was a chance for me to get a new perspective.”
Currently, she is in the early phases of writing material for her third album and she’s already developed melodies and basic song structures. Soon, her fellow band-mates will add their musical expertise and creative take. “I love my band,” she enthuses. “I am so lucky to play with such talented, interesting, gorgeous people. We are a little family. Kinley Dowling plays violin, viola, sings, and adds percussion. David Christensen plays keys, flute, and sings. Sean MacGillivray plays bass and lends vocal harmonies. He’s also a full-time member of Classified. Sean can fix anything and prevent disasters that I cause whenever we are in front of people or otherwise. Mike Belyea is our newest member. He is a dynamic drummer and he tried to hide his beautiful voice. But I heard it and so I try to get him to sing more. I can’t wait to play new songs with him.”
Originally from Prince Edward Island, Jenn Grant’s earliest creative interests included drawing and writing. Then came music. “I used to play piano when I was seven,” she tells me. “I wasn’t interested in the way it sounded, though, but in the way I looked when I was playing it! Now I am trying to focus on learning about the notes that are on the piano. I started playing guitar when I was 12. I got it in a plaid case. As soon as I touched it I was changed forever.”
Jenn Grant’s quick rise to popularity stemmed from Jenn Grant and Goodbye Twentieth Century, which she recorded in 2005 with Glen Meisner at CBC Halifax’s Studio H. Musical collaborators included Jason MacIsaac and Dave Christensen of the Halifax pop-orchestral group The Heavy Blinkers, Jill Barber, Ron Sexsmith, Matt Mays, Rose Cousins, and Dale Murray.
In 2006, Jenn Grant won Best New Artist and Best Female Artist at the Nova Scotia Music Awards. Her success magnified with the release of her “official” debut album Orchestra for the Moon, which included the attention-grabbing single “Dreamer”.
“The Heavy Blinkers taught me how to tour,” says Jenn, “but they tricked me because they took me to Europe and we lived in a haunted castle. Then there was the cold green room at The Casbah in Hamilton, Ontario... There is something special about all of these venues, like they are holding the ghosts of songs past. Like when I play the Rebecca Cohn (ed: Halifax auditorium), Jill Barber is there somewhere.” (www.jillbarber.com).
Grant continues her tale and we come to the story of her latest release Echoes. In this she had a considerable help from producer Jonathan Goldsmith (Bruce Cockburn, Jane Siberry, Bourbon Tabernacle Choir). “Jonathan is a secret force of the universe,” Jenn states. “I hope we will make another record someday. He is an exceptional person and producer.” Indeed, Echoes is a rich blend of musical styles, soulful melodies, and captivating sounds. The natural acoustics of the instruments are beautifully captured and a warm analog vibe. Jenn’s voice seems effortless and pristine amid a dream-like ambiance. The highly emotive Echoes is a particular treat with headphones.
A recent performance with Symphony Nova Scotia stands as a career highlight.“The SNS show was amazing,” Jenn exclaims. “I was lucky to be able to work with David Christensen... I was a little nervous when heading off to meet the symphony for rehearsals, but the more we practised the less scary they were. Eventually, it was like playing with a big, expensive, amazing band. It was great to be able to just sing and feel as if I was floating away on the sounds of the orchestra. The songs were taken to a new and exciting level, giving them a new life—for me and for the audience.”
The concert was memorable for another reason. The CBC commissioned Jenn, David Christensen, and Rich Terfry, aka Buck 65, to write a six-minute piece entitled “One Million Years”. Jenn tells me she is grateful to Rich, who currently hosts a prime time weekly radio spot. “Rich is a very dear friend,” she says. “I am a huge fan of his work and his contribution to supporting Canadian music on Radio 2. It was an honour to share the stage with him and it was a very special night that will remain one of the most heart-warming experiences of my life.”
As ambassador for the Halifax institution, the Izaak Walton Killam Hospital for Children, Jenn Grant has written a song supporting the IWK mission and she appears on a television awareness campaign. “I was a camp counsellor for children with special needs for five summers,” Jenn says, “so the children’s hospital is something I care deeply about. Whatever I can do to give back to them is good for everyone. (The presence of) a song and a campaign, which kids can see, will make them feel more at ease about going there... make the hospital a safe and joyful place.”
Earlier I referred to Jenn Grant’s artistic inclination. She’s sustained it through the years. In 2006, she graduated from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. She intimates, “I like to paint dark places and light places—somewhere magical I can get to only by letting go. I like to paint because it gives me the same feeling as singing. It’s like I am flying and no one can touch me.”
Talk turns to her upcoming album. “I have twelve songs right now that I’m excited to record,” she reveals. “They are a lot different from each other. Some of them are joyful, some sad. Some of them are quiet, some of them are rock and roll. It will be a diverse collection of secret stories. “When I write a song and sing it, in those first stages especially, it is the closest I will ever come to being free. It is the most powerful and strangest feeling and I wouldn’t change it for all the money in the world.”
Writer: Majorie Simmins
Photography: Andrew Herygers
Publisher: Halifax Magazine (Metro Guide Publishing)
Writer Majorie Simmins investigates Halifax's historic cemeteries and takes an in-depth look at the 250-year-old Old Burying Ground on Barrington Street, a National Historic Site.
Excerpt: The Old Burying Ground has an exceptionally rich and diverse collection of carved art on the gravestones. These include death’s-head skulls (representing mortality and penance), winged heads (signifying ascension), plus bones and skeletons (indicating decay). There is also an astrologer’s potpourri of stars, suns and moons. In order, they represent divine guidance or creation, a soul rising to heaven and rebirth. Animals, flowers, trees, anchors, birds — many symbols with many meanings, not all agreed upon by scholars. Some carved visages have an unexpected folk-art quality. Others, such as recumbent skeletons or skulls and cross-bones, verge on ghoulish.
For more information about Metro Guide Publishing visit: http://metroguide.ca/
Story & Photography: Andrew Herygers
Publisher: Muzik Etc. Magazine
A quick catch-up with Slowcoaster front man Steven MacDougall reveals that things are far from slow-moving for the Nova Scotian power trio. The proudly Cape Breton based band, now in its tenth year, continues to evolve in its assimilation of ska, funk, pop, hip-hop, disco, jazz, and blues. Slowcoaster is comprised of founder Steven MacDougall on guitar and vocals, Mike LeLievre on bass, and Brian Talbot (formerly of the band Slainte Mhath) on drums. Talbot,who has been a part of the Slowco beat for as far back as 2002, officially became a charter member in 2006.
I managed to track them down in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, home of the Evolve Festival (evolvefestival.com), their first stop on a mini Atlantic Canadian tour before jet-setting back out west. At the time of interview they hadn’t seen each other since a performance weeks back in Calgary. Talbot rolls in from an all-night DJ gig in Halifax. He’s also been busy with the Rankins and doing sessions for Cape Breton heavyweights Gord Sampson and Jimmy Rankin. MacDougall joined us, replenished from a songwriting retreat in Nashville, while LeLievre emerged from the family island homestead.
Slowco has become a banner waver for the next generation of Cape Breton bands, not necessarily traditional or Celtic, but brimming with energy and spirit. I witnessed their magnetism on their first tour outing: The crowd begins buzzing like bees around a hive the moment they hear the first chord. They hang in for a crazy ride, up and down in tempo, meter, dynamics, and they’re captivated by the carnival of on stage antics. Fans know all the lyrics and sing along with MacDougall, pulsate to Talbot’s compelling beats, and groove to LeLievre’s cool melodic bass lines. The repertoire draws from current past favourites, from funk to pop with the Celtic kitchen sink thrown in for good measure. It’s like this, and it’s different, each Slowco show. Audiences experience a mix of songs and styles. “We think of music as much as a twisted sport as we do music,” says MacDougall. “Every night is different. Crowds seem to respond very well to our new songs.” LeLievre adds, “When we write those songs, Steve is the wordsmith and I’m the melody weirdo. Brian’s the backbeat. It’s about three intricate human beings being ourselves, producing sounds that people can dance to, and it’s about fun. When that stops, so does the world!”
Slowcoaster finds ample inspiration and time to write new material. “We write in the van, with other people, and by ourselves. Sometimes we’ll jam on stage in front of people because inspiration is one of those things that can come at any time from anywhere. We create the song as it happens. The idea dictates the style and we embrace whatever genre the song happens to fall into at the time. Sometimes we’ll mess with it a bit, such as taking a country song and trying it out as a reggae song, or maybe getting into disco — whatever cheeky little idea we’re feeling that day. Usually, though, a song flows from the get go and stays in the same genre.”
Currently signed to Cape Breton based Company House Records, Slowcoaster works well at the customary island pace. Explains LeLievre, “Company House is a label formed by percussionist Darren Gallop and New York producer Warren Bruleigh and it employs all Cape Breton staff in promotional, distribution, and recording positions. In Cape Breton you have to do things for yourself and often by yourself. People who grow up together and work together fuel the music community in Cape Breton. This helps us export our artists and import other great bands to our little island, building lasting relationships around the world.”
Last October, Slowcoaster commenced work on a self-funded and self-produced album. They’re recording under the attentive gaze of engineer Mike Shepherd at Lakewind Sound studio in Point Aconi on the beautiful and inspiring Bras D’Or Lakes. (Ed: Muzik Etc readers will recognize Lakewind from our interview with Juno Award winner Gordie Sampson, who is part-owner of the acclaimed Lakewood studio). The album will feature the usual mix of styles and the dance factor. Adds Talbot, “The lyrics will make you want to sing out loud! So far, the process is moving swiftly. We’re having a really easy time hammering it out and putting our arrangements together. We’re tracking mostly live off-the-floor so there’s a nice, authentic feel. There are sections where we let the music wander freely and others where the arrangements are sharp and to the point. Since Mike Shepherd has worked with the band in many different scenarios over the years and is a great friend, he knows what we like to hear and how we like to work."
The band’s discography includes Jody’s Garden (2000), Volume II (2001), Leaves (2002), Accidents & Excuses (2003), Where Are They Going? (2004), and Future Radio (2007). Slowcoaster’s repertoire is all over the map. “We have always straddled the line between what is mainstream and what is totally insane,” MacDougall quips. “Our plan of world domination seems to be working out.” You may succumb to their grand designs. Give their album a listen one i-Tunes, then wait for their tour to hit your town or nearby urban center.
Slow Co Gear
LeLievre plays a Fender Precision bass, the four-string unadulterated standard of stage and recording worlds. MacDougall’s arsenal includes a doubleneck Gibson SG, Fender Strats and Jaguars, and a prized Vox AC30 amplifier, a retro/classic stalwart amp back in the spot lights. Talbot plays live gigs and sessions on Yamaha Absolute series drums, choosing the maple shell version (as opposed to birch or beech). He says, “You can’t beat the tone and consistency of Yamaha drums. And for cymbals I prefer Sabian HH and HHX lines. I’ve always liked big, dark, and colorful cymbals."