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.”