Jenn Grant Conquers Stage Fright
Halifax's Jenn Grant has drawn more than a few comparisons to Feist thanks to her jazzy, warbling style of singing. A few of the songs on her excellent debut album Orchestra For The Moon even sound like they could have been outtakes from Canada's reigning queen of indie rock's last couple of albums.
But the country and folk sound found on the album quickly sets her apart. Since releasing the CD this summer, she's shared the stage with everyone from Feist and The Great Lake Swimmers to her current tourmates The Weakerthans, who she'll open for at The Phoenix on November 7th and 8th.
Grant took a few minutes while on the road to a tour stop in Quebec City to speak to me.
Q: Tell blogTO's readers a bit about yourself.
JG: Well, I was born in PEI, I live in Halifax. I'm just touring with my band right now with The Weakerthans.
Well, I'm 27 and I have freckles. I grew up in Halifax and done a lot of time around the Maritimes and stuff like. I started writing music when I was a kid and started performing when I was half way thorough getting an art degree.
I've always done music and painting but I didn't do any performing until about four years ago because I was really afraid of people looking at me and stuff. But it's okay now!
Q: You performed a few shows when you were a teenager then stopped due to stage fright. What made you decide to start performing again?
JG: I think the community in Halifax is pretty tight and I was going to see shows. I think I went to see Tegan and Sara, I don't know Tegan and Sara, but I went to see them play at the Marquee one night and it was really cool. I was really sad that I wasn't doing that too.
I think I went to a matinee, an acoustic show, and I thought, "Maybe I can do that, start off really small, play a really small show on a Sunday." And so I just started off really little.
I think I need to do a couple things and just get ready and going to art school was a really expressive community and a really excepting group of people and music was really encouraged at art school anyway.
I started to hang out with more like-minded people I guess.
Q: How did you hook up with Ron Sexsmith?
JG: I met Ron in Toronto at a Music Nova Scotia showcase and he was there and then (I) ended up opening for him for the Junofest show in Halifax. Then I was in England, I was the touring vocalist for the Heavy Blinkers, and Ron and the band were both playing at the Canada Day show.
So we hung out. He played some song on the piano and had some drinks and stuff. People are always asking me about him and I don't really know what to say because I don't really know him. But now I feel like I have gotten to know him recently so it's less weird now to be talking about him.
Q: What was opening for Feist like?
JG: She played at the Marquee(in Halifax) in January about two years ago I think. I was just asking everyone if I could open up and everyone just said no and that was OK. But then I wrote a long e-mail and sent it to someone at her label and asked if they would send it to her and she decided that I was OK and it would be OK.
She was very nice and (had) really good energy about her.
Q: What was making the transition from being in a band to being a solo artist like?
JG: Oh, I do that a lot. I have a band but they have their own projects as well. They all have solo projects of their own. We just tour as a band whenever we can and it's expensive to do that too, but it's really fun.
It's really good. I guess I just look at what the opportunity is, and if it fits then I just kind of take them I can.
With The Weakerthans, I just thought it would be real interesting to have a full band so, I think it's going to be really great.
We played our first show last night and I'm really glad we have the band because The Weakerthans are so awesome!
But I did just a duo tour last month with Great Lake Swimmers which was appropriate I think just because I think the Great Lake Swimmers are so quiet and pretty and I just wanted to not be too heavy, I didn't want it to be unbalanced.
So, it's good because all the people that I work with are flexible and really accommodating and stuff. And sometimes we change it up.
We never really know what's going to happen but we just go with the flow.
Q: What was heading into the studio like? I got the impression that you like to keep things spontaneous. Or did it give you a chance to be spontaneous?
JG: We did it at CBC and the producers that came in, they were first time producers and they are in the Heavy Blinkers (Jason MacIsaac and David Christensen). We had just spent a month or two traveling in Europe together and they were backing me up and we were good friends as well.
I didn't know anyone at CBC. I wanted to make sure that people who really knew me were working on it as well. I think that the album is pretty Blinkers'esque - the orchestral pop thing.
Q: What inspired the painting on the album's cover?
JG: Just 'cause I'm a painter and I paint.
It sort of reminds me of this place in PEI that it doesn't really look like to anyone else, but when I look at it. It's just a really nice place and [it's] my favourite place. No one else would know that but it just looked like that to me.
Q: Have you started work on your new album? Is it going to be any different from Orchestra For The Moon?
JG: I've been writing and collecting work for it. We did some pre-production in the summer as a band in this place called Seaforth in Nova Scotia that has a surf pool. That was really fun, we just went there for a week and did some things.
I'm trying to think when I'm going to do it and who I'm going to be working with and there's nothing finalized happened yet.
There's definitely a couple interesting prospects. I think it's just going to be a bit different. I don't know yet exactly.
Q: How has the tour been going so far?
JG: Good. We don't have any CDs but we all had showers today. It was pretty awesome. We stayed with our friend Ben in Montreal and he made a little spread of breakfast goodness for us and a really good sleep last night.
The Weakerthans are really nice and awesome and cool and I'm excited to hang out with them and maybe they'll let me on that tour bus. It's called Gertrude. It's red and I like red.
They seem really great and the show was awesome last night. It was a bit overwhelming.
It's probably the third time I've ever played in Montreal. The first time was at a little tiny cafe with my friend Tanya Davis and then the second one was with the Great Lakes Swimmers to a sold-out and then last night was with The Weakerthans and it was just really awesome. The room was beautiful. It was at the National Cabaret.
You get attachments to cities and attachments to audiences that come out I guess and I feel like the last few times I played was to the Weakerthans crowd and to the Great Lake Swimmers crowd, but there was people that I think knew who I was.
I really like their audiences I guess. I really like playing with the people who like the Weakerthans and the people who like the Great Lake Swimmers so it's just exciting because now it feels like there's a special little place in Montreal.
It's just interesting to see how people are all connected. I think that Julie Penner's boyfriend (Jason Tait) who's in The Weakerthans was at the Horseshoe show in Toronto (this past June). Because Julie played with us, I think that's why we're on this Weakerthans tour, because he saw that last song and Julie was really nice about it.
(With) the Great Lake Swimmers and The Weakerthans, I just feel like I'm this little kid. I'm like, "Oh my god, you guys are so cool!"
Q: What do you have planned for your shows in Toronto on the 7th and 8th?
JG: I just keep thinking about the Phoenix. I don't know what it's like in there; I hear it's pretty big. I'm really excited. I love playing in Toronto.
I don't really know how to get around Toronto. But I really love playing in Toronto. What do I have planned? I'll do maybe some flips or like some, those things when you're a star, not jumping jacks but when you twirl, like cartwheels.
If I can learn how to do cartwheels I might do that. Or, if I can learn tap dancing I might do that. (Giggles)
But, besides that I'll probably just try to put on a really good show.
I love doing stuff like that, decorating the stage and stuff. But when we're opening, I don't think it's appropriate.
Q: What does the future hold for you?
JG: I have no idea. I'm really excited to start working on another record and I'm enjoying living in Halifax for now.
I just want to tour a lot right now just do as much as possible. I just feel like it's a good time for me, the next couple of year to work (as much as possible). I just want to work as much as possible, just write really good songs if I can and just do as much as I can.
That's all I want to do. Maybe grow my hair a little and maybe get some highlights. I'm just kidding!
Jenn Grant opens for The Weakerthans
November 7th (sold out) and 8th.
The Phoenix Concert Theatre
410 Sherbourne St.
Tickets are $25
Photo by Rose Cousins from Jenn Grant's website.
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