Monday, May 23, 2016

A Conversation With ... Jane Siberry

Jane Siberry is that Toronto/Montreal connection that owes much to Joni Mitchell and those coffee houses, nights at the Riverboat and Leonard Cohen – artists who paint with words.  Too often those who practice the gruelling art of songwriting are accepting of a lesser phrase and common lyric and charge on. Not the case with a Siberry, Mitchell or Cohen. The written word is as precious as the fluids we drink, the air we inhale and food we depend on for survival. I caught up with Siberry this week and posed a few questions.
Bill King: Where are you with the recording situation now, you said in the past you’ve abandoned the traditional ways?

Jane Siberry: I’ve just finished recording and haven’t gone on to any new stuff. But what I will do when I have time and inspiration – I will just do one song at a time. I like the idea. It’s not so daunting as doing a whole recording and get it all out. It was a long process to make the last recording.

B.K: You went a different route on … crowd sourcing to raise funds, and it went very well.
J.S: Yes, and to add to that – that was about 25% of the full cost of it. It was over five years and I had Peter Kiesewalter, a Canadian producer who did a version of the record too. It’s been a circuitous route.

B.K: Does it take a long period for you to advance songs from the written page to a recording?
J.S: It can. I’m pretty particular and can’t tell till I hear it. If I have ideas for people to sing with me I don’t know until I hear it and if it’s not right I just keep trying. I often write right in the studio and what I use is what I first come up with.

B.K: Do you favor a particular backing instrumentation?
J.S: I love it – playing around with songs and particular instrumentation and I love working with real musicians.

B.K: The touring?
J.S: I have been touring and found oddly, that’s the only way I can support the recording was to keep going out and touring. I may have preferred just concentrating on the recording but it got me out of the malls. It also keeps your different set of skills up which you use in the studio too. You just probably don’t hear about it because it’s mostly in the States is part of the reason. I continue performing – I do birthday parties, bar mitzvahs.

B.K: What would you do for a request like that?
J.S: People invite me to the strangest things and I tend to do them because I really enjoy it. I’m doing like a girl’s birthday party and she has a tattoo of one of the lines in my song and her sister wants to do a surprise thing for her. I’m going to go to her party and play two songs. I quite like it.

B.K: The Globe & Mail asked me last year to name a couple epic concerts I was moved by. I often point to two I have actually teared up in. One was yours at Massey Hall back in the 80s’. I can’t explain why – but I wasn’t alone in that room. It was the voices, the ethereal sounds and high emotion.

J.S: As I started to find my footing as a musician and even in the beginning I would find people, when they tuned in to the emotional part of it – that’s what people seemed to really like. I started noticing that and Massey Hall was another leap for me because it was the first time I could actually hear myself when playing with a band. I could get super quiet and hear it come back like a crystal from the back and thought, this is what music is supposed to be, not struggling to play with a band and get through the songs. I’ve kept that and when I play with bands, to get that clarity where people can hear every word – I can feel them and they can feel me – I can hold space for the listener if you know that term, I think that’s where a lot of magic happens. So when I arrange stuff with a band I never let the drummer play any cymbals when I’m singing. I usually don’t play with drums anyway – I’m just sort of sick of drums. It used to be just tapping my foot and then it exaggerated into this assault and battery. It just means musicians have to groove better with no drummer. It all works. I like how it works without drums.

When you drink you really like loud drums. I don’t drink anymore, maybe that’s why.
What I’ve learned as I continue learning and doing salons – about 100 of them all over the world in people’s living rooms, unamplified - I’ve even got where I don’t play guitar when I’m singing live. I stop a lot. You really sense the circle frayed when they can’t hear the words. That circle of connection. It’s made me play guitar and piano differently.

B.K: Has the subject matter in your songs changed much over the years?
J.S: It’s a relief to talk about music, Bill, instead of personal details. I like to talk about this.
It has changed a lot and I at a certain point, probably when I changed my name and wanted much, much less talking with people and many fewer possessions. I also decided I didn’t want to smokescreen people with my lyrics. I’m much more direct in who I write to so the songs aren’t as abstract without anchoring them to you, the person I’m listening too. It just seems super important to connect more than ever these days. Beyond that there is a whole kind of music in my head I haven’t even got to – the kind of music I’m supposed to write? I haven’t even got near and can’t even say what it is but it has to do with the lyrics.

B.K: “I thought I was holding the music hostage because of the money” – do you still feel that way?
J.S: If someone had a sore shoulder and I could make you feel better if you’d pay me, you have to let go of all of that. You just have to be of service. I haven’t sorted out the debt thing. That’s been like an albatross around my neck for like fifteen years. I don’t know how to do it but as far as music goes, I’m not going to hoard it. I hope the universe will draw music out of me in a way and not make me feel heavy from debt. Debt is energy. I don’t want to think how I’m going to make a living from music. I’d pay way more than I do to make music.

B.K: 2006 you pared things down and got to the essentials.
J.S: That was my hope. My understanding of that is – that’s the exterior version of what’s within me and what I really want is to pare down the possessions inside me.  It’s a discipline. They should have martial arts courses about this.

B.K: You have a fine fall touring schedule.
J.S: Yep – beginning here, then the UK –North America November – December. I’ll have a proper release of this recording Ulysses Purse sort of like a slow motion release. That’s what my hope is, to play concerts with a collective of musicians. I remember when I released When I Was a Boy it took a long time to mature in the air – it was sort of like a sleeper. I don’t know how to really say it. You can tell when it’s too new and hasn’t put down any roots or something. It feels that way with this one too.
I give my music to people up north where I am, I have a cabin in Northern Ontario. I’ll give it to the guy that owns a gas station or someone else or the people in the church and their reaction isn’t instant like, oh I get it yet it’s meant for everybody. It takes a longer time for cables to hook up with people when hearing my music. 

B.K: I remember the great conductor/pianist Andre Previn when he had a television show in the 60s’ telling the audience don’t listen to a recording one time and turn away – listen five, ten, twelve times and let the music sink in. Do you think that’s required today as we pay less attention?
J.S: I think it takes a while for one to hook up with the artist. I like repeated listening too. It’s with remorse I often don’t do that. At least when I do listen to music I try and turn down the lights and honor their music. It’s so easy to be careless with something so precious.  

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