There’s a new strength in Jenn Grant’s music these days, a new degree of confidence from an already outwardly confident artist. It emanates from her latest album The Beautiful Wild, released last fall on Six Shooter Records. More directly though, it’s a place the 32-year-old Nova Scotia songwriter has spent much of her time, particularly in the company of her family and those closest to her – a place where her mother, Heather Elizabeth Grant, reigns as ‘Queen of Azaleas.’
The Beautiful Wild, Grant’s fourth full-length effort, earned her an East Coast Music Award for ‘Pop Recording of the Year’ at the ECMAs in Halifax earlier this month. It was her first award despite having earned 14 nominations in her young music career.
Opening track The Fighter is anchored by a steady drum beat and opens with a banjo line (from Chris Luedecke) and, with Grant singing “Oh my hero tried / But I fell too many times / Seeing blue and green when I was supposed to see white,” immediately invites the listener to experience something created in the beautiful wild, brought out through music.
I’ve Got Your Fire, currently in heavy rotation on CBC Radio 2, brings the album into full stride early on and affirms Grant’s continuing evolution from the fantastical nature of some of her earlier material, which was as refreshing a contribution East Coast music seven years ago as The Beautiful Wild is today. The song and those that follow bespeak a maturation though, not only in her songwriting and vocal qualities, but in her ability to balance the free-spiritedness of her 20s with a keen ability to observe life experiences and convey through her music what probably couldn’t be expressed any other way.
A beautiful life
The Beautiful Wild was written and recorded before Grant’s mother passed away, yet she finds her mom in the songs and throughout the album.
“Strangely, I felt like the songs were sort of about her, but it felt like they were connected to her,” Grant explains on the phone from New Brunswick, where she and her husband (and producer) Daniel Ledwell and the band are en route to Moncton. “She heard the record before it was mastered and that was a really wonderful thing … I guess it just kind of acted as a healing element for both of us because there’s something so transcendent about music, and I feel like when I sing there’s a connection. I feel (the album) is stronger than my past work because there’s something very specific about it, about that time in my life, which was a very important time.
“The fact that there’s the common theme of the beautiful wild, and what that means to me and how that connects to her and my family,” she continues, speaking of her mother’s connection to the album. “It makes it an honour to play the songs and kind of have her steer that through the album. I really love the album and I still really love playing the songs. I find I often get sick of my own songs, and this album I feel really close to the, ‘cause I can find new elements in them when I’m playing.”
Grant and Ledwell recently moved outside of Halifax to make their home in Lake Echo, where they live in a lakeside house. “It’s really private and it’s been kind of a healing place too,” she says. “We moved there in the summer and we’re really enjoying working together and touring.”
Old friends, new beginnings
The Beautiful Wild features a handful of some of Nova Scotia’s most cherished young musicians, including Luedecke, Ledwell, Erin Costello, Rose Cousins, Tanya Davis and the members of the Halifax Boys’ Honour Choir, whose voices make Michael one of the album’s standout tracks.
“(There) was just a feeling of wanting to involve people who have meant a lot to me in the process, and I was very specific about my choices,” Grant says, explaining why she invited so many of her contemporaries to record on the album. “They’re all very special people to me, and I think it kind of goes with the theme of the beautiful wild too. I was just trying to capture a time and, you know, over the past few years all those people have been a very important part of my experience living in Halifax, or being a musician in Canada. So it was just part of this image I have of the beautiful wild.”
Bringing the best of the past into the present
Oh yeah, about the beautiful wild: “Sometimes I feel like it’s about the freedom of making art and being creative, and joyfulness. And if there’s sad elements or whatever, or times that have passed – just kind of honouring all those people and moments you’ve had that are special.”
After so many ECMA nominations, Grant says this was the one she wanted to win the most. “My mom always really loved the ECMAs and always came with me. I just felt like I should win one,” she chuckles. “I think it’s an awesome record and I just wanted to be honoured for her, you know? So it was the right time for me to win one because I felt like her spirit was watching.
“I didn’t know how it would feel to sing (these songs), if it would be too emotional,” she continues, sharing the experience of bringing the songs on the road. “It was emotional playing my CD release in Halifax – I cried a lot during the show. But then after that I found the connection I felt was much stronger. I’ve always felt a divine connection I guess when I sing, but it feels a lot stronger now and it’s a real thing I didn’t expect, so I’m grateful for that.”
Artistically, The Beautiful Wild marks an important achievement for Grant, who confidently, but as always, gracefully sings her way through another part of her life. It seems she has taken the best of what she’s learned, accomplished and become to that point in time, and used them to paint a new world and a new self-image, an accomplishment that could very well owe itself to a lifetime in the beautiful wild.
Jenn Grant and her band perform at The Rock House in St. John’s March 24. For ticket info visit Mightypop.ca. In the meantime, check out her video for ‘The Fighter’, featuring Heather Grant as the Queen of Azaleas.