Interview – Jill Barber on Mischievous Moon
– by Erin Hanson
Jill Barber released her fourth album Mischievous Moon last month to much acclaim. Incorporating dreamy, romantic lyrics with sweeping strings and a healthy dose of sexy, jazzy undertones, Mischievous Moon has consistently held a spot at the top of the Canadian jazz charts since it was released on April 5. Over the past few months Jill has been performing across Canada, and will soon be heading back to her adopted hometown of Vancouver for a few tour dates across B.C. I recently spoke to Jill Barber from Ottawa.
Erin Hanson: Hi, Jill! What’s going on?
Jill Barber: I’m in Ottawa here for the week working away. I’m keeping busy, it feels amazing. It’s really reassuring and encouraging as an artist to release a brand new record and to have people take a chance on it before it’s been heard much so I feel like my fans have really caught up with me.
EH: And you just played Massey Hall! How was that?
JB: I did on Saturday night. It was incredible. It felt like a real touchstone in my career. It’s something that I’ve dreamed about for a long time so it felt incredible to have it come to fruition. The whole night had a feeling of celebration ‘cos I was there with my band who have worked really hard for the past couple years. My label and my manager and everyone I worked with were there, so it was a night for all of us to feel we’ve come a long way from the early days of playing.
EH: Your new music video for “Tell Me” just debuted, and it’s fantastic. Why did you choose to film it Buenos Aires?
JB: It was not my brainchild. It was a decision made my director Jonathan Bensimon. This was our fourth video together. He’s a Toronto-based film director, and he submitted a treatment for the video with this kind of [James] Bond espionage theme, and when I was reading it, eventually it got to the location and that it would all be filmed in Buenos Aires. He felt really strongly that it should have that kind of aesthetic, a little bit of old faded elegance which Buenos Aires has but also still kind of a sense of romance and intrigue.
EH: I’m curious about when you first started playing music. When did you start writing music?
JB: I was about 14 when my older brother [musician Matt Barber] started playing guitar. I worshipped my brother, so I followed in his footsteps. He taught me a few chords so after school I would come home and fiddle around on the guitar. As soon as I could string a few chords together I started writing my own songs. When I was about 15 I started to go see live music. I would see bands like Sloan and Hayden, and I’d be wide-eyed watching these performers onstage singing their own songs and I wanted to do it. I just wanted to write my own songs so I started writing my own songs as a teenager and they were of course really bad, you know, for the first little while. But I loved writing songs. I was totally addicted to it and obviously I haven’t stopped.
EH: When did you realize you were going to pursue music full time?
JB: For all of my teenage years I didn’t really believe it was possible to write music full time. I went away to university to study philosophy. It was in university that I got serious about performing live and played coffee houses, clubs and stuff. I started publicly performing more and getting paid for it more. But all through university I didn’t really think it was possible. I graduated with my degree and was suddenly out trying to find a job. I got a job for eight or nine months before I quit to do music, and I’ve been doing it ever since. So I’ve been a professional musician for coming up 10 years.
EH: When you were listening to Sloan at 15 – was that when you were listening to the old jazz that you cite as your influences?
JB: Not so much. I discovered jazz, older music and old records in my twenties when I went through my bohemian phase. I was in university, studying philosophy and sitting up late at nights, listening to old records, trying to figure out what to do with my life. That was in my twenties – I was sort of a rock and roll teenager and got more refined as I got older.
EH: In the past few years, you’ve moved from a more folk/country sound towards incorporating more strings and orchestral arrangements in your music. What inspired that shift?
JB: I just find orchestral music elevates songs to some otherworldly kind of place, some whimsical place. I just think it’s the stuff you hear in old movies, like the soundtracks that take songs out of reality and give them the dreamy whimsical quality. Strings kind of sweep you away and I always enjoy the feeling of being swept away musically, so I’m really drawn and attracted to strings.
EH: Can you tell me about your band? Do you write songs together?
JB: I have an amazing band, a six-piece including me. I’ve toured with this particular band for two, maybe three years now. I don’t write with them as a band. A lot of these songs were written with my producer Les Cooper, and my violin player Drew Jurecka, but we don’t write anything as a large group. That said, the band all play a big part in how the songs end up sounding. They contribute their creative input into the songs, so they’re not co-writers, but they help out the arrangements, for sure.
EH: You’ve worked with Ron Sexsmith and Jim Cuddy in the past. Is there anyone else you’re hoping to work with in the near future?
JB: I want to do a duet with Michael Bublé! I just think that would be fun. I’d like to do a duet with him at some point.
EH: I understand you’re a fan of vinyl. What record is on your turntable right now?
JB: The record that I’ve been spinning lately is Hannah Georgas’ record [This is Good]. I think she’s so awesome. I totally love that record and think she’s a really exciting artist. She sounds awesome on vinyl and she sounds great live.
EH: You recently went to France to study French, and Mischievous Moon closes on “Dis-Moi”. Are you thinking about doing a French album next?
JB: I’m not really actively thinking about it, but it’s possible. I really enjoy speaking French and I think it would be fun to make a French album some day, for sure. We’ll see how my language skills progress. I’m still pretty bad with French. I’m learning. I’m still a beginner!