Interview with Canadian Singer Songwriter Jess Hill

Singer-songwriter Jess Hill, photo Amanda Bullick of Brutally Beautiful
Jess Hill, photo Amanda Bullick of Brutally Beautiful
Pieces EP by Jess Hill
Pieces EP by Jess Hill

By Lori Bosworth

Canadian singer-songwriter Jess Hill will be appearing at several Toronto venues as part of Canadian Music Week from March 19-24, 2013  to showcase her new EP, Pieces. Hill, who hails from East Vancouver, released her debut album, Road, back in 2006. Listen to the EP, Pieces.

Straddling the folk music genre with country blues influences particularly notable on the track, “It Don’t Matter,” Hill has a voice that is at once luscious, haunting and bare. The lead single, “Capsized,” a radio-friendly tune, demonstrates Hill’s strong songwriting abilities while the ethereal, “In the Other Room,” meanders endearingly towards completion. I interviewed Hill via email this week:

LB: You state that you had to put newer material aside in order to tie up the loose ends and record your older material. That takes restraint since I’m sure you’re excited about the new material. Did you feel that you could not move forward without reopening and recording the older songs? Do you regard this resurrection of older material as some type of healing process?

JH: I suppose there was a measure of restraint involved in making that decision. Shortly after the release of Orchard I fell in and out of love fast and by the end of it I had lost touch with my muse completely. I hibernated and contemplated. The heartbreak was big enough that it muddied up my understanding of what I shared with music. In some ways it felt like music and I had fallen out of love. It’s a pretty common story – all consuming love and the need to remember your own self afterward. I started writing again this past summer but it became clear that if I was going to really deliver honestly and openly as an artist I was going to have to reach backwards and remember the essence of what I love about performing and writing again. When I started dusting songs off I was amazed at the relevance in regard to how my heart was beating. Exploring these old tunes so far from their initial creation strengthened my love of music, my desire to share and my wish to connect so deeply. Music is truly a 6th sense – as integral to our memories as the olfactory world.

LB: You mention that your influences have been Joni Mitchell, PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, Nick Drake, Andrew Bird. Who are you listening to currently?

Singer-songwriter Jess Hill, photo Amanda Bullick of Brutally Beautiful
Jess Hill, photo Amanda Bullick of Brutally Beautiful

JH: Of late I have been really moved by the work of my Vancouver peers Christie Rose, James Lamb, and Ben Rogers – each one of them is a really fantastic songwriter with a voice that stands up to be noticed. I’ve also been spinning records by Bahamas, Wild Birds and Peace Drums, David Byrne and St. Vincent, The XX and of course the new Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds album Push The Sky Away.

LB: Can you describe your writing experience? For example, some songwriters describe writing songs in a matter of minutes as if the lyrics are being channelled. Is this your experience?

JH: Not too long ago a friend said that after seeing me strolling along singing full volume through my neighbourhood in East Vancouver she told someone “You know she’s not crazy, she’s working on something.” It wasn’t until she said this that I realized how many seeds for songs are planted while walking home or waiting at a bust stop. Each tune takes it’s own sweet time to grow mind you. Some definitely come out quick like an exhale or the work of some unseen force but others are slow to form, late bloomers with quiet patience. I’ve had some songs hanging around for two years waiting for that last line or phrase that makes them feel complete.

LB: It’s a natural tendency to compare artists to others for the sheer ease of categorization. If you were describing your style, musical identity, who would you compare yourself to?

JH: I find this difficult as the points of reference that can be thrown one’s way can actually be quite diverse. It’s almost as if no two ears really hear anything alike. That being said I’ve had some comparisons thrown my way that really flattered and humbled me simultaneously. When someone says you make music that sounds like the love child of Tom Waits and Regina Spektor, you say thank you and try your darndest to live up to it.

LB: What interests do you have other than music?

JH: I like to pass time cooking, reading, and drawing and in good company. Often my other interests intersect with the work of music. For instance I am working on two families of songs right now – one that is largely focused on dark fairy tales and another that draws imagery from natural cycles like pollination. Maybe I will start an urban apiary!

LB: What would you like to accomplish with your music?

JH: I want to connect with other humans. From where I stand that’s the number one reason to share and partake in any art form.

Jess Hill performs at:

The Shanghai Cowgirl, 538 Queen Street West on Thursday, March 21, 2013
The Lounge Bar in The Marriott Hotel, 525 Bay Street on Friday, March 22, 2013
The Cameron House (Back Room), 408 Queen Street West on Saturday, March 23, 2013
The Holy Oak Café, 1241 Bloor Street West on Tuesday, March 26, 2013.

Tickets are $10 plus HST and handling fee; festival wristbands are $60 and VIP wristbands are $120 and can be purchased online at Canadian Music Festival.

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