In Conversation – Mo Kenney

Mo Kenney is a young Nova Scotian singer-songwriter who produced her debut album last September and has since been touring with Joel Plaskett and The Emergency and Ron Sexsmith. The recipient and nominee of numerous prestigious awards as well as raves from critics, Mo is known for clever, insightful lyrics?often on the subject of triumphing over heartache?and a sincere, well-crafted delivery. On July 7 she’ll be performing at the Savoy du Métropolis as part of the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

Recently she took the time to answer Wanda Waterman’s questions about how she grew into music and what inspires her now.

Bounce it Like a Bad Cheque

What is it about Nova Scotia that renders it such a fertile breeding ground for musicians in spite of having a limited music infrastructure, a chronically depressed economy, and a small population?

?I’m not sure being a Nova Scotian has made me a better musician,? says Mo, ?but there’s certainly lots of talented musicians coming out of Nova Scotia. I feel lucky to be part of such a giant music community. I’m proud to come from a place That’s known for producing talented artists.?

When her talent and hard work met a series of lucky breaks, including a meeting with famous producer and musician Joel Plaskett while she was still in high school, Mo didn’t hesitate to commit herself to a full-time music career.

?I’ve always liked writing,? she admits, ?but I never really considered being a singer-songwriter as a kid. It wasn’t until I picked up my first guitar at the age of 11 that I decided I was going to be a musician. At that point I wasn’t sure what I was going to do; I thought maybe I’d play guitar in someone else’s band. I started actually writing my own songs at the age of 15, and that was when the idea started to form.?

Although Mo is now only 22 years old, She’s already producing veteran-calibre recordings and performances. Nonetheless, she exhibits a disarming humility and a drive to keep doing better.

?I don’t think I’ve been able to develop more quickly than other musicians. It’s taken me a long time to figure out how to write songs and be able to express myself through that medium. I’ve been working at it for a long time and am still learning and still striving to be better at what I do.?

Discovering a New World of Music

Mo is influenced less by the folk and singer-songwriter tradition than by recent alternative bands.

?When I was 15 I began listening to all kinds of new artists like Elliott Smith, The Shins, Sigur Ros, The Strokes, TV on the Radio, etc. It totally changed my life. I became even more obsessed with music and wanted to create something different like these artists seemed to be doing. I’d always listened to music, but discovering these artists made something click for me. It was like discovering a new world.?

When she and Joel Plaskett (the only two musicians on her album) were putting her debut recording together, Joel thought it might be a good idea to include one cover tune. Mo immediately thought of putting a new twist on David Bowie’s ?Five Years.?

??Five Years? is by far my favourite Bowie tune. I heard it for the first time on vinyl in my first apartment. It’s kind of the theme song for an era for me. When Joel and I . . . talked about putting a cover tune on there . . . it was the first song I thought of. I went home and learned it and it felt really good to sing and play. It just felt right.?

What does Mo feed that fertile brain of hers? ?I watch a ton of movies. When I was a teenager I watched my first Wes Anderson film and was immediately hooked. He puts together such great soundtracks in all his movies, and I’ve been introduced to a lot of music through him.

?The Royal Tannenbaums gave me my first taste of Elliott Smith. Elliott has had a huge influence on me as an artist; his music is the reason I taught myself to fingerpick.

?I’ve been listening to a lot of Sharon Van Etten lately. Her album Tramp is amazing. I’ve also completely fallen in love with Rachel Sermanni’s music, so That’s been on my playlist a lot lately as well. These past few days I’ve been listening to the song ?Dr. Baker? by The Beta Band and ?Matter of Time? by The Low Anthem.?

Coming Up

What’s on the horizon for this rising star? ?This summer I’ll be doing a lot of playing, which is great. I’m doing a lot of festivals! I’m writing as much as I can these days, so that when the time comes to record a new album, I’ll have lots to pull from. I can’t wait to get back into the studio! Also, I just bought a fiddle and will be spending lots of time trying to master it.?

“gonna take my bad luck
turn it into good luck
gonna take your heart
and turn it into something nice
gonna take a train wreck
bounce it like a bad cheque
send you on your way
and I won’t think about it twice”

from ?Déjà vu? by Mo Kenney