Canadian singer-songwriter Jessy Lanza curates a stellar playlist of her top tracks
Hailing from Hamilton, a busy industrial town situated on the south-western corner of Lake Ontario, Jessy Lanza is the singer, songwriter and producer crafting sultry, synthpop that’s rich with emotion and fraught with longing. Her debut album Pull My Hair Back, co-produced by Jeremy Greenspan of Junior Boys, is sensual, inviting and dark blending elements of R&B, house, disco and 80s studio rock. Ahead of her performance at this year’s Club To Club, we sat down with the woman herself to talk love and loneliness, what it’s like gigging in a former strip club and how to fend off Facebook creeps looking for a quick hair tug.
Where do you draw inspiration for your music?
I’ve never really been into lyrics that are overthought or overly laboured. Some people are good at taking a concept or something quite abstract and spinning a story out of it, but I’m not one of those people. I find it quite hard to write lyrics so I suppose I default to themes of love and sex – ha or the loneliness that comes with not having either.
So does a lot of it come from personal experience then?
Yea, absolutely. Loneliness and rejection are really important themes for me. It’s not just love, it’s much broader than that, those feelings can come from anything – love, life, your career. The fact that the album is called Pull My Hair Back,people have come to some pretty obvious conclusions about that. I’ll get messages from guys on Facebook, just one liners, saying they’d be happy to pull my hair back. Uh, ok …
What about people that you’ve met? Dancing Jed from Kathy Lee for example. What’s his story?
Some of the songs are inspired by people that I’ve met in Hamilton. My studio is above a bar so I find myself regularly hanging out there. They might have said something, just a single line maybe, which inspires me. Jed just dances around the town constantly, you see him everywhere. I didn’t know anything about him so I sent him a message, explained about the project and I remember he said, “in my life I just want to make people happy, so if this makes you happy …”. Ha, he didn’t actually like the music all that much but he wanted to help. He was listening to this weird Serbian folk music whilst he was dancing – an a cappella all male choir I think.
Will that be the direction of the new album then?
It could well be!
You grew up in Hamilton, what was it like there?
My parents were both into music, they played in bands, so they decided to put me in lessons. There was a lot of Steely Dan! A lot of Albert Collins. I suppose growing up was pretty normal, it’s not exactly a small town, but there wasn’t a huge amount to do. You don’t really think of Hamilton as a city that produces electronic music, punk rock bands, but not electronic music.
What’s it like touring with Caribou?
I’d actually met with Dan previous to the tour – we worked on Second Chance together. It’s really good fun, it’s touring with your friends.
Do you have a favourite track from the album?
Strange Emotion, I don’t play it live very often, but I’d say it’s probably the one I’m proudest of. I want people to be able to listen to the album, sink into it and get lost. When I’m listening to a singer that I love, that’s how it makes me feel. I hope my music has that impact.
Favourite place that you’ve played so far?
I played in Santiago at the beginning of the month and was totally overwhelmed by the amount of people that came. I thought it was going to be a tiny little show, but then I got there and the venue looked really fucking big! About 1,500 people showed up in the end which was incredible. Everyone was really into it!
And the worst?
I remember turning up to a gig in Saskatoon once – the place that looked like it was a strip club. The carpet went over the stage and onto the floor. I walked up to the bartender and said “hi my name’s Jessy and I’m playing tonight” but he just looked at me and was like “so what?’! Then as my sister was helping set up the merchandise this man came over and asked if we were in some kind of “girly band”. It was weird. The show ended up being pretty good actually, but the opening was strange!
Are you looking forward to Club To Club?
Yes I am! My cousin is coming! Obviously I’m looking forward to seeing Caribou. Jungle as well too, I’d love to check them out.
What other artists are you keen on right now?
DJ Rashad definitely! Watching the way people respond to his music, they get so euphoric. People just lose it! Ha, I was pretty stoned when I listened to it, but Flying Lotus’ new album as well, it completely blew me away. I saw him at a festival in Brazil at the beginning of October actually, the lighting, the displays, his whole aesthetic it was amazing.
Would you ever look to work on collaborations with another artist?
I’ve been approached quite a lot actually, but mostly just as a vocalist. I like getting involved in the actual writing. I feel like I have to establish myself as an artist, not just a singer, before I start guesting on other people’s projects.
Is it daunting to start work on new material?
I’m at a nice middle ground. Obviously I hope I don’t put out something that people hate, but it’s more a mix of nerves and excitement.
Jessy Lanza’ Top Picks Playlist
1. Best – Bass Line
2. Haven’t You Heard – Patrice Rushen
3. Twisted – Keith Sweat
This song only has about 4 notes. He doesn’t even have to change notes and he sounds amazing.
4. Rain – SWV
5. Over My Head – Fleetwood Mac
I’m glad that Christie McVie is touring with them again because they really need her.
6. Ice – Kelly Rowland
One of those tracks I was listening to everyday while I was making my album.
7. Footsteps In The Dark, Isley Brothers
This song restores my faith in humankind for at least 4 or 5 minutes after listening.
8. She A Go – DJ Rashad feat Spinn & Taso
Speaks for itself.
9. A Milli – A Milli
Shout outs to Sicilians.
10.You Said You Want Me – The Other People Place
Very simple and beautiful.
Words: Thomas Curry.