TD Ottawa Jazz Festival: The art-full Jane Siberry

Jane Siberry performs at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival June 22.

Jane Siberry started painting about 10 years ago when she was stuck in a recording studio.

“I was in there way too long,” Siberry, who is better known as a singer-songwriter, said in an interview with ARTSFILE.

“I had to do something so I went to Woolworth and got some paper and paint and started doing something creative because it was too left brain in the studio.”

She said she started for fun.

“Lots of art is transferable and the expression of creative energy is like to breathing to artists so it makes sense. That happened about 10 years ago when I changed my name to Issa and started doing things differently.”

Siberry, if you have tracked her career, is not afraid to do things differently. She’s changed her name and changed the way she delivers her music. She has chosen, as Robert Frost would put it, the road less travelled by.

Her visual art has a lot of the natural world in it, but it also can be very expressionistic. It is full of strong colours and strong images.

“It’s something I love and trust and am moved by so a lot of natural images get charged up when I see them.”

She uses acrylic paints with purpose.

“I like the strong energy and strength of acrylics although I hate the plastic in it.”

Like her strong colours, Siberry says she is “becoming more like that as a person. We all are. We become larger versions of ourselves, so it makes sense that the colours get stronger.”

In her music, “I am trying to write more directly. I more often speak in the second person as opposed to the third person.”

That means, she says, she is addressing her audiences more directly these days.

“I know from touring that strong shift in connection to the audience when you are writing right to them about things that are important to both of you.

“I am clearer now that my job is to create the strongest synergy in 90 minutes that we all can take out and use for positivity in some way.”

This sounds very much like she is trying to tear down the fourth wall between the audience and the stage. But, she added, there is a fifth, more subtle, wall that should always be there, she added.

She said the performer needs to keep the higher artist self separate from the every day self.

“I have gone out on stage maybe three times in my life without whatever that force field is and I really felt the difference. I felt vulnerable. I think there is a wall there to make sure you give the best to your audience.”

Asked about the emphasis the Ottawa Jazz Festival is putting on female performers, Siberry says: “I don’t know why they are doing that. There are always lots of female performers.

“I think what they are looking for are strong voices who speak for people because that is the job of the performer. I just ignore the female thing.” She is, she agrees, an artist who happens to be a woman.

When this interview happened Siberry was on a brief hiatus after a lengthy tour of the world.

“It was night after night often, so I have been working hard. Now I want to focus on other things. (For example) I’m working on a detective show for the internet with all my famous friends.

“It’s all connected to the way I am writing music I am going to do different things now,” she said.

That doesn’t mean she’ll stop writing songs or performing.

“I just say yes to most things. Playing now is the only way I make money through music.”

But it is a struggle.

“I guess a lot of artists now have to think about whether it is a vanity project.”

She is asking existential questions such as “What do I want from life?”

Still making music and performing is community building and “I do think people are desperate for authentic high quality connections.”

That why she does performances in private homes and has, for some time.

“I call them salons. Seventy per cent of my tour was in people’s homes. If I do it solo and I stay with them, it is wonderful. It’s not lonely like in a hotel and I learn way more.”

In her agreement with the homeowner, one of the things she asks for is an hour drive around the area with a bit of an education about the country she is in.

“It’s a win-win for everybody. My goal is to learn about the world. Before anything else I am a student.

“I didn’t have that kind of curiosity when I was starting out as a musician. I was focused on task at hand. I am back to being curious and taking stuff in.”

This curiosity has taken her to a living room in a home on the west coast of New Zealand looking at the ocean near where The Lord of the Rings was filmed.

“You never have a chance to do that in a club. It removes the gate keeper and she can make money to carry on with living and creating.”

This recent tour took her from Australia to Finland and places in between.

And now “people are starting to know that I love things that are interesting so I do get more and more invitations to do fantastic things.

“Sometimes it is a living room, sometimes it’s a barn on a llama farm. At one place in Australia, the first strums on my guitar had a huge herd of cows running down a hill right to the fence wanting to know what was going on.”

She has a massive email list and lots of facebook connections. People share her story with friends.

Sometimes the person booking her is a 24 year old Irish girl in Dublin. Sometimes it’s a couple with a nice living room “but I’m open to all kinds of things.”

Siberry plays the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival on Saturday. She has written a ton of new music, she said, that she might record.

“But I don’t know if I ever want to do one version of a song.”

Expect to hear some of those new songs in Ottawa, along with older material.

“One of best parts is trying out new songs every night and getting feedback from an audience that is from the heart.

She will be playing with Peter Kiesewalter (piano, music director), Whitney LaGrange (violin) and Music & Beyond’s Julian Armour on a bass fiddle instead of his usual cello.

“I do this whenever I can because I love playing with other musicians but it often doesn’t make sense.”

After all this time Siberry has arrived at a certain place.

“Being a musician is a privileged activity in a life and it’s an investment. You often have to pay for that privilege. I will still pay for that privilege but I won’t go into debt any more.”

TD Ottawa Jazz Festival presents Jane Siberry
Where: OLG Stage, Confederation Park
When: June 22 at 10:30 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.